by Julie, enjoying a lovely December day
I am so happy to welcome Molly MacRae back to the blog! I’m so happy that we are able to help her celebrate the release of Heather and Homicide!
Don’t you Love a Good Coincidence – or –
Six Degrees of Dorothy Dunnett
I do love a good coincidence, don’t you? While I was doing research for Heather and Homicide, a nice string of them paid off in a peculiar treasure that’s now sitting on my bookshelf. Here’s the story.
The setup: One of my favorite writers is the late Dorothy Dunnett. Dunnett, a Scottish novelist best known for her historical fiction, also wrote a wonderful mystery series centering on Johnson Johnson, a portrait painter and spy, who travels the world on his yacht, the Dolly. An interesting feature of the series is that Johnson Johnson isn’t the main character. Each of the books has a different strong female lead.
The research: Heather and Homicide is about the suspicious coincidences that occur when a true-crime writer arrives in the west coast town of Inversgail, Scotland. One of them involves a kayak, so I read a lot about kayaks and kayak trips along the Highland coast and came across a book called The Canoe Boys: The First Epic Scottish Sea Journey by Kayak. I bought a copy. It’s a 2007 reprint of the 1995 book, which was a new incarnation of It’s Too Late in the Year. That book, out in 1969, was a new incarnation of a 1950 book, Quest by Canoe, about a trip two young men made up the west coast of Scotland, from Bowling to Kyle of Lochalsh, in 1934. Most of the stuff I read about kayaks doesn’t show up in Heather and Homicide, but that 1934 canoe trip does.
The string of coincidences: My family comes from the area around Kyle of Lochalsh. The 1950 book and its subsequent incarnations was written by Alastair Dunnett, one of the canoe boys. Dunnett was a longtime editor of the daily newspaper The Scotsman, which arrives in my inbox every morning. He was Dorothy Dunnett’s husband.
The treasure: My sister, after hearing that string of coincidences, said, “Oh, but there’s more,” and she brought me a book wrapped in tissue paper. It didn’t need to be wrapped in tissue paper, but that made it more fun. Her son had found it at a library book sale and thought she might like it. She gave it to me, knowing I would love it. It’s a copy of the New Testament, in Scottish Gaelic, given to Alastair Dunnett and signed by him in 1978. To round off the coincidences, 1978 is the year my husband and I got married.
Coincidence in real life brings a spark of magic with it.
If you’re writing mysteries, though, you need to be careful how and where you use coincidence. Letting your characters rely on one or more to solve the crime is a bit of a cheat. That’s me being polite. It really is a cheat. Protagonists should use their own skills and wits to save themselves and the day.
For the writers among you, bestselling thriller-writer Steven James wrote article about how to use coincidence well: “What a Coincidence: 7 Strategies for Creating Clever Coincidences in Fiction.” In another nice real-life coincidence, way back in the late 90s, Steven James used to shop in the bookstore I managed in Johnson City, Tennessee. We belonged to a fledgling writers’ group and had good conversations over lunch a few times.
What fun coincidences have you experienced? Answer in a comment for a chance to win a copy of Heather and Homicide (sorry, North American entries only).
True crime writer Heather Kilbride arrives in the seacoast town of Inversgail, Scotland, to research a recent murder for her new book. But if that’s true, why does she seem more interested in William Clark, a shadowy lawyer with no connection to the murder? Her nosy questions arouse the suspicions of Constable Hobbs, the members of a local writers’ group, and Janet Marsh and her crew of amateur sleuths at Yon Bonnie Books.
Heather and Homicide is a story featuring unconventional research methods, miniature books, tempting dark chocolate cake, and an ancient circle of standing stones.
The Boston Globe says Molly MacRae writes “murder with a dose of drollery.” She’s the bestselling, award-winning author of the Highland Bookshop Mysteries and the Haunted Yarn Shop. Her short stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine since 1990 and she’s a winner of the Sherwood Anderson Award for Short Fiction. Molly lives in Champaign, Illinois. You can visit her at www.mollymacrae.com.