Mystery Mondays: Amy Reade on Setting

HighlandPerilToday, we are celebrating tomorrow’s release of Highland Peril by author Amy Reade.   Congratulations, Amy!

Amy hosts a fabulous blog called Reade and Write. Today she’s talking to us about one of my favorite subjects: SETTING.

Setting the Scene

by Amy Reade

Whether I’m on a panel or at a book signing or visiting a book club, one of the questions I’m frequently asked is whether I consider setting to be a character in my books. I get the question so often that I’ve started putting it in the back of each book as one of the discussion topics.

Here’s my short answer (and yes, I’m answering a question with another question): would the book be the same if it were set someplace else? If no, then I would consider the setting a character. If yes, then setting is probably not one of the characters, however important it may be.

Novels with a strong setting tend to be my favorite books. The main reasons I read are to learn and to be entertained. When a book has a strong atmosphere and sense of place combined with a strong plot, not only do I lose myself in the story, but I also get the opportunity to learn about a new place (or learn more about a place I already know). This is even true for places that don’t actually exist, such as a fantasy world or a fictional town. Two examples that immediately spring to mind are Hogwarts (from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series), and Loch Dubh (from M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series).

So how can a setting be a character? Let’s break down some of the qualities of well-drawn characters. Such characters generally have at least three components: personality, emotion or lack thereof, and the ability to change or move the plot along.

In some books, setting has those same three characteristics. Personality, emotion, and ability to move the plot forward can be indefinable when applied to a place rather than a person, but they are easily understood through examples.

Just as with a human character, a setting’s “personality” is its essence. Personality includes a place’s heritage, its culture, its climate; in other words, its specialness. Take, for example, a book set in New Orleans. New Orleans is a place of music, of storied cuisine, and of sultry heat. In any book I’ve ever read that takes place in New Orleans, at least one of those three components are essential to the plot. Such a book could never be set in Chicago without losing its essence.

And how about emotion? In much the same way a human character expresses emotion, a setting can be cheerful, spooky, stormy, listless, or almost any other adjective you can think of. This notion can be applied equally to any setting: towns and cities, houses, islands, boats, schools, hospitals, mountain tops, etc. You get the point.

When I think of a setting’s emotion, often what comes to mind is weather. Weather can play a huge role in a story—think of how wintry weather and blizzard conditions can affect the outcome of a particular plot. That same plot isn’t going to work as well if it’s set in a place where there are no blizzards; in other words, the frigid, blizzard-prone setting is essential to the story.

And when it comes to moving the plot forward, setting has the ability to do that as well as any character. In my first novel, Secrets of Hallstead House, the main character, Macy, can’t swim. The setting of the story is the Thousand Islands region of northern New York, on an island. When a person who can’t swim is put on an island, you can imagine the dread that can develop. And that story couldn’t have taken place, say, on a busy barrier island along the eastern seaboard—it had to take place on a small, isolated island in a region where the weather can be harsh and unpredictable. Just like a human character. There are several instances in Secrets of Hallstead House in which the direction of the plot is determined by the very nature of the island setting.

Now for my favorite part of this post. I’ve made a short list of some of my favorite books which feature setting as one of the characters. Though you may not be familiar with all of them, you are no doubt familiar with most of the titles. I am confident you’ll agree that setting is one of the main characters in each of these books. Remember, ask yourself this question: could this story have taken place anywhere else without losing its very essence?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: the setting is an absolutely essential part of each of these books, both of which take place in the American south. I would go so far as to say these books wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the American south.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: the setting of this book, the Cornish coast of England, is reflected in every action the characters take. Just like the characters, the cliffs and moors, the mansion, and the grounds in Rebecca are stormy, moody, and dark. The book would be fundamentally different if it took place anywhere else.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri: everyone knows the story of the little girl who went up the mountain to live with her gruff grandfather. The mountain is as important to the book as the main characters: Heidi loves the mountain just as she loves her grandfather and her friend Peter; the mountain provides a stark and necessary contrast to the bleak city where she lives temporarily. The story just wouldn’t be the same if Heidi lived in an area that was simply rural without being mountainous.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: if you’re not familiar with this book, the majority of the action takes place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The main characters, a brother and sister, run away from home and live in the museum for a time, trying to solve a mystery they find there. Whenever I think of this book, it’s the museum that comes to mind, not the human characters, not the mansion in the suburbs where they find someone who helps them in their quest, not the streets of New York City. It’s the museum—a setting-character if ever there was one.

