I suspect most mystery writers have something in common with their detectives. Multiple things actually. We can’t help it—real life informs fiction and leaches into it. Personally, I believe it’s necessary to connect with our main characters in deep and even intimate ways. Only then can we see and portray them as fully human.
When you’re writing a London set crime novel featuring a tough female Detective Inspector, there’s not much chance that point of connection is going to come from the daily grind of hunting bad guys. Nowhere in my prior life have I stood over a burned dead body (so glad about that) or handcuffed anyone. My understanding of forensic science comes completely from books (so many books).
But that’s okay. I don’t have to be a cop to connect with one. Because what makes DI Nigella Parker relatable, loveable, and occasionally frustrating is not her understanding of how bodies burn. It’s her personality. If we are honest, as readers (or BBC crime drama viewers for that matter) what keeps us coming back to find out “who done it” is not merely the cool forensic science or the red herrings in the latest twisty mystery. We invest our time in crime reading and viewing because we care about the fictional detectives doing the digging and the solving.
I’ve given Nigella Parker odd bits of myself as part of making her fully realized and fully human. In a later blog I’ll discuss how she’s also given me something—a way to work through and overcome a very particular fear of fire. But today I want to confess something we share that is far more pleasant: we wear the same perfumes. Two of them. And both have smoke notes.
I didn’t realize until I started writing Nigella—a cop with a deep fear of fire rooted in her childhood—that two of my favorite scents, perfumes I consistently wore while drafting And by Fire, are smokey. I decided Nigella ought to own and wear those perfumes as well. Once she did (fictionally of course), these signature scents offered me an easy, almost instantaenous way to slip into Ni’s skin and get down to the business of writing.
So, what are we wearing?
Naomi Goodsir’s Iris Cendre: Don’t let the iris in the title fool you. Yes, it’s in there—along with delightful touches of bergamot and tangerine—but so is the fire. The title “Iris Cendre” actually translates to “Iris Ash. One of my favorite fragrance reviewers (if you are not a frag-hag you may not know this but lots of people review fragrances) describes Iris Cendre as: “a bona fide masterpiece—a lush, warm, buttery interpretation of iris with a gorgeously restrained hint of smokiness.”
Iris Cendre was my everyday, go-to writing scent for And by Fire—providing me with a reminder, a whiff, of smoke that wasn’t too heavy or dark. This is sensual smokiness. I can imagine Nigella spritzing on Iris Cendre before going to an art gallery do . . . or spending an evening with boy-toy James.
I wear this perfume so much it’s nearly time to replenish my stock. It launched in 2015 and was a signature scent for me long before I met Nigella. Now it is her signature scent too.
Thomas Kosmala’s No. 9 Bukhoor: There is no missing the fire and smoke in this one. Bukhoor is the Arabic name for woodchips “soaked in precious essential oils, mixed with chards of frankincense” then pressed into bricks that get slowly smoked over an incense burner in people’s homes. As my go-to reviewer says, “this scent is: rich, smoky, and pugnacious.” Come to think of it Nigella can be pretty pugnacious—which is another thing she gets from me. I don’t have a “flight” instinct, it’s all “fight” and it always has been. Both of us think assertiveness is a good thing in women, even if other people get nasty and chose to label it as “aggressiveness.”
Nigella and I wear No. 9 Bukhoor when we need to go to war. When our backs are up against the wall—say for instance when she’s got multiple dead bodies and as many leads as a centipede has legs, or when I am facing a daunting daily wordcount. In my imagination DI Colm O’Leary, Nigella’s former lover who works along side her to solve And by Fire’s string of murder/arsons, loves this one. Because Nigella’s fierceness is one of his favorite things about her.
No. 9 Bukhoor is a newer scent for me, having launched in 2018. It has fantastic staying power so you can put it on after a morning shower, and you’ll still smell of spicey when you get out of bed the next morning.
That’s Nigella and my shared scent story. I am curious readers—do you have any signature scents? What are they? What do your favorite perfumes have in common and what would that tell me about you?