Research (or snooping round other people’s homes…)
By Clare Chase
Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Holly! It’s lovely to visit.
OK, confession time: I’ve always been fascinated by the inside of other people’s houses. It’s not so much the ones belonging to owners I know (she said hastily, fearing what her friends might think); the really enthralling thing is looking around a stranger’s home.
I think that’s why I’ve always loved house hunting (and have had occasional fantasies about being an estate agent…) And it’s also (secretly) part of the reason I’m a big fan of Cambridge Open Studios, an annual event in my home city. For four weekends each July, local artists open up their homes so that members of the public can wander in and view the artworks on display. It’s just a happy coincidence that everything else is on display too!
Seeing a person’s surroundings without knowing them gives you a set of clues you can use to try to work out what kind of person they are, and the sort of life they lead. You might never find out if you’re right, but it’s great fun guessing! The evidence all mounts up: what kind of books do they own? Are their belongs organised or chaotic? Is there a pile of unopened bills on the worktop? Or mementos collected from a particular place?
Even looking at my own furniture, much of it handed down from previous generations, gives me clues about former owners. The ring-shaped mug stain on the side of our treasure cabinet suggests one of my forebears let it sit on its side for some time before putting it up on the wall. Conclusive proof that my disorganisation and tardiness is inherited! (And I hate to think of the conclusions people would draw from looking round my house.)
I love the way a person’s surroundings have been used in fiction to show when things have got out of kilter. Miss Havisham’s house in Great Expectations, with its abandoned wedding paraphernalia and stopped clocks, is a famous example. Dickens’ use of the device is extreme, but no less chilling for that.
It was my fascination with the way a person’s life and character can be read through their home environment that gave me the idea for my new mystery, A Stranger’s House. My heroine, Ruby, is forced to leave home in a hurry, and takes a house-sitting job in Cambridge to keep a roof over her head. It’s not long before she realises she’s taken on more than she bargained for. Right from the start, her new lodgings make her uneasy. Why did Damien Newbold, the absent house-owner, go away in such a hurry? The fridge is full of expensive food that will have gone off by the time he returns. And what lies behind the unsettling paintings on his bedroom wall? From the contents of Newbold’s bin, to the blood stain on the edge of his Persian rug, everything builds up a picture; one that tells Ruby there’s more to come, and it’s not going to be pleasant.
She gets far fewer clues about her new boss, owner of the house-sitting business, Nate Bastable. He keeps himself to himself to an almost obsessive degree – something that ensures Ruby persists in digging for information. Besides, she’s interested in him for other reasons too, so his secret, when she finally discovers it, knocks her for six.
I’m working on the third book featuring Ruby now, and although the house theme is specific to book one, I find I’m keen to carry on doing more related research. It’s not nosiness; I’m just dedicated that way. 🙂
Clare Chase writes mysteries set in London and Cambridge featuring women sleuths. She fell in love with the capital as a student, living in the rather cushy surroundings of Hampstead in what was then a campus college of London University. (It’s currently being turned into posh flats …)
After graduating in English Literature, she moved to Cambridge and has lived there ever since. She’s fascinated by the city’s contrasts and contradictions, which feed into her writing. She’s worked in diverse settings – from the 800-year-old University to one of the local prisons – and lived everywhere from the house of a Lord to a slug-infested flat. The terrace she now occupies presents a good happy medium.
As well as writing, Clare loves family time, art and architecture, cooking, and of course, reading other people’s books.
She lives with her husband and teenage daughters, and currently works at the Royal Society of Chemistry.
A Stranger’s House:
Website and blog: www.clarechase.com
What if you were powerless to protect the person you cared about most?
When Ruby finds out that her partner has done the unforgivable, she has no option but to move out of their home. With nowhere else to go, a job house-sitting in Cambridge seems like the perfect solution.
But when the owner of the property, the mysterious Damien Newbold, is found murdered, Ruby’s new job takes an unnerving turn – one she cannot resist investigating herself.
Ruby’s new boss, Nate Bastable, has his eye on her and seems determined to put a stop to her sleuthing. Is he simply worried for the welfare of a member of staff, or is there something altogether more complicated – and potentially dangerous – at play?
From Death by Choc Lit – gripping, edge-of-your-seat reads.
A huge thank you to Clare for this fantastic post. ♥