I’ve been asked to contribute a couple of essays to a book about locations associated with crime fiction, and by a lucky chance, I’ve managed to visit them both in the last week. One was Oxford, the other Shropshire.
Now, Shropshire is a green and pleasant county, but its tranquillity was regularly disturbed for fictional purposes in the books of the late Ellis Peters. Peters (whose real name was Edith Pargeter) was an author of considerable distinction for many years, but it was only with the success of the Brother Cadfael series, the first of which she published (expecting it to be a one-off) at the age of 64 that she became an international best-seller.
Peters was born in the little village of Horsehay, close to Ironbridge Gorge, and she retained a lifelong devotion to her native county, which was where she lived for most of her life. It’s worth noting that not only in the Cadfael Chronicles, but also in her Felse series, which have a contemporary setting, she makes use of the Shropshire landscape, though she tends to disguise it.
Shropshire is an attractive place to visit. There are many lovely rural walks, I am sure, but last week I concentrated on the old and charming towns. Ludlow and Shrewsbury are terrific, but there are other appealing places, such as Bridgnorth and Church Stretton. As Peters said:
‘I have used this landscape, native and familiar to me, in all my books; sometimes in its veritable shape and by its own names, sometimes with its edges diffused into a topography between reality and dream, but just as recognisable, for those who know it as I do, as if it had been mapped with the precision of an Ordnance Survey sheet. I did not set out deliberately to make use of my origins. Shropshire is simply in my blood, and in the course of creation the blood gets into the ink, and sets in motion a heartbeat and a circulation that brings the land to life