by Sheila Connolly
Recently I was invited to be the speaker at a private literary club in Philadelphia. Since I write the Museum Mysteries series based in Philadelphia (in the very neighborhood where the club is located), I was happy to do it. I've also been going back and forth with the library in the town that is the model for my fictional Granford from the Orchard Mysteries series: they want to hold an apple festival event next month—with me as the main speaker.
Now I write three series: the Orchard Mysteries, set in western Massachusetts; the Museum Mysteries, set in Philadelphia; and the County Cork Mysteries, set in Ireland. And I have direct personal ties with all of those. So when I set out to talk about writing the Museum Mysteries, I could point to my more than twenty years of living in Pennsylvania, first with my parents, then as an adult; I can spin anecdotes about working for Philadelphia's financial advisory firm, at a time when the city faced imminent bankruptcy; and I can refer to my various jobs at Philadelphia non-profit institutions, and what they're really like behind the scenes.
Choose Column A, the Orchard Mysteries, and I'll tell you about my hundreds of New England ancestors, and distant relatives such as Johnny Appleseed and Ethan Allen and Emily Dickinson; if I'm in "Granford" I can point to the 1790 census, where I'm related to at least a third of the Heads of Household. The house I use in that series is a real one, built by an ancestor. I've been inside it several times, from basement to attic, and I've laid hands of timbers that I know were cut cut 250 years ago by people I can identify and I'm related to. While I may have moved a road or two in the series, other features, such as the Great Meadow, are real.
Column C? My grandfather John Connolly was born in County Cork, but regrettably I never knew him. I first traveled there more than a decade ago, hoping to understand him better, and to learn about Ireland, which is as large a part of my heritage as all those New England Yankees. I immediately fell in love with the place and have been back several times since. As for writing the series, I came to realize that a small Irish town in a rural part of the country is as ideal a setting for a cozy mystery series as is a small Massachusetts town (or an equally small cultural community within a big city like Philadelphia). Cheers had it right: it's a place where everybody knows your name—and your grandparents', and when your great-uncle Denis emigrated to New Zealand a century ago and who attended the send-off party.