where the writers are
Location, Location, Location

Imagine the scene. It's late eighteenth century Japan (Edo, now Tokyo, to be precise) and a murder is about to take place. The characters are all dressed correctly, saying all the right things, and so on. The interior decoration of the room is perfect too, and even the dinner menu is spot on. There's just one problem, the restaurant where the murder's taking place, that's supposed to be fairly well-to-do, has been plonked in the middle of an area that was in real life the site of a block of slums. Perhaps the average English or American reader who's never done any research into that period, or who has done some but hasn't got as far as plotting the geography, won't care one way or the other. Perhaps they won't mind if I have my detective, who's of the merchant class, living in the middle of a samurai-class area... or send him to a large fish market that's countless miles from the nearest waterway.

The thing is, there are going to be readers who do spot these whopping great errors. Also, I'd know I was talking a load of cobblers. As far as I'm concerned, artistic licence gives me the right to turn a real-life small paper store into a fictional sandal shop if the need arises... it doesn't allow me to move half the population of an entire district ten miles north, relocate rivers, knock down temples, plonk feudal lords and their mansions into the centre of a vegetable market, or send a group of 'working girls' out to ply their trade in the middle of an uninhabited field that's twenty miles from the nearest live animal (and that's a ferret).

So, I've spent the past three weeks deciding where my detective (who is currently called Jubei but may undergo a renaming before it's all done) should live. The locations for all of the murders have been chosen (yes, we're talking multiples... I didn't spend all those years watching 'Midsomer Murders' for nothing). And the murderer has been given suitable accommodation. 

I've used a variety of materials to plot my detective's 'patch', including a few original 18th-19th century maps, written accounts by contemporary writers who chose to comment on the layout of the city, and numerous woodblock prints by Hokusai, Hiroshige and other artists. For me, this is a great deal of fun. It is an opportunity to put to use the research I've been doing for the past two decades in an imaginative, rather than instructive/factual, way. Up until now, my fact and fiction writing has been divided. Now, with the creation of Inspector Jubei, those two worlds have collided. And I am enjoying the collision immensely.

Above: The scene of one of the murders... a restaurant on a busy shopping street. Little do those chaps on the first floor realise that they're occupying a spot not more than ten feet from a fictional corpse. It's enough to put you off your noodles!

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how exciting!

Gina, I'm just checking in after a few weeks of family visits and travel, and I obviously missed an earlier post about your beginning a new novel, completely unrelated to your first two -- but wonderfully related to your work as an art historian! Wow! I've got to check your blog archives to find out more. But for now, just let me say that this sounds terrific -- and also that I so appreciate your commitment to doing the research! Have fun with it!

Peace.