The book is set at a mrurder-mystery convention celebrating the life and works of classic crime author Agnes Crabbe, who wrote 20+ novels in her lifetime but never submitted any for publication. In fact, she lived like a recluse for most of her life and her work was only discovered in 2000 when a solicitors' office in Bowcester opened a suitcase that Crabbe had entrusted to their care. Why she insisted that it not be opened unti the dawning of the 21st century is a subject much-debated by fans and scholars, but the fact remains that her work was unknown in her lifetime.
I've been asked quite a few times about my inspiration for Crabbe (Writers are always getting asked about where they get their ideas from). I usually have no idea where an idea comes from but, in this instance, I can be quite specific. Crabbe was inspired by the story of Vivian Maier.
Vivian Dorothy Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009) was an American street photographer. She worked for about forty years as a nanny, mostly in Chicago, and took photographs in her spare time. In fact, she took more than 150,000 photographs during her lifetime, primarily of the people and architecture of New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, although she also traveled and photographed worldwide. However, during her lifetime, Maier's photographs were unknown and unpublished and many of her negatives were never even printed. She lived in poverty towards the end of her life and failed to keep up payments on a storage unit. The contents came up for auction which is how she was 'discovered' by a man called John Maloof who bought some of her photos in 2007. Two other Chicago-based collectors, Ron Slattery and Randy Prow, also obtained some of her prints and negatives that they found in boxes and suitcases.
Sadly, Maloof never got to meet her as she was almost invisible on the internet and, in fact, he only finally tracked her down when her death notice appeared in a Chicago newspaper in 2009. Maloof then linked a selection of Maier's photos on FLICKR to his blog and the results went viral. As the result, her work has been critically acclaimed ever since and her work has been exhibited in galleries all over the world.
It's extraordinary work isn't it?
So that's who inspired the story of Agnes Crabbe. My one regret in deciding to have Agnes's work discovered post mortem is that her books would never have had some of those splendid pulp paperback covers that were enjoyed by Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers and their contemporaries.
Of course, that doesn't mean that I can't imagine what they might have looked like, does it?