As a novelist, everything I write is a mixture of fact and fiction, even when describing well-known local locations. Hence, if you ever visit Farnham, Surrey, UK, the setting for Visiting Lilly, Book 1 in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, you might notice that some of the places aren’t described exactly as they are in real life. My intention isn’t to deceive the unsuspecting tourist, after all I’m not writing a tour guide, but a work of fiction. If, by making something a little taller, bigger or shinier it enhances a dramatic scene, then my imagination will stretch reality for the sake of my art and my reader’s involvement with the story.
Several scenes in Visiting Lilly take place at Farnham Maltings. The historic building started life prior to 1750, when it was used as a tannery. Later, in 1845, it was taken over by a brewery for malting their grain, and remained in use by various breweries until brewing methods changed and the building was abandoned in 1956. Eventually Courage sold the building to the town and work began on transforming it into an arts and community centre. The first Maltings Market took place in the Great Hall in October 1970.
I’ve been going to the Maltings for years. It’s a fabulous venue for exhibitions, and I know an artist who rents studio space within the building. You can also listen to concerts, from classical to rock. The most memorable perfomance I’ve ever attended being by the incredible Dame Emma Kirkby when she sang at the Maltings back in the 80’s.
These days I regularly lunch in the Riverside Cafe Bar with fellow writers, and we sit in the sunshine discussing plot dilemmas over a cappuccino, the table covered in manuscripts and note books. We envisage ourselves as bohemian and creative, and what better place to do it than Farnham Maltings.
It’s the Maltings Market which interests Detective Inspector Jake Talbot, he’s an avid collector of antiques and has a keen eye for a bargain.
In the excerpt below you’ll see that I’ve made the rather rickety looking railing on the stage sound a little grander when Kate leans over it to look at Talbot. I took this photo at the end of the day, when the market was winding down, but you still gain a feel for the bartering and excitement of hunting for treasure.
I’ve also created a Pinterest board to show how I imagine Kate’s painting of the Bluebell Wood might look.
Excerpt from Visiting Lilly: Talbot bumps into Frankie at Farnham Maltings Market, then discovers Kate is there as well.
Bright winter sunshine dazzled as it bounced off puddles. Using his space at the station saved on parking. Talbot smiled. The Maltings was only a spit away and sunshine meant there would be more stalls outside and rich pickings. Unfortunately it also meant there would be more punters, but that was okay, he knew what he was looking for and most of them were casual browsers. Only sometimes the idiots beat him to a gem, so he’d learnt to perfect that disinterested look, and that sneer, and that knack of putting rivals off the scent of a bargain. Mostly he collected nothing in particular, just anything that took his fancy, from china, to Bakelite, to definitely not silver—all those hallmarks and tarnish putting him off. Junk, Claire had called it, but if it fascinated him, who cared? These days the halls were peppered with modern stuff, too: silk paintings, arty photographs, and occasionally the work of some new local artist.
There was one today, up on the stage at the back of the hall, the canvases large and inviting, the semi-abstract landscapes of woodland scenes done with daubs of bright colours. A fresh vista of bluebells with sunshine filtering down through a lime-green leafy wood caught his attention. It was tempting. Yes, he quite liked that; it definitely had a certain something. People kept getting in his way as he tried to stand back and get a feel for what it might look like in his hallway. They were browsing, only half interested, standing too close to truly appreciate the design. Damn, would the same happen in his hall?
Moving on, he went upstairs to visit a man he knew sold mirrors. Well, he was never one to buy something without judging the competition, yet anxiety riddled him with impatience in case someone beat him to that painting. Perhaps he should go back and buy it before it went. Halfway down the stairs he collided with Hayward going in the opposite direction.
‘Wouldn’t expect to see you here,’ Hayward said, instinctively holding out his hand for Talbot to shake.
Talbot shook it, as gentlemen did when they met. ‘On a mission to buy a painting before someone snaps it up.’
‘Mind if I have a look?’
‘Not at all. What brings you here?’
Hayward about-turned, fell into step beside him, and together they pushed through the crowd.
‘Someone told me there’s a dealer here who’s an expert on Capo Di Monte figurines. I need to arrange a valuation for the insurers.’
‘They were worth at least two grand.’ Talbot halted by the steps that went up to the stage. ‘I can let you have copies of all the photos we took.’
‘That would be useful, thank you.’ Hayward stepped back and let people through as they barged past. ‘You know about antiques, don’t you, Mr Talbot?’
‘A little.’ Starting with a vibration in his pocket Talbot’s mobile burst into ‘Broken Wings’ by Mr Mister, giving him the clue it was a victim of crime. ‘Excuse me,’ he said to Hayward, read the name, and hurried to answer it before every head turned to locate the outburst of rock music. ‘Kate, thanks for calling me back.’
‘Are you stalking me?’
Taken aback, he hesitated. ‘No, I was wanting to speak with you.’
‘So, just because I didn’t get back to you immediately, you decided to track me down and upset my work.’ She made an infuriated grunting noise down the phone. ‘Well, I can’t talk to you now. I don’t want to discuss details of my private life in public.’
‘Kate, Kate, I’m off duty, at Farnham Maltings …’
‘I know where you bloody well are! I can see you from here.’
You can? Looking up the length of the great hall, Talbot tried to recognise her amidst the clamour of stalls and punters. What would she be wearing? She’d look different without her coat and hat. Nope. Slowly he pivoted round three hundred and … ah, that would be her, standing up on the stage, in front of the painting he wanted to buy. Yep, that was her alright, glaring down at him, not even bothering to wave.
‘What are you selling?’ he asked, and smiled up at her, his heart sinking before he’d even heard the answer.
‘Then I’ll leave you to it.’ He was going to hang up and walk away, but she rushed towards the railings at the edge of the stage and peered down at him, saying, ‘Were you really just walking around?’
He nodded. She was almost loud enough not to need to the phone, her words carrying down across the babble of voices bartering below. Frankie was following his gaze, tracking it up to where she stood, the painting a glorious backdrop to her shock of dark hair. It really was not a good idea for the two of them to meet, for them to get stuck in awkward conversation, until one of them eventually blurted out the name Charteris or Lilly.