Fans loyal to Laura Childs’ series of bestselling Tea Shop Mysteries frequently visit Charleston, S.C. feeling they already know the nuances of the city. Readers can prowl the historic neighborhoods and sites mentioned in her novels. The Unitarian Churchyard and St. Philips Church Cemetery, art museums like the Gibbs, cute boutiques, and The Battery along the stunning Charleston waterfront are all familiar landmarks grounding the atmospheric storytelling in a romantic reality.
Childs explains, “Charleston is one of those cities that’s old, intriguing, and filled with history and mystery. The Atlantic [Ocean] crashes against its shores, there are spooky graveyards that date back to the 16th century, a real-life cast of quirky characters inhabit the city, and there’s a tea plantation nearby.”
Childs infuses her books with some of Charleston’s local cultural lore. In her twelfth book, Scones and Bones, St. Philip’s graveyard is where main character Theodosia Browning and her tea sommelier Drayton Conneley take their nighttime prowl, searching for the grave of British pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. Wadmalaw Island, sacred to tea lovers for the 127-acre Charleston Tea Plantation, is also the setting for Theodosia’s dangerous tramping through swamps and remote, undeveloped beaches.
The Tea Shop
Set on Church Street in Old Charleston, the fictional Indigo Tea Shop is the perfect location for heroine Theodosia Browning and her trusted assistants, Drayton Conneley and Haley Parker, to ply their customers and local law enforcement with fine teas and hot scones. Then, as the action of each investigation intensifies, Theo is only a quick stroll or a short drive to the scene of the crimes.
“There are quite a few interesting shops here,” the author notes. “And St. Philip’s Church (for which Church Street is named) is out here. This church, as well as the graveyard behind it, figures prominently in several of the books.”
Childs reveals that the Indigo Tea Shop is a combination of several Charleston businesses, including a popular restaurant on Queen Street: Poogan’s Porch. It offers the charm, décor and typical Low Country cuisine, although the tea choices are not part of its actual claim to fame.
“The interior of the well-known restaurant served as my model. It’s quaint and relaxing, although the Indigo Tea Shop has rough-planked floors, a stone fireplace, tea tins and honey jars displayed on the shelves and a front counter lined with teapots.”
Theodosia and Laura
Even though Theodosia’s background has some overlap with that of the author, Laura Childs insists, “Theodosia is a totally fictional character. She’s relatively young – mid-thirties – but did have a ten-year career in marketing which left her feeling unfulfilled. Hence her jumping ship to own a teashop. She’s attractive and trim, but didn’t start out that way. Over the course of thirteen books, she’s taken up jogging, gotten in better shape, and started to eat healthy.”
Theodosia and Laura Childs share a common connection in their early work in the advertising industry. Both women decided to launch new careers after feeling dissatisfied with corporate life. For the books’ heroine, the change led to opening the Indigo Tea Shop and assembling her tearoom team. Childs turned to writing.
The redheaded heroine Theodosia enjoys several romantic relationships in the books. Along with her transition to a healthy lifestyle, readers also enjoy the satisfaction of having her finally fall head-over-heels for the new director of public relations at The Gibbs Museum of Art, Max Scofield, Once again blending fact and fiction, the beguiling new love interest in her life is associated with a real venue on Meeting Street, just three blocks from the Indigo Tea Shop so Theodosia can casually drop by the gallery and Max can pay surprise visits to Indigo for a quick cuppa on his lunch breaks.
Certainly Childs hopes to entertain her audience, but she has larger ambitions for her books. She admits, “I’m a cheerleader when it comes to women becoming entrepreneurs. So many women have clever, sound ideas for opening a business, but they’re afraid to do so. I hope my characters can serve as a note of encouragement.”
Laura Childs’ latest Tea Shop Mystery, Steeped in Evil, was released in hardcover in March 2014. The next installment, Ming Tea Murder,will be released in March 2015.
This article was originally written by Babette Donaldson, and published in the July-August 2012 issue of Tea Magazine.
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