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Update: the winner of this giveaway is LRF. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Don’t forget to check back soon. We’ve got more great giveaways lined up.
The first narrator in my first novel is an American just arrived in Cambridge, England. I started writing that book six months after I moved to Cambridge myself. My new novel, The Start of Everything, is also set in Cambridge. I had tried telling stories set in places more familiar to me, but it turns out that the too familiar just didn’t work. Plopping down here and trying to capture the new experience for my friends and family back home inspired me in a way that writing about my hometowns hadn’t.
I find it interesting that local book clubs in the UK tend to like that they recognize a familiar Cambridge in my books–both in the places and in the quirks of my characters–but American book clubs seem to like that it’s, to their minds, a fantasy world. It’s both, really. Cambridge is a real place, but sometimes it feels like I’m neighbors with Hogwarts.
One of its pleasures is that the University isn’t hidden away on a private campus. The University has been here for more than 800 years, and has grown up with the even older city; they mesh together like the teeth of a zipper. I go into town to hit the pharmacy and the grocery store, and it’s medieval-market-square-this and ancient-Roman-river-crossing-that, punctuated intermittently by the stone arches and iron gates that front the 31 colleges. The University has retained its traditions–its graduation-robe-like “academic gowns,” its May Balls (that take place in June), and its posh boat races. Most of all, Cambridge is a wonderful setting because of the people it attracts and inspires. I have no association with the University myself, but the departments and colleges are so friendly and generous that I feel connected with it, just as a resident. My kids play in their gardens, do experiments in their labs, sing in their chapels, and sit in on their lectures. I can’t think of a better city for inspiring children.
I’m a foreigner here, but in a way even that makes me fit right in: Cambridge is full of foreigners. They come for a few years, then graduate or finish out their grants. More come to replace them. Cambridge has a core population, of course, but that core is rivaled by the tide of ever-changing scholars, au pairs, and English-language students from all over the world.
In short, it’s a place ripe for stories. From the tiny gravestones in the pet cemetery tucked in a corner of Magdalene College’s fellows’ garden, to Corpus Christi College’s new clock, topped by a robotic monstrous grasshopper that blinks and lolls its tongue, eating time; from the once-grand, now-abandoned telescope dome, carpeted by dead wasps, which crowns the Institute of Astronomy’s library, to the road-swallowing annual fen floods. I’ve put my characters in all of these places. Or, you could say, I’ve pulled them out from all of these places, inspired.
EMILY WINSLOW writes psychological suspense set in Cambridge, England. The Washington Post says of her new book, The Start of Everything (Delacorte Press): “[Winslow is] brilliant at portraying the ragged fragments of these lives. What emerges isn’t a single killer with motive and means, but a tangle of stories crossing and colliding, stray intersections of incidents and accidents, misunderstandings, and misreadings, all thanks to the myopia of individual perspectives and the self-centeredness of individual desires.”
About Ariel Lawhon
Ariel Lawhon is the co-founder of She Reads, novelist, blogger, storyteller, and life-long reader. She lives in Texas with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.