Interview: Marty Wingate, author of The Skeleton Garden

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.


Q: Aloha Marty, and welcome back! Tell us about your protagonist, Pru.

A: Pru Parke is a middle-aged American gardener who, just three years earlier, moved to England. This drastic change in her life made great sense to Pru – her mother was English and Pru grew up with stories about her mother’s life as a girl – although her friends back in Dallas thought she was crazy. The Skeleton Garden is book four in the series, and so in only three years, a great deal has happened. She’s married for the first time, working with a brother she never knew she had, and living in a lovely house in the south of England. Pru is stubborn but kind and hates to argue. She’s always been known as a bit of a Pollyanna.

Q: How much of you is in Pru? How would you feel about her if you met her in real life?

A: I love soup – and so does Pru. We have a Southern background in common, although really she’s from Texas, not the deep South. And we both love gardening and England – so I think we’d be friends.

Q: Do your characters change and evolve throughout consecutive books in the series?

A: That’s what I love about a series – there can be an over-arching story arc for the character throughout with small changes in each book as they relate to the plot of that particular story. Pru arrives in England with no family – an only child, both parents dead. But she has become accustomed to making her family out of those closest to her, and so in book one (The Garden Plot) we meet her London friend Jo and Mr. and Mrs. Wilson. Pru believes Mr. Wilson is being unjustly suspected of murder, which, she feels, is totally preposterous – and so she sets about to prove his innocence. In each book we see her make a family – it just so happens that now, she really does have a brother. (Read book two for that story – The Red Book of Primrose House.)

Q: Have you ever thought of killing someone that you know in real life–on the pages of a murder mystery, I mean?

A: That’s funny. I’ve heard of authors who get fed up with someone and so use that person as the victim. And I’ve had people say to me (when I’m researching a place for the next book) that they have a few names they’d like to recommend as victims. I treat this as a joke – at least I hope it is. I have not turned anyone I know in real life into a victim.

Yet.

Q: How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?

A: I am true to life – and I take liberties. The Skeleton Garden is based on a real village outside of Romsey in the south of England – although I’ve built up the village a bit. I love pubs, pub names, and pub signs, and have a fun time creating those – often an amalgamation of the many places I’ve visited. The Robber Blackbird is made up, but I hope that readers will enjoy the description of its sign and the interior and the cellars. (The German fighter plane buried in the garden – true!)

Q: When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?

A: Well, very soon, Renee Zellweger will be old enough. She needs to dye her hair brown, though. And for Christopher – I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Clive Owen. Would you?

Q: What’s the worst and best advice you’ve heard or received as an author?

A: Writers – especially new writers – are always getting advice on how to write, and loads of published authors have put in their two-cents-worth, writing their own books on how to write. I suppose the best advice I’ve received is “just write.” Start – get something down and go from there. The editing process is quite freeing once you get to that stage. The worst advice is the kind that tells me what I must do, instead of letting me figure out my own process. “You must write a first draft straight through – don’t stop and edit!” is a common edict. No thanks, that’s not how I do it. Learning about the many different ways writers write is wonderful – being told how I should do it is not.


 

About The Author  

is the author of three previous Potting Shed mysteries: The Garden PlotThe Red Book of Primrose House, and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Her new Birds of a Feather Mystery series debuted with The Rhyme of the Magpie. Wingate is a regular contributor to Country Gardens and other magazines. She also leads gardening tours throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and North America. More Potting Shed and Birds of a Feather mysteries are planned.

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