This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the New England Crime Bake, which is co-organized by fellow Miss Demeanor Michele Dorsey. It’s a wonderful conference because it’s fairly small, and everywhere you sit you run into someone you know or have heard of or are friends with on Facebook. But the very special treat this time was that Ann Cleeves was guest of honor.
Ann Cleeves is the author of books about Shetland and Vera, and you might watch the TV adaptions on Britbox. Beyond being absolutely lovely and gracious, she also has so much to teach, and I attended her master class on “Setting and How It Affects Your Character.”
I’ve always paid attention to setting. My Maggie Dove series is set in a small village in the Hudson Valley, and I think my descriptions play an important in the novel. But she showed me to think about how every character interacts with her setting. For example, someone who has lived in the Hudson Valley for generations may interact with it in a different way that someone who got a big Wall Street bonus and decided to buy a house there.
I was so inspired by her talk that I immediately went back to my hotel room and took out my manuscript and spent several hours going over the characters and thinking about how I might weave these new insights into their backgrounds.
The following morning I got into the elevator and who should be standing there but Ann Cleeves. So I told her how she’d inspired me and she smiled her gentle smile and said, “Well, I’m so glad.”
Now that’s a conference!