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Book research at the Kimbolton Sculpture Festival

My next murder mystery, Poison at Penshaw Hall, features a sculpture competition. So when I heard there was an upcoming sculpture competition in a small rural community not too far away, I knew I had to go.

On the advertised Saturday morning earlier this month, I joined my friends Rachel and Jill for a day out at the Kimbolton Sculpture Festival in Manawatū, New Zealand. We had a quick bakery stop for pastries and takeaway coffees then headed out of town.

Sculptures at the Kimbolton Sculpture Festival. Life-sized bull made of bicycle tyres. Road cone sculpture.

By this point, I had already written the first draft of the scenes featuring my own sculpture competition in my fictional Milverton Square. But considering how many notes I made, I know I’ll be making some big changes during the edits of my book.

There’s nothing quite like wandering around a sports domain in the rain, surrounded by locals in their terrain-appropriate gumboots, the scents of freshly cut grass, deep fried hotdogs and sugary sweet churros wafting by as your ears are sporadically assaulted by bursts of the bagpipes.

Sculptures at the Kimbolton Sculpture Festival. Deer made of horse shoes. A little robot man. A horse head made of driftwood.

Armed with my phone’s notes app, I soaked up all the things I just could not make up while sitting at the comfort and isolation of my desk. I had the added benefit of two extra sets of eyes and ears who were able to funnel any juicy titbits my way when I was too busy jotting things down or distracted by something else happening in the other direction.

There were a huge range of sculptures on display, from the weird and whimsical to the awe-inspiring, some with a sale price and others going up for auction later in the day. Many used recycled materials commonly found on the farm, and all were very well done.

Sculptures at the Kimbolton Sculpture Festival. Gentleman on a penny farthing bicycle. Auction underway.

The announcements over the public address system were a constant source of amusement, just absolute gold. And the auctions – the highs, the lows, and the almost unbearably awkward moments – what a ride. The things we overheard from other visitors wandering around the sculptures and market stalls were another highlight. As was the prize ceremony, which had to retreat to the shelter the grandstand.

There was quite the roster of awards presented, with the youth awards and the people’s choice award (we were each given a bead to cast our vote), right up to the main event: the National Rural Sculpture Awards.

Sculptures at the Kimbolton Sculpture Festival. Pīwakaka (NZ fantail) sculpture. View from the grandstand.

Our visit gave me ideas for the happenings, sights, sounds, and smells of my own sculpture competition. It was reassuring to see things I’d already incorporated into my story, but there was plenty going on that I would never have dreamed of, and I just know it’ll bring these scenes in my own story to life.

A few comments I heard that made my laugh:

  • “I could’ve made that.”
  • “This will look great in your front room, or even your front yard. Who needs chairs when you have a lovely sculpture instead?”
  • “Can’t be heard at the back of the crowd? Well, my solution to that is to come to the front of the crowd.”
  • “I’m going to focus on this side of the audience, the high quality side.”
Sculptures at the Kimbolton Sculpture Festival. Octopus made of copper wire. A large wooden apple.

Keen for more amusing quips? You can pre-order your copy of my locally set murder mystery novel, Poison at Penshaw Hall, scheduled for release later this year. See what bits make it into the book! But if you’re keen to get stuck in right now, grab a paperback or ebook copy of Murder on Milverton Square, the first in the series which is available to read right now…

The Milverton Mysteries

A delightfully cosy murder mystery series set in an enchanting small town nestled amongst stunning New Zealand scenery. The Milverton Mysteries features:

  • a chaotic cast of local busybodies,
  • delicious baked treats,
  • a demanding and disdainful ginger cat,
  • a very slow-burn romance with a rather appealing policeman,
  • and of course… MURDER.

Murder on Milverton Square

Murder on Milverton Square (The Milverton Mysteries #1) is out now.

Murder on Milverton Square by G B Ralph. Book cover image and blurb.

Addison Harper is abruptly summoned to Milverton at the behest of an abrasive lawyer. He plans to be in and out, back to the city lickety-split. Instead, he finds himself charmed by the small town with its delightful and eccentric residents, not to mention the rather easy-on-the-eye Sergeant Jake Murphy.

Despite the rocky start, Addison admits he’s had a pleasant day out. That is, until returning to find the prickly old lawyer on the floor, and very much dead. Worse, it looks like murder, and Addison’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene.

Poison at Penshaw Hall

Poison at Penshaw Hall (The Milverton Mysteries #2) is up for pre-order today.

Poison at Penshaw Hall by G B Ralph. Book cover image and blurb.

Addison Harper is back, and with another dead body at his feet. Only this time, the entire town saw it happen.

Milverton has been shortlisted for the Terrific Town Award, so a dramatic death at the unveiling ceremony is far from ideal. Addison had only been lending a hand, but now finds himself much more involved than he’d ever hoped. To think his biggest worry before had been his upcoming date with Sergeant Jake Murphy.

As for the Sergeant, he can hardly ignore a hall full of witnesses even if he wanted to. And they’re all pointing the finger at his date, Milverton’s newest arrival, Addison Harper.
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