Friday, 31 October 2014

BLOG TOUR - Guest Post by Kathleen McGurl

On Settings

Good settings are critical in a novel. There’s the overall setting – where do your characters live? And then there are the small, scene by scene settings to decide on. All the action has to take place somewhere.

The Emerald Comb is set mostly in Brighton and a village in Hampshire. When I first planned the novel, the historical strand was going to be set in Bath rather than Brighton. I needed somewhere that was fashionable in 1840 and Bath was the first place which came to mind. But then I realised I would have to do a lot of research, as I don’t know Bath very well at all. But Brighton – well, I used to live there. Although of course it has changed a lot over the last 150 years, I’m well aware of the basic layout, and can picture the beach and the promenade and some of the old, grand houses, squares and terraces which still exist. A bit of Googling found maps of Brighton from my chosen time period, which were really helpful. I love the sea so it was wonderful to be able to set some of the scenes on the beach there.

The Hampshire parts are set in a fictitious village I named North Kingsley. It’s described as being just north of Winchester and if you look at a map, in my mind it is pretty much where real-life Micheldever is. I had a good idea of what my village looked like, and sketched rough maps in a notebook showing where Kingsley House, the pub, the church and Irish Hill were. Irish Hill, incidentally, is named after a hill in Berkshire, which I transplanted to Hampshire for my novel. (Oh the power of the novelist! I can move mountains!)

In some books, the setting sometimes becomes a character in its own right. Whether it’s dark, foggy Victorian London streets, a beautiful stately home, or a creepy haunted house – a wonderful location can add so much more to the story. Kingsley House was crucially important in The Emerald Comb – it is the main link between the two timelines and most of the action takes place in or around the house. That’s the reason why I wanted to start chapter one with Katie arriving at Kingsley House for the first time. I wanted the reader to see it through her eyes right at the start, and hopefully fall in love with it the way she did.

The house itself is based partly on a house in the Avon valley outside Christchurch which I have cycled past many times, and partly on one near Penrith in Cumbria, which belongs to a friend’s parents. When planning the book, I drew floor plans of it and labelled each room twice – once showing how the room was used by Bartholomew and Georgia in the historical story, and once showing how Katie’s family used it in the contemporary story. Although every reader will picture it differently (and that’s the joy of reading compared to watching TV) I hope that I’ve given enough impressions so that their imagined house is at least a bit like mine.

When I was in the final stages of editing The Emerald Comb, I spent a weekend in Brighton. As we walked past Brunswick Terrace, I found myself telling my husband, ‘look – that’s where Georgia Holland lived with her uncle!’ He gave me a Look. Sometimes I live in my novels far too much!


One afternoon, Katie takes a drive to visit Kingsley House, the family home of her ancestors, the St Clairs. She falls in love the minute she sees it. It may be old and in desperate need of modernisation, but it is her link to the past and, having researched her family tree extensively, she feels a sense of belonging to the crumbling old estate.

When it suddenly comes up for sale, she cannot resist persuading her family to sell up and buy it, never telling them the truth of their connection with it. But soon the past collides with the present, as the house begins to reveal the secrets it has hidden for generations. Does Katie really want to discover what she has come from?

About the author

Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present., and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.

When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or sea-swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.

You can find out more at her website,, or follow her on Twitter @KathMcGurl.


  1. Thanks for hosting me here today!

    1. My pleasure! My review will be posted later today :)

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