Monday, 23 September 2013

Bath – the greatest little city by Pamela Kelt

Our explorations of book settings chosen by authors have taken us to places as different as BelfastAmsterdam, Tenerife and even a fantasy world. Today Pamela Kelt bring us closer to home, as she guides us through the city that serves as a background to her contemporary mystery novel "Tomorrow's Anecdote" - Bath.

‘So, do you fancy living in Bath?’

Royal Crescent - Nigel Mykura

I was working at the Cambridge Evening News, splash sub on the day Princess Diana was in town. The editors were frothing at the mouth. In the midst of the chaos, the phone went. It was Rob, my husband. He’d just opened the magic envelope. Yes, he’d got the job as junior chemistry lecturer at the University of Bath.

Did I fancy living in Bath? YES! I couldn’t get away for hours, but we celebrated. For quite some time.

I’d chummed Rob along for his interview some weeks earlier and had fallen in love with the city and the beautiful environs. It was unbearable to conceive that he might not get the job. But he did – and we were set.

We moved in the autumn and I was lucky enough to land a job at the Bath Evening Chronicle, as it was then. If you want to know what makes a city tick, work on the local paper. When I started on my newsroom mystery, Tomorrow’s Anecdote, it made perfect sense to set it there, with some name changed to protect the guilty. I moved the office and newspaper presses to an imaginary small town to the south called Wellsbury Spa.

The early scenes in the book featuring the dodgy ergonomic chairs and clunky keyboards is all based on reality. We even had a real-life ‘Board of Evil’ where we all tried desperately to get the word ‘evil’ into a headline, which we’d cut out and stick up. The management took down the cuttings regularly but they kept reappearing. Funny, that.

There are also scenes set in the newspaper library, all true to life. I don’t know what’s happened to that treasure trove of information, for the paper has folded.

So, by day, as I subbed stories about Bath, I began absorbed all the facts the figures about the place: the politics, the movers and shakers, the streets, the culture, the shops, the conservation projects, the issues with tourists, travellers, tradespeople. Evenings and weekends we explored the cinemas, theatres, cafés, pubs. My editor called it ‘the greatest little city on earth’. It was one of the few things we agreed on.

Cross Bath - Rob Farrow
Bath is so beautiful, it’s hard to know where to begin. The fabulous Regency façades, the sweeping crescents, the baths, the cathedral, the elegant parks. I always swore I’d never take them for granted, and I think I succeeded. When we lived there, there was a massive conservation programme going on, and I borrowed some of that detail for a scene with our heroine gets trapped in an original spa that has been closed due to a potentially lethal health hazard. The Cross Bath, so called, was being refurbished at the time. I passed the project regularly on my way to our Westgate Street office, bang in the city centre.

Later, I became features editor, fortunate enough to be in charge of running restaurant reviews. Oh, boy, did we eat out at some fancy places! In fact, I preferred the pubs, and every establishment in the book is based on a real place, including the rather seedy first-floor bar where the journos always go to discuss strike action. Yes, the landlady wore frilly blouses and drank Babycham. I’m not sure if she was a cross-dresser. Nobody ever had the guts to ask.

In time, Rob and I acquired our wonderful dog, Amber. We began to explore the wonderful countryside, enjoying the most beautiful dog walks imaginable. Again, the country scenes in the book are all real – Woolley, Limpley Stoke, Sham Castle, Rainbow Wood – with some name changes. Picturesque isn’t a strong enough word. 
City View
Sham Castle - Derek Harper

Tomorrow’s Anecdote is set in the autumn of 1987 when the Great Storm hit. I was actually in Cambridge at the time, but later I came across the file pictures of the havoc caused in Somerset. I can’t locate an actual photograph of Rainbow Wood, where most of the massive beech trees were felled by the winds, but the one here is pretty close. It gave me the idea for the rather gruesome discovery that kicks off the mystery part of the story. 

Fallen giant, victim of the Great Storm 1987 - Chris Reynolds

Solsbury Hill - Maurice Pullin
In time, we bought a house – after a marathon search that took us to some less salubrious parts of town, some of which you’ll recognise in the book. We ended up in Larkhall, formerly a separate village to the east. It was a Victorian terraced house on a private road called Eastville, and is the model for Clare Forester’s small, but cosy home ‘Westville’. And yes, there was a view of Solsbury Hill if you craned your head while leaning out of the bedroom window on a clear day.
Call me sentimental, but every time I hear the song, I feel weepy.

We loved it, we loved it all – despite the fact that interest rates soared to 16 per cent, and the NUJ journalists went on strike, and there was union trouble at the university too. The NUJ paid our mortgage for six weeks. It was tense.

And I still love Bath, despite the tourists and the traffic. I wonder, too, if the Georgian architecture reminds me of my home city, Edinburgh, but the setting is quite distinctly English, with those soft rolling, green hills all around. Of course, I have a particularly soft spot for the place since my daughter was born there, so that guarantees a strong connection. (I dedicated the book to her, too.) I’d live there again at the drop of a hat.

Hm. Time for a sequel?


Pamela Kelt started out by taking Spanish at the University of Manchester. On completion of the degree and after a subsequent six brain-fogging months on a local paper, she fled to Oxford and completed her M. Litt. thesis on ‘Comic aspects of satirical 17th-century comic interludes’, which was not only much more fun, but strangely relevant to coping with the vagaries of the 21st century. After becoming a technical translator, she discovered that English was easier, and did copywriting for anyone who would pay. On a stint in Australia, she landed a job as a subeditor and returned to journalism, relishing the chance to come up with funny headlines in a variety of provincial papers, including the Cambridge Evening News and the Bath Chronicle. Ah. Once a pun a time.

As her academic husband became a chemistry professor in something even she can’t spell, Pam moved into the more sensible world of educational magazines and online publishing – for a while, at least. A daughter arrived and reintroduced her to the delights of fiction, which she’d sort of forgotten about. So, one fine day, while walking the dogs at a local beauty spot, thinking ‘to hell with a career’, Pam took the plunge into writing for herself, and is now the author of six books to date (including one co-written with aforementioned prof, with more in the pipeline) ranging from historical drama by way of teen fantasy to retro mystery.


Just another day in the the newsroom? Hardly.

October 1987. Clare Forester is an overworked and under-appreciated features subeditor on a provincial paper in Somerset. She spends her time cheerfully ranting about her teenage daughter, the reclusive lodger, her spiteful mother, the Thatcher government, new technology, grubby journalists, petty union officials, her charming ex - and just about anything else that crosses her path.

If things aren’t turbulent enough, on the night of Thursday, October 15th, the Great Storm sweeps across Britain, cutting a swathe of destruction across the country.

Things turn chaotic. Pushed to breaking point, Clare finally snaps and loses her temper with gale-force fury - with disastrous results.

As she contemplates the chaos that her life has become, Clare soon comes to a bitter conclusion.

Never trust the past. It lies.


  1. You just sold me on Bath. I've never been yet and it's a must do place one of these days. Of course, it will be cheaper to just live it through reading Tomorrow's Anecdote which I now have on my kindle. :-) Thanks ladies, for a great little tour.

  2. Pam, I was one of those tourists you speak about, twice visiting Bath. We enjoyed our travels there and the beauty surrounding the city. Fun blog.

    Susan Bernhardt
    The Ginseng Conspiracy coming 1/14

  3. Hi, Susan. It is a lovely place. When you live somewhere so popular, you find the quiet days to go and explore. Mid-week is fabulous! Thanks for dropping by.