Bronte Country Mysteries with Rowan Coleman
Bronte Country Mysteries
Rowan Coleman writing under the name of Bella Ellis has taken two of the best ingredients to create a style and story all of her own.
Three of the most famous writers ever who appear as fictional characters in novels of their own. The very settings where they themselves lived and set their own stories.
Magic, that’s what it is. Magic.
A Gift of Poison is the fourth novel in my Brontë Mysteries series, a series of novels that imagine that before they were renowned authors, the Brontë sisters were amateur detectives.
Each novel is framed within what we actually know about the Brontë sisters lives, and is carefully researched to be historically accurate. There is no evidence that the Brontës were amateur sleuths – but also, there is no evidence that there were not!
Landscape and setting are such a big part of the work of each of the Bronte sisters that of course it has always been an important character in its own right in each of the novels, even in The Red Monarch, the only one of the four novels that is not set in Yorkshire.
Haworth – home of the Brontes
The novel opens in Haworth in 1847. Emily and Anne have just had their novels, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey accepted for publication, but Charlotte’s novel, The Professor, has been rejected everywhere. Charlotte is doing her best to hide her bitter disappointment. Their dear friend Ellen Nussey has come to visit and they have resolved to give up ‘detecting’ for good. Until, that is, suspected murderer Abner Lowood, comes to call one night.
The mystery part of A Gift of Poison is inspired by a historic true crime, that happened about a decade later than it takes place in the book, and centred around the local workhouse. As is often the case with the Bronte Mysteries series we see both halves of the Industrial Victorian Landscape – the breathless beauty and endless skies of the moorland surrounding Haworth and the grim, dark and unrelenting misery of the lot of the impoverished.
Writing the scenes set in the workhouse were both interesting, depressing – and yes, for this fan of gothic horror – really good fun! Not to negate the awful circumstances that the ‘inmates’ lived in, and the total lack of hope they had for improving their lots.
A theme of the novel is the folklore belief that in some circumstances the dead can rise from their graves to seek revenge on those that have wronged them. Not the ghosts of the dead, you, understand, but their corporeal remains. And so, when you put the setting of the workhouse, the zombie like occupants and the possibility of the actual living dead roaming free at night, you have a jolly good setting for some truly atmospheric and hopefully quite scary writing, particularly the scenes set in the workhouse morgue – the Dead House, as it was known.
Another detail we see in the novel, which is on record has actually happening is curate, and Charlotte’s future husband, arguing with a local woman about her plans to hang her washing out to dry on the gravestones. It seems that this had been a practice among locals for generations, however Mr Nicholls did not think it was appropriate or respectful of the dead to drape one’s undergarments over the deceased’s memorials. In this instance I think I agree with him…?
Anne Bronte’s grave in Scarborough
The Haworth of this novel is one locked in an oppressive summer, the air thick with heat and heavy with humidity, like the kind you feel in the lead up to a huge storm. There are a few chapters when the sisters depart to Scarborough and enjoy the cooling sea mist as they travel up the hill to a place known as Paradise to talk to a possible witness.
Anne’s graveyard in St Mary’s Church, Scarborough
It’s in this location that St Mary’s church stands, and it is at St Mary’s church, which I can see from my window as I write this, that Anne Bronte was later to be buried, having died of tuberculosis at the age of only 29. Anne had visited Scarborough when she was working for the Robinson family, and she loved it very much. So, it’s meaningful for me to be able to take her back to the places and views that inspired her, even if only in a fictional way.
One of the things that has given me so much joy over the course of these four novels is to be able to imagine adventures and experiences for these wonderful women, enriching their too short lives. Of course, it’s only fiction, but the joy of fiction is that anything can happen and it does.
BookTrail Boarding Pass:A Gift of Poison