It was back in 2011 that I broached the suggestion of a new series with my publisher, Susie Dunlop, at Allison & Busby. She, it seemed, had been thinking along similar lines and had already come up with the Lake District as a good setting. Female protagonist, amateur sleuth, strong local colour – we put together the ingredients over lunch, and a few days later came up with the idea of making the central character a florist. This, I freely confess, did not originate with me, although I like to think I was within a whisker of arriving at the same idea before one of the A&B staff got there ahead of me.
I knew something about floristry from having a close friend who taught ‘life skills’ to trainee florists for many years. I knew there was a lot more to it than just selling flowers, anyway. And having worked for an undertaker in the 1990s, I also knew how important flowers were at times of major crisis. They stand in for some very profound emotions, conveying more than words can manage to do.
I named my character Persimmon Brown. Simmy for short. It’s a point of honour with me to find unusual names for people in my stories, and this one was born thanks to a lovely persimmon tree that grows behind a house in France that I sometimes go to for summer breaks. (The amateur detective in my Cotswolds series is called Thea, which has, I believe, helped to make her memorable to readers.)
The first title in the series is The Windermere Witness, and centres around a somewhat peculiar wedding, in which the unsuspecting florist gets drawn into an investigation into two murders. Next came The Ambleside Alibi, where a simple floral tribute to an old lady on her birthday sparks a train of events that brings Simmy herself into jeopardy.
Thirdly, published this summer, there comes The Coniston Case. This time, it’s a whole string of Valentine flowers which involves Simmy in some nasty goings-on. She constantly strives to stay well clear of trouble, especially where it involves violence, but try as she might, she repeatedly gets pulled into the heart of the crime. She has two young sidekicks, Melanie (who works in her shop) and Ben, who is still at school and has ambitions to become a forensic archaeologist. These two are both much more enthusiastic about the whole business of murder and malice than is Simmy herself.
The Lakes setting lends itself to issues of tourism, disappearing industry, environmental arguments, as well as Ruskin and Wordsworth. Simmy’s parents run a B&B in Windermere, somewhat eccentrically, and often highlight matters of local interest.
I’m currently working on The Troutbeck Testimony. Simmy’s father finds himself in the limelight, and a new shop assistant replaces Melanie, with very uncertain consequences.
Meanwhile, the thirteenth title in the Cotswolds series is in the pipeline, scheduled for spring 2015. Revenge in the Cotswolds is set in the small village of Daglingworth, close to Cirencester, and sees Thea once again struggling to fulfil her duties as a house-sitter.