Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Why locations count by David Mark, author of Dead Pretty - an author guest post

I would like to welcome David Mark to my blog today, to talk about the importance of locations in his DS McAvoy novels. DS McAvoy novels have brought readers from all over the world to the streets of Hull - the same streets David walked as a crime journalist. The David's 5th DS McAvoy book Dead Pretty is being published by Mulholland Books on 28 January 2016. 

Why locations count
By David Mark

I’m not very good at remembering stock answers to the questions that novelists tend to get asked.

When people query where I get my ideas from, or why I’ve made my lead character a Scottish giant, or whether I’m as angry as they are about the casting decisions in Jack Reacher, I don’t really have anything to trot out. So when people ask me why I write about Hull, I actually stop to think about it. I ponder. I stroke my chin and treat myself to some deep cogitation. Then, like all authors, I ask Google. I did that for you, just now. I typed ‘Hull’ into the search engine, and the local newspaper headlines flashed up. The second item involved a naked man assaulting three police officers on the Bransholme estate when they warned him to stop jumping on cars.

“Ah,” I thought, nodding sagely. “That’s why.”

Location isn’t always crucial to the success of a novel. Conan Doyle did just as well when he took Sherlock travelling as he did when he left him in Baker Street. Jane Marple regularly ventured out of the comfort of St Mary Mead and Jack Reacher has made a career out of behaving like the Littlest Hobo and turning up wherever Lee Child feels like dropping him.

It’s different for me, and my central character, Aector McAvoy. I write what Amazon loves to refer to as ‘police procedurals’. In essence, that means my main protagonist is a serving policeman rather than an amateur or some poor bystander who gets caught up in the mix. I write about a Detective Sergeant on the murder squad in Hull. Why? Well, Oxford was taken. So too was Edinburgh. Bergerac has got Jersey sewn up and it would be arrogant to think I could do Nottingham better than John Harvey. And, to be fair, I know next to naff all about any of those cities.

The thing is, when I wrote the first McAvoy book I hadn’t seen a great deal of the world. I’m from Carlisle, which is a perfectly fine place to be from, but I left there at 18 and my memories tend to be those of a miserable teenager with purple hair who thought the world would get better if people got behind new Labour leader John Smith …

I’ve been a journalist in a few other towns, but I wouldn’t call myself anything other than vaguely familiar with the geography. I know the streets of Nottingham a bit. I know how to get from Bella Italia to my old bedsit without getting shot and I know how to get in through the delivery entrance at the Evening Post building without being seen so I could sneak to my desk and pretend I’d been there for hours. But that’s hardly enough of a connection to make it the setting for my books.

The simple truth is, I set my books in Hull because it’s the only place I can imagine those stories being set. I came to Hull in 2000 to work for the Yorkshire Post and knew it as a punchline. As far as I was concerned it was a fish shop 50 miles down a railway siding and it was to be no more than a stepping stone on my way to bigger and better things.

Trouble is, Hull is fascinating. If you have a relatively artistic and enquiring soul, you can’t help but be seduced by the place. The architecture is extraordinary. The history oozes through the cobbles like daisies and slime.  The people talk funny and the men who drink in the Old Town pubs are full of stories about how they saw their best friend’s head taken off by the trawl doors 70 miles off the Norwegian coast in 1964.

Perhaps it was simply the fact that it was where I spent most time as a journalist. I got to know the courts and the police stations. I sat in the living rooms of grieving wives, mothers, husbands and fathers and looked at their family albums as they told me of the agonies their loved ones had endured at the hands of the monsters who snatched their lives. I knew the coppers. I knew the geography, I knew which pubs my fictional characters would be most likely to drink in and what McAvoy would need to wear if he was going to be staking out a building off Cleveland street (there’s a vicious cross-wind).

Familiarity, then? A simple, pragmatic approach to location? I know Hull, so I’ll set it there. Perhaps. But in truth, and I may have to get a bit existential here, I think McAvoy was destined for hull before I even met him. I can’t picture him anywhere else. I can’t imagine his boss, Trish, living anywhere other than her little semi-detached in Grimsby. When the accused is in the dock, he’s in the dock at Hull Crown Court – feet from where I used to sit scribbling down their denials and lies.

All told, it’s probably a little of everything. My books are based in Hull but they may not always stay there. As I see more of the world I might take McAvoy to new locations. I might not. For now, Hull is where McAvoy calls ‘home’. It’s a city I know; a city that fascinates, intrigues and inspires. But even if my accountant could swing the research flights with HMRC, I wouldn’t feel comfortable setting the same stories in Barbados. The air would feel wrong. The clouds wouldn’t move the right way. The people wouldn’t take the way they do in my imagination. And more importantly, McAvoy’s freckly skin would burn in the sun.

Dead Pretty
By David Mark
Published by Mulholland Books (28 January 2016)

Hannah Kelly has been missing for nine months. Ava Delaney has been dead for five days.
One girl to find. One girl to avenge. And DS Aector McAvoy won't let either of them go until justice can be done.

But some people have their own ideas of what justice means...

Find Dead Pretty on Amazon UK here.

All about David Mark

David spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post - walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.
His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the competent and incompetent investigators; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy.

He has written four novels in the McAvoy series, Dark Winter, Original Skin, Sorrow Bound and Taking Pity. Dark Winter was selected for the Harrogate New Blood panel, a Richard & Judy pick and a Sunday Times bestseller. He is currently reader in residence for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. 

He lives in Lincolnshire with his partner, two children and an assortment of animals.

Follow David Mark on Twitter - @davidmarkwriter

1 comment:

  1. David mark is to crime writing what tom hardy is to the big screen: brutally charismatic, utterly riveting and in a rich vein of form in his chosen artform. He lights up each page (david not tom)with an assortment of descriptive delights, bringing the streets of east yorkshire to life with practised ease. The Mcavoy series is a joy to behold; long may it continue.