Histories and Mysteries

Nicola Slade knows my love of coffee and tea and offers this post to honor the treasured brews.

I’m English and stereotype English at that so I’m a tea drinker. I down gallons of tea every day – early morning, breakfast time, mid-morning, lunchtime, mid-afternoon, and so forth. You get the picture. I’m happy to drink coffee if I’m out or if someone else makes it, but I remain true to my roots and tea is my choice. How then to apply this to my writing and in particular to my characters? It’s taken three large mugs of tea to come up with a solution – so let’s hope it works!

My first novel, Scuba Dancing, was a romantic comedy (awash with coffee, tea, and – as one correspondent wrote: ‘Your characters drink an awful lot of alcohol, do you have a problem?’  (I was tempted to reply that Yes, I didn’t get enough of it, but thought she might not take it as a joke.) I then took to writing cozy mysteries which I’ve always loved reading and at the moment I’m alternating between two series, one set in the 1850s and the other contemporary. Both are set in and around the ancient city of Winchester in the south of England. This is for two reasons: one, I live just down the road and two, Winchester is beautiful and steeped in history – the place where William the Conqueror was crowned and where Jane Austen is buried (and an awful lot of other history between.)

Let’s take a look at my Victorian heroine, Charlotte Richmond, who says of herself: “I have few ladylike accomplishments. I cannot sing, I cannot draw, I cannot play the pianoforte or the harp and I cannot produce delicately beautiful embroideries. Sadly, the ability to do quantities of mending, to cook a good plain dinner and to shoot a marauding crocodile as I once did, is not appreciated in Polite Society.”

Murder Most Welcome Histories Mysteries

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What she does do is drink tea. In the first book of the series (Murder Most Welcome) Charlotte has come from Australia (via the Indian Mutiny of 1857) to live with the wealthy family of her late, unlamented husband and in Australia, the British settlers certainly enjoyed their tea. It was a link with the old country and in a dry and often unforgiving climate it was thirst-quenching and refreshing. As Charlotte has an unfortunate habit of stumbling upon the occasional corpse she frequently needs a restorative to get over the shock, though she’ll sometimes decide that stronger measures are needed. So, Charlotte Richmond is a tea-drinker. Can I do better with my other leading lady, Harriet Quigley? She’s a recently-retired headmistress and her side-kick is her cousin Sam Hathaway, a clergyman whose late wife was Harriet’s best friend.

Luckily Harriet Quigley is a coffee drinker! She likes a filter coffee with milk or cream and although I suspect that she is equally happy to drink tea or coffee – or indeed a fine single malt whisky – she is usually found making, pouring or drinking coffee at any time of the day or night. Not only that, she usually seems to offer a cake or two that she’s just baked, though with the rider that it’s an experiment and that her guest is to be a guinea pig. (Nobody has yet suffered any ill effects from Harriet’s cooking but you never know…) Harriet is a calm, clever, authoritative woman, much-respected in her profession – and nicknamed Boudicca by her students in acknowledgement of her all-seeing eye and swift judgement. She is also slightly vain, squeamish, terrified of heights (which is definitely not an advantage in her second adventure (A Crowded Coffin) and she has a tendency to see the funny side of things and get the giggles at the most inappropriate times. She’s also very nosy which is a great help when you’re an amateur sleuth. Her cousin Sam, an Honorary Canon of Winchester Cathedral, is much more of a coffee drinker but years as clergyman of a parish has accustomed him to drink whatever he is offered though like Harriet, he too is partial to a decent Scotch.

Nicola Slade Murder Most Welcome

The Dead Queen’s Garden, set at Christmas 1859, is the third in the Charlotte Richmond series, described in a recent review as ‘An enjoyable series featuring a resourceful and lively heroine and amusing escapades. It can be classified as a cozy, of the sort that combines a house party with goings-on in a picturesque village… Highly recommended to anybody in search of a good murder mystery with a 19th century setting.