Recently I’ve been completing my latest project, working title: Inspector Kirby and Harold Longcoat, a Northumbrian mystery. The comments from beta readers are good and although there are a couple more to feedback I’ve sent it for proofreading/editing. Now, if you’re familiar with my other books you’ll know that I write science fiction and as the title of my latest creation suggests, it isn’t. Yes, it’s a detective story with, as I hope again is hinted at by the title, a supernatural/magical edge to it (it can’t be that straightforward).
This presented me with an interesting challenge. It is the first time I have used a contemporary location that some people at least will be familiar with. It also set me thinking that the location is as much a character, as important, in the book as are the people. It’s not that I’m in anyway haphazard with my science fiction locations. In my mind I can picture them. I could draw a map and show you around, should we be able to visit my imagination. In my latest published novel, Bleak – The story of a shape shifter, I can see the Highskyring orbital. I can visualise the farming planet that Bleak (the main character) comes to love, as well as the magnificent domed capital of the Confederation, Metrakis. As an author I then try give sufficient information and detail for you to understand my vision without robbing you of your own version of those places.
However, with Inspector Kirby I have actual memories to work with, Google maps, google world, my own photographs etc. Kirby grew out of a number of short stories and I first visualised it taking place in the New Cross area of South London, for no other reason that my son was at college there. Then as I wrote more, I sort of pictured it in Guildford, Surrey which is near where I live. However, somehow that just didn’t seem to fit. It didn’t provide the sort of character I wanted. It didn’t work with the story and the other characters that were revealing themselves as I turned those few short stories into a novel. After a while it seemed obvious I had to set it in Northumberland and Newcastle. Although, I live in Surrey I grew up in Northumberland and was a student in Newcastle. I love the county, it’s cheviot hills, it’s long sandy beaches, the history, the castles and its wild places. Put all that together and what better place for a mystery involving the supernatural and magic?
It’s been fun for me, taking me back to places that I know so well. The challenge then is to do justice to these places while, as with my science fiction, give the reader room to add their own embellishments. I want anyone whose read the book to feel at home in those places without taking away the magic of visiting them for the first time (and believe me it is worth it). For those lucky enough to live in Northumberland I want them to recognise my setting without being bored. After all I’m not writing a travel book or a promotional piece, although after reading the book if anyone decides to visit Northumberland I would highly recommend it.
The other key element that differs from my normal science fiction settings is the need for accuracy. I can stretch and twist things a little to fit the story, but I don’t feel I can rearrange what is actually there. I also accept that my memory may not be as fool-proof as I’d wish. As I say above, I’m glad I live in an age of Google maps, Google earth and Wikipedia, which I admit I have referred to on many occasions.
So yes, I have loved writing my Inspector Kirby book, because I enjoy writing. However, making the location a setting I know and love has been an added bonus for me, transporting me in my mind as I write. I’ve been able to wander around in my imagination while I figure out how to describe itfor the reader. I also have ideas more adventure for Kirby planned, which I suspect might mean an actual return – how good is that!
As always comments are welcome.