The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate – Guest Post

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the skeleton gardenThe Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate
A Potting Shed Mystery #4

USA Today bestselling author Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed series continues as expert gardener Pru Parke digs up a Nazi warplane—and a fresh murder.

Texas transplant Pru Parke has put down roots in England, but she never dreamed she’d live in a grand place such as Greenoak. When her former employers offer Pru and her new husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, the use of their nineteenth-century estate while they’re away for a year, she jumps at the chance. Sweetening the deal is the prospect of further bonding with her long-lost brother, Simon, who happens to be Greenoak’s head gardener. But the majestic manor has at least one skeleton in its closet—or, rather, its garden.

Working on renovations to the extensive grounds, siblings Pru and Simon squabble about everything from boxwood to bay hedges. But when the removal of a half-dead tree turns up the wreckage of a World War II–era German fighter plane and a pile of bones, the arguments stop. That is, until a rival from Simon’s past pays a surprise visit and creates even more upheaval. It’s suddenly clear someone is unhappy their secrets have been unearthed. Still, Pru’s not about to sit back and let Simon take the fall for the dirty deed without a fight.

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The Origins of a Story

A writer holds onto things. It might be a train ticket that reminds her of a long journey where she noticed the woman across the aisle who never looked out the window but kept her eyes on her cell phone, which sat mute before her on the table. Her head was bowed and her long auburn hair hid her face from view as she waited for a ring, buzz or ping. Who was she expecting to hear from – a boyfriend? A husband? A daughter or a mother? Did she wait in happy anticipation for good news or did she dread the inevitable?

A writer files that moment away and some day, in some book, a character waits on a call that she hopes – or dreads – will change her life forever. A writer can keep these thoughts for a long time – either building a story around it immediately, or only holding onto the impression.

I saw a lovely young woman dressed in many layers of thin black material float by me one day, and she became Jemima, Kitty Bassett’s granddaughter in The Skeleton Garden. The church in the village next to Hever Castle in Kent inspired the village church in Ratley. It can be people or places that we tuck away to future use.

A newspaper clipping – becoming quite a rarity these days – may be slipped into a folder marked “ideas.” The feature chronicles the history of a village over the many centuries of its existence (perhaps even from Roman times), and mentions almost in passing a young girl whose life turned from poverty to riches by a chance encounter with … that story gets filed away, too.

Or an obituary of an elderly man who, as a lad, had trained a rook. The rook followed him to school and waited for him at the end of the day. What sorts of adventures could this lad and his rook get into?
In 2002, a woman told me a story of a World War II German fighter plane that crashed in her garden in a village in the south of England. This was ages before she had moved in and she only learned of the story because a small tree she had planted was failing. A garden expert told her it was because the soil underneath was too light and the tree wasn’t getting enough water.

She mentioned this to an old fellow down the lane who had lived in the area all his life. He recalled that the Messerschmitt had crashed there. Instead of hauling the plane out, it had been cut in pieces and buried on the site. Yes, in her garden – and forgotten about for almost sixty years. I was fascinated with the story. I kept it in my head and told other gardeners the tale (we do love to share why plants die) until ten years later, a larger story emerged – one that involved Pru Parke, protagonist of the Potting Shed mystery series, and her friends and family.

The story grew of its own accord and became layered with reasons and events breaking off the original story as told to me. I added, embellished, put in and took out until I could say that yes, this is how it happened. At least, how it happened in The Skeleton Garden.

The bad thing about writers – the socially unacceptable part – is that we are terrible eavesdroppers. The good thing is that we are our own entertainment – sitting at a coffee shop with our foamy cappuccino in front of us, we need no phone, no earbuds to listen to music – perhaps only a small black notebook to jot down a word or two. Instead of actively engaging, we listen to the lives around us – absorbing a gesture or flip of a head or the particular way a fellow keeps retying his scarf. These are the lovely nuances that we weave into the characters and plot lines in our books. But don’t worry too much – that woman with the phone may be turned into a man waiting to hear details of a business deal gone sour. The lad with the rook could become a ten-year-old girl (keep an eye out for that one). And the Messerschmitt in the garden – well, that had its own reverberations many decades later.

About the Author

MARTYMarty Wingate is a Seattle-based writer and speaker who shares her love of Britain in her two mystery series. The Potting Shed books feature Pru Parke, a middle-aged American gardener transplanted from Texas to England, and Birds of a Feather follows Julia Lanchester, bird lover, who runs a tourist office in a Suffolk village. Marty writes garden articles for magazines including Country Gardens and theAmerican Gardener. She is a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Crime Writers Association. She leads garden tours to England, Scotland and Ireland, spending free moments deep in research for her books. Or in pubs.

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