Black Amber by Phyllis A. Whitney: this book, probably my favorite of Whitney’s works, is set in Turkey. The plot and setting are inextricably linked—you can’t have one without the other. The story wouldn’t be the same if it were set in, say, Michigan (not that there’s anything wrong with Michigan).

Finally, to my new book, Highland Peril, which comes out tomorrow. As in all my novels, the setting in Highland Peril is one of the book’s most important elements. The main characters live in a little village called Cauld Loch, and though I had to send them to London and Edinburgh for short stints, they always return home to the Highlands. The beauty, the majesty, and the rugged landscape are as important to the story as any character. If you get a chance to read the book, I hope you’ll agree.

Please share your thoughts about books with setting-characters. What are your favorites? Which ones stick in your mind?

Kristina, thank you so much for having me here today. I love the Mystery Monday posts because they make me think, and I hope I’ve done that for your readers.

Who Is Amy Reade?

Amy M. ReadeAmy M. Reade is a cook, chauffeur, household CEO, doctor, laundress, maid, psychiatrist, warden, seer, teacher, and pet whisperer. In other words, a wife, mother, and recovering attorney. But she also writes (how could she not write with that last name?) and is the author of The Malice Series (The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross) and three standalone books, Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade. She lives in southern New Jersey, but loves to travel. Her favorite places to visit are Scotland and Hawaii and when she can’t travel she loves to read books set in far-flung locations.

Where Can You Find Amy?








Amazon Author Page:

Goodreads Page:

And Finally, Where Can You Buy Highland Peril?


Barnes & Noble:


Google Play:


Independent Bookstore:

Thanks for reading…

Improve Your Novel’s Setting With Structural Editing – Fictionary

Focus on the settings in your novel and write a better story. Structural editing using Ficionary will help you get this done faster.

I highlighted every sentence that described the setting. What I realized was the author only described things or places that were relevant to the plot.

Most writers know the setting creates the story world. But in the context of novel structure, it can do so much more for you.

Consider the following for each scene when working on setting:…

Source: Improve Your Novel’s Setting With Structural Editing – Fictionary

Mystery Mondays: Angela Petch on Location (The Life of Fiction)

This week on Mystery Mondays, lets take a trip to Tuscany. We have Angela Petch, author of Tuscan Roots, here to share her thoughts on why setting is so important to a novel.

An Observation About Setting by Angela Petch

I was up front with Kristina when she accepted me here for Mystery Monday. My first novel is not a mystery novel in the truest sense of the word. But there is plenty of mystery involved: a young woman, Anna Swilland, is at a difficult stage in her life. She’s tired of being a mistress to a married man, she’s lost her job and her mother has just passed away. Anna inherits a diary in her mother’s will. She decides to travel to Italy to her mother’s birthplace – a village nestled in the Tuscan Apennines. There she begins to piece together unimaginable parts of her mother’s life that she could never have dreamt of. Anna falls in love with her new location and stays longer than planned…and the mystery of her background unfolds.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the beautiful settings where I live, and I recently came across a Southern American writer’s observations on the subject.

Eurora Welty said, “Every story would be another story, and unrecognisable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else…Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, what happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming…”.Writers describe the world they know. Sights, sounds, colors and textures are all vividly painted in words as an artist paints images on canvas. A writer imagines a story to be happening in a place that is rooted in his or her mind.”

