Places inspire plots
A strong sense of setting is important to me when I read. I enjoy books in which the backdrop becomes a character in itself – a haunted English country mansion, frozen Icelandic terrain, or even bustling London streets. I love familiar settings, where I recognise place names and buildings, visualising myself there as the plot unfolds around me.
So when it comes to my own novels, setting is essential to me when I write, using words to paint pictures of tree-lined roads and rundown houses, and eerie grassy parks after dusk.
A murder mystery in a sleepy English town
When writing my murder mystery debut, The Redeemer, I always knew that I would set it in Hertfordshire, on the cusp of rural and suburban life. Firstly, that’s where I live so it’s familiar to me, but secondly, the Jewish community I feature in the book is based on those in Hertfordshire and North-West London (and specifically the one in my own town). To set the book anywhere else just wouldn’t have felt ‘right’.
The difficulty in writing about the place where I live is that it will be instantly recognisable to anyone who lives there, or nearby, especially if it’s a relatively small town with a strong sense of community. This always leads to inevitable questions, from family and friends, in particular – So, who am I in your book? Is [xxx] based on me? Why did you put a park in that location when it’s over there?
To avoid this, I created a fictional Hertfordshire town. Hillsbury has many features of my own real-life hometown – a crossroads with a synagogue and church opposite one another (which partly inspired the book’s plot), a large spacious park, a Jewish cemetery (with a small airfield nearby) and several schools. By writing about a town that doesn’t exist, it doesn’t matter if I’ve moved the secondary school, added a mosque or an extra café, or changed the layout of the roads.
The secret of Whomsoever Lane
I’ve enjoyed going on long walks at different times of the day, at different times of the year, to inspire me and fuel my imagination. I’ve explored roads that I’d never noticed before, taken photos of the finer details and created visual memories of dilapidated houses with rusty gates and rotting window frames, muddy footpaths shrouded by low-growing shrubs, and gravel driveways edged with pristine flowerbeds.
Streets in my book are based on actual streets, and many would probably be recognisable if you drove down them – roads lined with bungalows, terraced cottages or large houses with sweeping driveways. Only one road in The Redeemer is an actual place, simply because I love the name (Whomsoever Lane), although I have moved it to a different location to suit the plot.
In the acknowledgements at the back of my book, I clearly state:
‘Hillsbury is a fictional town loosely based on where I live in Hertfordshire. If you know the area, some of the locations in this book may seem familiar. But I’d like to reassure everyone who lives nearby that none of you have been immortalised as a character in this book!’
As a British thriller writer, I too love to infuse my fiction with a sense of place. New murder mystery and suspense thriller Lies at Her Door is set in the swanky district of Clifton, Bristol. When a skeleton is found under Lucy Freeman’s garden, the shy young woman is the prime suspect. Yet when she tries to clear her name, she realises that uncovering long-buried wrongs can be lethal…