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Sherrill Joseph and the Allure of Staircases

Sherrill Joseph is one of my fellow Blackbird Writers, and a lovely woman, in general. She’s also the author of the Botanic Hill Detectives series for kids – they are fun stories. Her next, Walnut Street, comes out in November.

I have been fascinated by staircases since I was seven years old.

The irony is that I have never lived in a house (yet) with more than one story.

One of the joys of being a children’s mystery book author is that I can create worlds where I would want to live. Of course, that means most—if not all—of the houses in my stories are going to have at least two floors!

If you’ve read any of my Botanic Hill Detectives Mysteries books, you might remember that my twin detectives live in a three-story house. There is a main staircase from the first, or ground, floor in their Quince Street house and a smaller back staircase in the kitchen. In addition, the kids’ detective agency is in a rather dusty attic, accessed through a door and up a small flight of creaky stairs from the third floor. What a grand view they must have from four stories up!

How did this fascination of mine come about? Well, one summer day, my grandmother and various other relatives took tiny me with them to have lunch at my grandaunt’s house out in the countryside east of San Diego. Aunt Edith, as she was known to me, was my grandmother’s oldest sister. I had never been to her home, and I always enjoyed poking around in “new” houses to see how different or similar they were to my own. (I think I was an architect in a former life!)

Soon, the adults got comfortable in the overstuffed chairs and floral sofa in Aunt Edith’s living room that warm day. It didn’t take long for me to start yawning, so I slowly wandered off to explore the house, hoping no one would miss me. I wound through a dark hallway and soon found myself in the kitchen. I can still smell the cherry pie sitting on the counter that my grandaunt had baked for our dessert. But it wasn’t sweets that grabbed my attention as much as a long green hopsack curtain that hung from an archway on the other side of the room. Over I skipped to check it out.

It took a few seconds to dispel my fear of what I might find behind it—and my guilt since the curtain screamed “private” at me. Undaunted, I pushed the curtain aside, and there it was. A magnificent wooden staircase! It hugged the wall as it gently curved upwards and out of sight, lit perhaps by a small window somewhere higher up. Since I couldn’t see where the stairs went, I had to investigate.

Just as I set my foot on the first step, my grandmother called out. “Sherrill! Where are you? It’s time to come to the dining room for lunch.” Drat! My mission had to be aborted. Lunch and that cherry pie were delicious, but I never did find out what was up those stairs. And no one asked me where I had gone. But that day, staircases came to represent mysteries to me, and they still do.

As an adult, I have had to quell my urges to run up the staircases in friends’ multi-story homes on more than one occasion. I know it’s a leftover from that day at Aunt Edith’s. But when you think about it, staircases do represent mystery because they transport us up, up, up to the unknown. As we climb, we are neither on one floor of the next, but somewhere in between. Isn’t that a metaphor of life? And higher up, we can be the master/mistress of all that we survey.

There are different types of staircases, but I prefer mine to be older and a bit spooky. Like Grandaunt Edith’s staircase, they need to rise or curve around to the unknown. No fair having a glimpse of the upstairs that catwalks provide. A spiral or lofty wall hugger is preferred! Curtain optional.

You can find out more about Sherrill Joseph’s books (and buy them) on her website, sherrilljoseph.com.

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