Locations are characters
By Neil White
By Neil White
Locations are characters, whether they are real or not. Even the made-up ones have their roots in real-life.
My next book, The Innocent Ones, will be my thirteenth, if I include my stand-alone non-crime Johnny Cash novel, Lost In Nashville, and I’ve always moved around the north of England. But that was never my original intention.
When I first started writing, I wanted to write an American novel. The reason was simple: I prefer American crime fiction.
Not that there’s anything wrong with British-set crime fiction. In fact, in recent years it has got better, with the increase in popularity of psychological thrillers, as the closed-in, relationship-set nature of them somehow suits the repressed nature of the British psyche. Everything on the outside seems normal, but there are darker things happening on the inside.
No, the reason is much simpler. I’m a criminal lawyer. I spend my days in English courtrooms. I don’t always want to spend my evenings wallowing in fictional English courtrooms, or in police investigations that will end up in English courtrooms. I want a break from all that and to visit more exotic or exciting places in my leisure time, where I’m not looking out for technical errors.
My first attempt at writing was an American-set novel, called Salem. I followed it up with another, with scenes set in Chicago and a small town in Indiana called Creek Crossing. Although Salem saw the light as a typo-filled self-published work, publishers didn’t want them. And why should they? There are enough good American writers without a pale imitation like me trying to crash the party. So, I rewrote them, and Chicago became London and a small town in Indiana became a small town in Lancashire called Turners Fold. Avon came knocking, if you’ll excuse the pun, and my first published novel, Fallen Idols, entered the world.
Searching for an English location hadn’t been easy though. Although I lived in Lancashire, I grew up on the other side of the Pennines, in Wakefield, and for ten years, from aged twelve, in the seaside town of Bridlington. My heart told me to set them in Wakefield or Bridlington, but my head told me that the answer could be nearer to home. If nothing else, the research involved less travelling.
It was a Who Do You Think You Are episode featuring Jane Horrocks that changed things, because they presented the Rossendale area of Lancashire very picturesquely, with old wrought iron lampposts and large mills that either stood empty or redeveloped. I started to see the area differently, where even the decay looked atmospheric, so I decided on the old cotton towns for the setting, although it was a morning in court that provided the actual location.
For the book Fallen Idols, I wanted a setting in a small town that was the kind of place where teenagers hang around and drink illicit bottles of cider and try out cigarettes, away from critical adult eyes. I was in court one day, in Accrington, prosecuting a youth who had burned down a brick aviary in a small town called Great Harwood. When I asked around about this aviary, I realised it was a perfect setting, on the edge of a park, so I shot to Great Harwood during my lunchbreak. By the time I returned for my afternoon court session, I’d discovered my location.
Turners Fold, and the nearest larger town of Blackley, lived on for five books. Blackley was a mix of the Lancashire cotton towns along the Leeds-Liverpool canal, but I kept it fictional, as I didn’t want the real locations to limit the story. That way, I could borrow a viaduct from one town and something from somewhere else.
Eventually, the big city beckoned, and I took my Parker brothers trilogy to Manchester, and this time I let the city dictate things. I knew Manchester because I had trained to be a lawyer there, and it is a perfect setting for a crime book. So much history and so much grit. It has everything.
But I had a yearning for the hills again, so I brought the Dan Grant books back to rural Lancashire, this time the fictional town of Highford, although locals may recognise it as Burnley, which is where I was located as a Senior Crown Prosecutor for sixteen years.
The vibe I was after was Happy Valley but in a courtroom setting. A legal thriller without the glamour of the big city.
Despite the setting, however, as The Innocent Ones is the final book in the Dan Grant trilogy, I decided that it was time to explore my own personal locations and say hello to the places that were important to me.
The book is set mainly in Highford, as always, but there is some time spent in a small seaside town in Yorkshire called Brampton. People who have visited that part of the world might recognise it as Bridlington, where I spent my teens. There is also a scene in a house in Wakefield, 19 Rockley Drive. That was my home as a child. It was an affectionate nod.
I said at the beginning that locations are characters, and that is how I feel. The setting governs how people respond, because things happen differently in different places. In The Innocent Ones, the book begins in a small deserted park. In a different place, it would be a different park, perhaps overlooked by high-rise flats, or just a cut-through to somewhere. In The Innocent Ones, however, it is a Highford park, so it is quiet and cold, with views over a valley, the stars like bright dots.
For the future, I think I’m back to the big city though. Which city, of course, is something that will have to be revealed at a later date, with a new set of lead characters and a whole more heap of dead bodies.
About Neil White
Neil White has written thirteen novels, including the number one ebook bestseller, Cold Kill. His first six books were published by Avon, followed by three books with Sphere involving the Parker brothers. His latest trilogy involving defence lawyer Dan Grant and investigator Jayne Brett is published by Hera, with the latest, The Innocent Ones, published on April 24th.
As well as a successful novelist, Neil is also a practising criminal lawyer, starting out as a defence solicitor before spending eighteen years as a Senior Crown Prosecutor. He appears in court less regularly than he once did, but is still a regular feature in the criminal courts in the north west of England.
Find Neil White on his website, on his Facebook page and on Twitter - @neilwhite1965
About The Innocent Ones
The Innocent Ones
By Neil White
Published by Hera Books (24 April 2019)
Three lives cut short. Two decades of silence. One evil secret.
By day, the park rings with the sound of children’s excited laughter. But in the early hours of the morning, the isolated playground is cloaked in shadows – the perfect hiding place to conceal a brutal murder.
When London journalist, Mark Roberts, is found battered to death, the police quickly arrest petty thief, Nick Connor. Criminal defence lawyer, Dan Grant, along with investigator Jayne Brett, are called to represent him – but with bloody footprints and a stolen wallet linking him to the scene, this is one case they’re unlikely to win.
Until help comes from an unlikely source…when the murder victim’s mother says that Connor is innocent, begging Dan and Jayne to find the real perpetrator.