Mystery author Hilary MacLeod finds inspiration in her two idyllic cottage studios—one in PEI, the other in Ontario
In the early hours of morning, just as the sun inches above the horizon, author Hilary MacLeod is fussing in the kitchen of her cottage in Sea View, PEI, preparing a cup of English breakfast tea. Swirling at her feet are Gus and Sophie, two cats itching to go outside.
MacLeod’s Revenge of the Lobster Lover, the first in her “Shores Mysteries” series, was published in 2010 by Acorn Press. It picked up a CBC Bookie Award for best mystery in 2011. Since then, MacLeod has published Mind Over Mussels, All is Clam and Something Fishy, all with Acorn. [Ed’s note: Find a review of Something Fishy here.] She’s currently working on Bodies and Sole.
MacLeod hails from Scotland, originally; she was born Edinburgh in 1949. Remnants of childhood days spent in Mexico, England and Montreal are reflected in the decor at this Island home—a place where she has spent her last 23 summers.
Summer in Sea View
From the kitchen, MacLeod makes her way to the living room—the heart of the house—and settles into a wicker chair. With her silver MacBook open and her reading glasses hinged on the bridge of her nose, she begins to write at her portable desk.
“I live in this room,” says MacLeod. “Writing. Drinking wine. Cavorting.” This room is filled with treasures from MacLeod’s travels. There’s an old Singer sewing table—an item she picked up in New Brunswick when she was working as a writer-broadcaster for the CBC. In the centre of the room is a wooden coffee table; on top is a trough filled with rocks and driftwood collected from her leisurely walks on the beach.
The writing may happen in the living room, but Sea View is MacLeod’s real studio. She draws her ideas from the people who live there, the tourists who drop by, and, of course, from the ocean, which she visits daily, regardless of the weather.
MacLeod recalls that when she first moved to Sea View, she became friends with three local residents who loved to gossip and tell stories.
“I would listen to how they talked, the words they used, the cadence and the stories they told,” she says. “Those stories have certainly crept into my books, slightly altered as stories are. That, too, is a large part of my studio—the kitchens of these three elderly people.”
And then there are those moments when ideas are born and new scenes for her current novel emerge as she sits in her corner of the living room and watches the sun rise through the stained glass window.
“It’s not onerous,” she admits. “I’m not a struggling writer sitting there in that chair. I spend two or three hours at it, and that’s it for the day.”
The stained glass window is a piece she procured at a yard sale in Ontario—the province she migrates to in the fall.
Winter in Wicker Hill
MacLeod’s second studio is in Prince Edward County, Ontario—a region with a reputation for wine, ale and cheese. On top of Wicker Hill, in a small cottage overlooking Muscote Bay, the living room is again her studio of choice.
There are many similarities between MacLeod’s two cottages. In each, there’s unused office space and an extensive book collection. Outside, she has immaculate, well-maintained gardens.
Unlike her living room in Sea View, though, MacLeod’s writing studio at Wicker Hill is made for winter. She writes the meat of her novels there by the warmth of a wood stove. The room is more spacious, part of the cottage’s open-concept design.
“You live indoors more in the winter,” she says. “The use of your space is different. In Sea View, I don’t need a big space because my studio is everywhere.”