I’ve come to realise that location plays a huge part in my writing: the way it impacts on my imagination, research, descriptions and ultimately my characters.

And this past week I’ve been confused.

Why? Let me explain: I live a “bi-life” – that’s how best to describe it.

I’m so lucky to live and work for six months of the year in a breathtakingly beautiful corner of Eastern Tuscany. Then during the winter months I live by the sea in Sussex, England, which is equally as stunning but very different. This week my routine suddenly changed and my location switched from Italy to England.

Having just launched my second novel “Now and Then in Tuscany”, the characters from this story are still very much with me… I see them when I walk up the mule tracks or shop in the village piazza. I see what they buy, watch them tend their vegetable plots and guide their sheep to the meadows. Ten days ago I ate in a house in the village of Montebotolino, where I’m convinced my main character, Giuseppe, lived.

In this narrow stone building with wide oak floorboards I shared wine, ate soup made from nettles gleaned from the hillside and frittata seasoned with Old Man’s Beard – surprisingly tasty fruits of the land. The window was ajar on a panorama of hazy blue Apennines, a nightingale provided song and I imagined Giuseppe outside, leaning against the warm stone walls. Was he waiting there to tell me of inaccuracies in my book? Or did he want to pass on the latest news of his wife and son?

But this week I’ve walked along the shingly flint-scattered shore of southern England and Giuseppe isn’t there beside me. Instead, two new personalities are dawdling in front of me, picking up shells, gossiping, nudging each other as they make their way to the café for tea and scones. And they are characters from my WIP.

It begs the question – is my imagination by itself – powerful enough to transport me where I need to go in a story? Or do I need to be in that location to kick-start my writing? What would I do if I were imprisoned in a tiny cell, with no window to look out over the world? Could I do it?

In fact, last year I did end up in a police cell in Arusha, Tanzania and I’d managed to smuggle in my pen and diary…and I scribbled down some thoughts while the guards weren’t looking… But that story is for another day.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m an award winning writer of fiction – and the occasional poem. Now that my children are independent I am freer to dive into my writing and have begun to extend my readership through social media. I find this hard but also weirdly exciting in the new horizons it offers. I’m a child of the 1950’s and free time was spent with my nose in books. My three year old grandson loves books too but he is much better than I am with an I-pad. “It’s never too late,” whispers a voice in my head as I merrily tweet or press “Like”.

Every summer I move to Tuscany for six months where my husband and I own a renovated watermill which we let out to holidaymakers from across the globe. When not exploring this unspoilt corner of the Apennines, I disappear to my writing desk at the top of a converted stable.

In my Italian handbag or hiking rucksack I always store notebook and pen, for I never know when an idea for a story might strike and I don’t want it to drift away.

The winter months are spent in England, on the Sussex coast where most of our family live. When not helping out with grandchildren, I catch up with writer friends and enjoy walking along the shore, often moody and squally in the winter months. But very inspiring.

I’ve lived abroad for most of my life, including several childhood years in Italy. After graduating with honours in Italian from the University of Kent at Canterbury, I worked for a short spell for The Times newspaper, before moving to new employment in Amsterdam. The job relocated to Sicily, where I met my half-Italian husband. We married near Urbino and then went to live for three magical years in Tanzania. Wherever I travel I store sights, sounds and memories of those places for stories I feel compelled to record.



 Front Cover“Tuscan Roots” is my first novel.

First published in 2012, as “Never Forget”, my publishing company went bankrupt and having lost control of my book and all royalties, I was forced to edit and reissue under this new title in 2016.

Inspired by the true story of my Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina Micheli, who met and later married a dashing army captain in 1944, “Tuscan Roots” combines their story with the events that took place along the so-called Gothic Line. This defensive barrier crosses the area where the author lives. It is still possible to visit gun emplacements and remains of fortifications scattered across the hills. A fluent Italian speaker and graduate of Italian literature and language, I was able to interview local people for their memories of the war years.

