The first thing you notice about Marty Wingate’s cozy North Seattle home is the garden. Plants overflow from the steep slope that leads up from the street to her front door. You see blooms of every hue, leaves of every shape, even small trees. The sheer multitude of flora is almost overwhelming.
Wingate has built her career as a garden writer. She’s the author of several books. “Perennials for the Pacific Northwest” was reissued in late 2013. And she was part of KUOW’s Greendays Gardening Panel for many years. She was known for her gardening expertise. But Marty Wingate harbored a dream; she wanted to write mystery novels.
A prolific reader, Wingate is particularly drawn to the “cozy” mystery genre. These are books that feature amateur sleuths, along with a lot of character development. Agatha Christie was the early “cozy” pioneer with her Miss Marple novels.
But Wingate never thought she’d actually write her own mystery, despite the urgings of friends and fellow writers.
Then, “probably without me even knowing it,” a character crept into her head.
Prunella Parke is a middle-aged native of Dallas, Texas. When Pru’s English-born mother dies, she decides to move to Britain to find a permanent gardening job.
“People say, ‘are you Pru?’”, laughs Wingate. “I certainly share some characteristics, but we are not the same person.”
What Pru and Wingate share is a love of English gardens. Wingate has traveled extensively in Great Britain. She says the gardens there are perfect settings for mysteries, because they contain so much history. Many Roman ruins lie just a few feet below the flowering shrubs. One of these artifacts is at the center of Wingate’s first novel, “The Garden Plot.”
The book, released this spring, is the first of a three-book deal with Random House’s new digital mystery imprint, Alibi. Although she doesn’t have a contract for more of Pru’s adventures, Wingate has already written a fourth mystery and plans to start work on the fifth. She calls the series “The Potting Shed Mysteries.”
Although Wingate is clearly enjoying the life of a fiction writer (“I can write whatever I want!”), she hasn’t given up garden writing. She has a long career to uphold, after all.
“I’ve had lots of gardeners say to me ‘I hope all of the information is accurate.’” Wingate recounts with a twinkle in her eye. “And I say, you’d better believe it is!”