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Thursday, March 13, 2014


Three Cliffs Bay
photo by John Ewing
Mystery author and poet Judy Hogan has been a reviewer, book distributor, publisher, teacher, writing consultant, and organizer of conferences, readings, and book signing events. Being a Malice Domestic contest novel finalist led to the sale of her first mystery and a subsequent sequel. Learn more about Judy and her books at her website. 
My Gower
I had no idea when I first visited the Gower Peninsula near Swansea in Wales in 1981, that ten years later I would write my first mystery novel and set it there.  I had begun reading traditional British mysteries after my eldest daughter went off to college and left me some time in the evening when I was too tired to work: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Josephine Tey. 

I enjoyed the food scenes, when the detectives would consult over scones with jam and cream, or eat digestive biscuits (what were they?)  I had $1500 extra and my kids could spend the summer with their dad. I decided to travel to the British Isles, whence most of my ancestors had come a few centuries earlier.
Three Cliffs Bay Rock Cleft 
photo by John Ewing
I checked out a library book on guesthouses in England, Scotland, and Wales.  Several recommended for their food, I wrote to, asking if I could work part-time for them and stay there for less money.  I had two replies.  A woman in Scotland recommended her mother-in-law in Wales on the Gower Peninsula, whose bed and breakfast cost was very reasonable, and I could get an evening meal at a nearby hotel.  A second guesthouse near Llandovery in central Wales offered to hire me for a month and cut my room and board in half.  I accepted this one, but I decided to go the weekend before to the Gower one. I found a cheap airline fare, contacted two English friends of friends who said I could stay a day or two, bought a Brit-Rail pass, and left for seven weeks.  I’d never been out of the country before.

England and Scotland satisfied my curiosity about places in English Literature and my Scottish ancestors.  When I entered Wales on the train, however, I immediately knew I would write poetry.  The beauty of Wales, wilder than England’s, assured that.  I didn’t see a mystery novel coming until 1990.

I liked Wales so much that I returned and spent longer periods in 1985, ’88, and ’90, with Mrs. Edith Merrett, who had a small B&B in the village of Southgate.  She provided an evening meal and gave me her single room.  I could walk or take the bus to explore a variety of historic sites: eleventh century castles; caves where human beings had survived through the Ice Age; Stone Age tombs, like Arthur’s Stone, where by legend he pulled out Excalibur; Overton Cliff where wild orchids grew; strange rock formations like Worm’s Head (named by the Vikings--it means dragon’s head); churches originally founded in the sixth century and their graveyards. 
Worm's Head 
photo by John Ewing
A nearby library had a good collection of mysteries and books on local lore; small stores provided me with snacks, pens, and composition books for writing poetry; and there were nearby pubs if I wanted a midday meal.  After a hearty British breakfast, I would head out for the day to walk along the cliffs or visit a spot where I’d not been yet, and I’d usually write a poem, tucked up away from the constant wind, before I returned for supper in the evening.

In 1990 I managed to sprain my ankle and was housebound for most of my stay.  Edith suggested I write a murder.  She knew I liked to read them.  I began plotting one set at a B&B very like Edith’s, though I didn’t write it until the next summer when I was back in North Carolina.  In The Sands of Gower my detective, Penny Weaver, loosely based on me, falls for a Welsh police detective, Kenneth Morgan.  I tried to publish it, even had a nice rejection letter from Ruth Cavin of St. Martin’s Press, and then in 1997 I wrote a second one, set in North Carolina but again involving Kenneth and Penny, so my series began.
Pennard Castlephoto by John Ewing
Every few years I’d write another one, but not until I joined Sisters in Crime in late 2007 did I work consistently at getting them published.  I’d also been entering each one in the Malice Domestic contest for the first best traditional mystery.  In 2011 I was a finalist, which led to my having that novel, my sixth, published in 2012.  In 2013 Farm Fesh and Fatal, the seventh novel in the series, was published.  The one I’d like to publish next is the first one, The Sands of Gower.  I’ve since revised and shortened it, also consulted a Gower policeman.  My readers have told me they’d like to read the story of how Penny and Kenneth got together.  Gower is almost a character in it, and certainly my fictional Evelyn and her B&B are modeled on Edith and the B&B where I spent many happy summers.

Farm Fresh and Fatal
When Penny Weaver joins the new Riverdell Farmers’ Market, things start out badly and get much worse. The county’s unpopular poultry agent is poisoned, apparently after drinking fruit punch provided by the abrasive and market manager, who claims innocence but is arrested. The state agricultural department threatens to close the market, so Penny and her friend Sammie rush to uncover the truth. What caused the agent’s death, and who put it in the punch?

"...vegetables turn out to be a lot more interesting than we'd ever guessed."--Mystery Scene Magazine

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Judy Hogan said...

Thanks so much, Lois. This is great. I love how you organized it. Judy Hogan

Suzie Tullett said...

I met my daughter-in-law to be for the very first time last week, a very nice young lady from Swansea. She talked about the beauty of The Gower a lot and said that where I live in France reminded her of it. I'll be sure to visit the area myself when we attend my son's Welsh wedding later in the year x

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Nice to know the true backstory between two very enjoyable characters.

Anonymous said...

Judy, great story about your books and even more to the point, about not giving up on our writing!

Michele Drier said...

A great story and beautiful country, Judy. I'm looking forward to meeting you at Malice!

Judy Hogan said...

Thanks, Suzie, Debra, Auntimwrites and Michele, for your comments. I wonder if Gower is anything like it was when I explored it in the 80s and 90s. I could walk and ride the bus to walk on other parts of the island. Some tourists especially on the beaches, but there were few Americans and Europeans. So much beauty on a very small peninsula, only about 30 miles long, maybe 10 miles wide. And the sea all around. Enjoy your time there, and I will be seeing Michele and Debra at Malice and happy to meet others who turn up there. Judy Hogan

Sharon D. Ewing said...

What fun to read Judy's account of her Gower experiences and see John's photos put to a literary use. I am hoping this first book of the series makes it into print soon. I read the review to Hohn while he was starting supper - a la Helpful Kenneth?
Sharon Ewing

Judy Hogan said...

Thanks, Sharon. Yes, John's photos really make the blog. thank him again. The novel after Farm Fresh takes up a return to Gower, so that's why i want to do the first Gower novel next. Judy