“Tuscan Roots” is a story of two women living in two different times. In 1943, in occupied Italy, Ines Santini’s sheltered existence is turned upside down when she meets Norman, an escaped British POW.

In 1999, Anna Swilland, their daughter, starts to unravel accounts from assorted documents left to her after her mother’s death. She travels to the breathtakingly beautiful Tuscan Apennines, where the story unfolds.

In researching her parents’ past, she will discover secrets about war, her parents and herself, which will change her life forever…”



“…moving and interesting” – Julia Gregson, bestselling author of “East of the Sun”.

“The fascination of this extremely readable novel is how the author deftly handles the multifaceted cultural differences: Italy of the 1940s and today but also between Italy and England of yesteryear and the difficulties encountered by the war brides coming to a cold and distant land and finally, the experiences of the heroine, Anna, who even today is plunged into a different world on her ‘time travels’ which will change her own life completely.” John Broughton – Amazon reviewer.

“There are small echoes of Forster’s “Where Angels Fear to Tread” and of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. The book’s essential of discovery and revelation through “diaries” is reminiscent of Victoria Hislop’s successful and moving “The Island”, but “Tuscan Roots” is better written and a much better book. The characters are very real…” Amazon reviewer.

“Once I started to read I simply couldn’t stop and fell in love with the location and the characters. Tuscan Roots has a little something for everyone. As far as history is concerned it certainly it has a fascinating insight into the war years in Italy and its immediate aftermath in England. There is sadness, there is drama and absolutely there is a love story. All with the most beautiful descriptions of a country that the author both knows and loves. Can’t wait to read her next book. Highly recommended. Vivienne Wendy Jones – Amazon reviewer.

“A feast of a book. Angela writes with assurance and a descriptive power which transports you to Tuscany; the taste; the scenery; the history. It comes from a deep love and knowledge of the area.” Rosemary Noble – GOODREADS

(The sequel to “Tuscan Roots” was launched on April 30th 2017. “Now and Then in Tuscany” is available on Amazon, in Kindle and paperback:


 Facebook Author Page

Amazon Author Page


Arun scribes – Facebook:

Il Mulino: (where I live in the summer)


Website – (Under construction but to be published soon)

Link for “Tuscan Roots”:

Link for “Now and Then in Tuscany”:







Mystery Mondays: Cathy Ace on Editing and Multiple Series

Today is a bit of an occasion. It’s the final post in the 2015-1016 Mystery Mondays series, and next week, I’ll have something special for you.

So to celebrate, Cathy Ace is joining us today.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 7.03.23 AM

Editing and Writing Multiple Series (aka soot-juggling) by Cathy Ace

I’m a lucky girl (apparently it’s okay to call myself a “girl” if you go by the plethora of books with “girl” in the title…when the subject is anything but “girl-aged”!). Yes, I’m truly fortunate. I’m in the enviable position of having two publishers, each allowing me to write a series of books, with contracts stretching a couple of years into the future. So I have it a lot better than many authors, let alone writers searching for that elusive first contract. (Keep going, by the way!)

I’m writing this on June 3rd 2016. I’ve just returned to my home near Vancouver, BC, Canada from a trip that took me to CrimeFest UK (a large UK crime convention) where the likes of Ian Rankin were guests of honor, and then Toronto where I attended the Arthur Ellis Awards and the Bony Blithe Awards. Thus, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been surrounded by people intensely focused on crime fiction, and those who’ve been nominated for, and won, the top prizes in their field. It’s been a wonderful trip – the sort of thing that makes me realize how many people are out there who share my passion for creating crime fiction. But now it’s back to just me, my laptop, all the people in my head…and my dogs at my feet.

