Books·How I Wrote It

Susan Glickman: How I Wrote Safe as Houses

Susan Glickman explains how she found inspiration for her mystery novel in her dog and backyard.
Susan Glickman is the author of the mystery novel Safe as Houses. (Cormorant Books/Mark Raynes Roberts)

In most mystery novels, the person who finds the body falls off the radar as soon as the police arrive. But not in Susan Glickman's Safe as Houses. For her first mystery, Glickman wanted to explore how it would feel for someone to find a dead body in the place they go for their daily dose of tranquility. 

Susan Glickman explains how she wrote Safe as Houses, from the inspiration of her dog Toby to finding her setting, literally, in her own backyard.

Impending doom

"The idea for Safe as Houses came from walking my dog around my neighbourhood. He took off on me in this beautiful enclave in Toronto called Wychwood Park, which has a private tennis court and a beautiful duck pond and is surrounded by elegant Arts and Crafts houses. For some bizarre reason, I thought of my dog finding a dead body in the bushes. This wasn't prompted by any evil associations with the neighbourhood. It just has to do with my own sense of impending doom and having read too many murder mysteries."

Deadly profession

"Wychwood Park is a beautiful neighbourhood. You can't imagine anything more bucolic. There are giant oak trees and naturalized lawns full of bluebells and daffodils. It looks like a little piece of England. The phrase 'safe as houses' came into my mind. It's an old English expression. I thought it had to do with one's feeling of safety when in a solid structure like a house, but actually it has to do with real estate being the least volatile of investments. When I investigated this saying I decided the dead man had to be a real estate agent."

New Yorker

"Maxime Bertrand is Liz Ryerson's sidekick. He is a retired classics professor, originally from Montreal, who is lovingly based on an old friend of mine who I miss very much. He was a retired English professor and my doctoral dissertation supervisor. People who knew Sheldon Zitner might recognize him a bit in Maxime — although Maxime is much less acerbic than my friend, who was a New Yorker and had a very wry sense of humour. It's not so much him as a character, but it's the relationship that Maxime has with Liz. They have an almost father/daughter relationship." 

For the love of Toby

"One of the things that happens when you write fiction is you get to fill in missing pieces of your own life. I love my neighbourhood, but we don't have a bookstore. So I made my protagonist, Liz Ryerson, own the store that I wish existed in my neighbourhood. I also made her dog a cross between a border collie and a lab — other than that, he has all the qualities of my own little dog Toby, who's small and can't fetch a Frisbee. So I decided if I was going to give myself a bookstore I was also going to give my dog the body he wanted so he could catch a Frisbee."

Susan Glickman's comments have been edited and condensed. 

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