|photo by Phillip Capper of Wellington, NZ|
Reviewers have compared Sally Wright's work to that of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. High praise, indeed! Learn more about Sally and her books at her website.
A Traveler’s Tale
Places haunt me–water and hills and woods, ruins and houses with good bones and character that whisper secrets I can’t hear.
The mind’s eye is a powerful faculty. I can still see a tiny arched wooden bridge over a miniscule shivery stream edged with wild watercress, beside a dark forest, in front of a wood-beamed cottage in Connecticut I haven’t seen since I was four.
Places give me plots, too–sometimes by raising questions, like, “If someone were on this island alone, how could I murder him?” The Ben Reese mystery, Pride And Predator, ended-up being the answer to that question.
Which means traveling influences a lot of how I write. Breeding Ground, the new Jo Grant mystery, was born years ago on a book tour visit to Lexington, Kentucky. I decided then to set part of the Ben Reese Watches Of The Night there, and as I did research, staying in beautiful old farmhouse B&Bs, where the owners told me the houses’ history, and stories about local characters, it made me want to write a new series immersed in that lush green world where Thoroughbreds graze the ridges and hills.
I rode horses for years, so that was part of the appeal. And most of the people who raise them in Breeding Ground (who’re connected to three family businesses–a hands-on broodmare farm, an equine pharmaceutical company, and a ma-and-pa horse van manufacturer) were fun for me to write about.
But the serendipity of travel makes books change course and become more complex and authentic. As I researched the back-story in Breeding Ground–the French Resistance (all over France, all through WWII), and the US OSS that helped them–I became overwhelmed. Fortunately, a history professor gave me a book on the Resistance in the Loire Valley alone. But I didn’t have anyone in France who could help, and I needed to do work there.
It was in a small B&B in an old mill in the Loire Valley where I was given a gift I’ve been given before–the kind that saves books.
Sitting beside black-and-white ducks, green glass river sliding by, the mill owner spoke of the Resistance in the Lorraine with real knowledge and passion. He’d filled the whole mill with WWII books, and though we talked for hours, it was his description of a real event in the village beyond the mill–and the local reaction in 2010 (that I put straight into Breeding Ground) that gave me the perspective I needed.
So. Without the travel, would I have written books? Yes. Except for one made-up location, I set the first Ben Reese in places I’d seen as a child, and used the pictures in my head. But the rest of the novels wouldn’t have as many levels, or take readers to that many interesting places–in their minds’ eye.
In Lexington, in 1962, Jo Grant, an architect, who put her work aside to nurse her dying mother (only months before her brother dies,) has to run the family broodmare farm she’d rather leave behind–when another casualty from WWII turns up in need at her door, traumatized by his work with the French Resistance–right when she and a WWII OSS vet are trying to stop the killer of a friend caught in the conflicts of another family horse business in the inbred world of Lexington Thoroughbreds.