As I mentioned, I write two series of books: The Cait Morgan Mysteries are published by TouchWood Editions based in Canada, The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries by Severn House Publishers in the UK. The series differ from each other in many ways, yet are similar in that they are both “traditional”: no foul language, no sex on the page, no gore or “unnecessary” violence. Yes, they’re murder mysteries, but I stick to the more palatable types of murders…the sort I first encountered in the books of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh.

Right now I have two manuscripts on the go – one for each series. That’s not unusual, but the specific timing is. And not in a good way. I think of writing a novel as being akin to Three-Day Eventing: day one sees horses galloping over fences and across fields, day two forces more discipline as the show-jumping takes place and day three requires deftly controlled exercises in the dressage. First drafts, editing and copy-editing follow much the same formula for me; the joy of the gallop, the challenge of refining, the excruciating attention to detail.

Book #3 in the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (currently entitled The Murdered Miniaturist, but that could change) is at the stage where it’s contracted for, and I have a deadline of June 20th to get the manuscript to my publisher with agreed structural changes having been made to what is currently the fifth draft. This will mean I have to, essentially, pull the book apart, delete one sub-plot and insert another plotline, with new characters that then have to be woven through the entire work. It sounds scary, but (having done this before) I know it won’t be as bad as it feels right now, before I begin. It will then go to my editor (who works for Severn House) who’ll go through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb and get back to me with notes, which I will work through. We’ll finally agree it’s ready for proof-checking, and then I’ll go through notes on that part of the process. I’m looking forward to it – I enjoy being with “The WISE Women” as I call my characters in this series.

The slight “challenge” I face is that I expect to receive notes from my editor at TouchWood Editions about Cait Morgan Mystery #8 (entitled The Corpse with the Ruby Lips – that’s set) any day now. I’m one stage further along with this book than the WISE book, but a bit of a problem with scheduling means I’m going to have to do what sounds a bit like brain-mashing, by working on both manuscripts at the “same time”. How will I handle this? One during the day, one at night. That’s the best I can do.

Usually, when I am writing and working through my own editing and redrafting, I give up most of my daytime work hours to organizing events, writing guest blogs, writing for the two blogs where I’m a regular contributor (7 Criminal Minds every other Wednesday and Killer Characters on the 22nd of each month) as well as prepping for Blog Tours for book launches (I had four books published last year) and the work and various committee meetings I undertake for Crime Writers of Canada (I am Chair for the next two years). That, plus using Facebook and Twitter to promote my work and build and maintain relationships with readers I meet in the digital world (and having six grandchildren, five acres, two dogs and a husband to tend to – yes, I thought about the order!) takes up a good deal of time, so I write when everyone’s gone to bed – from about 9.30pm until I realize I’m typing what looks like a poor hand at Scrabble…maybe 1-2am.

But for the rest of this June, it’ll be a bit different; I’ll have to switch from the Welsh stately home of Chellingworth Hall and the nearby village of Anwen-by-Wye, where the four women of the WISE Enquiries Agency run their business, to Budapest – where Cait Morgan is having a challenging time trying to work out whether a cold case back in Canada is connected to the Cold War, or whether being so far from her Canadian home without her retired-cop husband is addling her thought process. Cait’s stories are told in the first person, the WISE women each have their own point of view chapters. It’ll be a blast (I hope!). My plan is to work with the WISE women during the day, and Cait at night. With a break to make and eat dinner with my husband in between the two, that should give me enough head-space to shift location, storytelling style and voice.

Yes, I’m giving the impression I don’t know how it will go, and that’s true; I’ve never done this before. I’ve worked on the two series for a couple of years, but with only one book on the go at a time, thanks to some canny scheduling. Now the planets have aligned to no longer allow that to be the case, I plan to cope. I have to cope. Somehow.

That’s the thing, you see; there are always new challenges in this writing life. Last year was the first time I’d written four books in a year, but I know I won’t do that again. I managed it, but my family and home life suffered because of it, and that’s not fair on anyone. I have agreed to write three books this calendar year; one’s the WISE #3 I mentioned above, one will be Cait #9, the third will be WISE #4. Two books have been launched in the US/Canada this year so far (WISE #2 and Cait #7) and Cait #8 and WISE #3 will be published before it’s 2017. It’ll still be a busy time, but I am (I think/hope) becoming a smarter worker. I’m a detailed outliner, and I don’t use any programs to schedule characters/timelines; I found the use of technology took too much time in itself. Nope, it’s good, old-fashioned pencil and paper for me (and the frequent use of an eraser!).

I’m fortunate to have the deals and the deadlines I do. And I know it. My parents always taught me the harder you work, the luckier you get. Like I said, I’m a lucky girl, so I’d better keep my head down, and get back to this manuscript!


1610884_639339149521629_3791092845543988135_nCathy Ace was born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, worked for decades in marketing communications, and migrated to Canada in 2000. Having traveled the world for work and pleasure for many years, Cathy put her knowledge of the cultures, history, art and food she encountered to good use in The Cait Morgan Mysteries – a series of traditional closed-circle murder mysteries featuring a globetrotting professor of criminal psychology. Ace’s other series is set in her native Wales: The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries feature four female professional investigators, one of whom is Welsh, one Irish, one Scottish and one English, aided and abetted by a sleuthing dowager duchess. They tackle quirky British cases from their base at a Welsh stately home – the ancient seat of the Twyst family, the Dukes of Chellingworth, set in the rolling countryside of the Wye Valley in Powys, near the picturesque village of Anwen-by-Wye. Cathy lives in beautiful British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband and two chocolate Labradors make sure she’s able to work full-time as an author, and enjoy her other passion – gardening. Bestselling author Ace is the 2015 winner of the Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery (for Cait Morgan Mystery #4, The Corpse with the Platinum Hair).



Twitter: @AceCathy



Write Better Fiction: Is Your Scene Anchored?

Today on Write Better Fiction we’ll cover Is Your Scene Anchored? Write Better Fiction is a process to help you critique your own manuscript and give yourself feedback. This will help you improve your novel, so you’re ready to submit it to an editor.

One could argue that asking yourself if your scene is anchored should fall under setting or under plot.

I’ve included scene anchoring under plot because it’s more than setting, and I think it leads well into the next topics we’ll cover, which are hook, development and climax of a scene.

AnchorSo what does it mean to anchor a scene?

The reader needs to know:

  • Who has the point of view
  • Where the character is
  • What the timing of the scene is


We’ve dealt with point of view in detail, so I won’t say much here except you should checkEye whether the reader will know who has the point of view within the first paragraph or at least within the first couple of paragraphs. If not, the reader might find this frustrating. If you write your entire novel from one point of view, like many first person novels, then you don’t need to worry about this.


“Where is your character”“Where is your character” fits under setting. You know where the character is because your wrote the scene, but does your reader? If the reader can’t figure out where the character is within the first couple of paragraphs you may lose them – the reader I mean and not the character. 🙂

There are exceptions to this. If your scene is about a character waking in a dark place and confused about where she is, then it’s okay for the reader to be confused about where she is too. This will add to the tension. The reader does need to understand the lack of setting is done on purpose.


The timing of the scene can mean:Clock

  • Time of day
  • Time passed since last scene
  • A particular date

If several years or several seconds have passed in a characters life, then the reader needs to understand that. If you are jumping back in time or forward in time the reader needs to understand that too. The quicker the reader gets the timing, the quicker they will be drawn into the scene.


The start of a new scene means point of view has changed, the setting has changed, or time has changed, hence every scene needs to be anchored.

Your challenge this week is to ask yourself if every scene in your novel is anchored. Does the reader know who has point of view, where the character is and what time it is?

I critiqued DESCENT and BLAZE using the techniques I’m sharing in Write Better Fiction, and I believe this helped me sign with a publisher.

Please me know in the comments below if you have any suggestions or improvements for anchoring a scene.

Thanks for reading…