Published by Bonnier Zaffre
ebook: 9 March 2017 | Paperback: 10 August 2017
From the Shadows is the first in a new crime series from Neil White and published in ebook last week. I must say thank you to Emily of Bonnier Zaffre for inviting me to take part in the ebook tour and also say thank you and welcome to Neil to the blog. Neil has very kindly written a very interesting guest post for me on the subject of location.
Location by Neil White
In many interviews, writers are asked about their characters, and predominantly the discussion has turned to the people in the books. There is, if course, a much under-sold character in any book, and that is the location. It shapes the story as much as anything else, and I’m so pleased that Karen is allowing me to discuss locations in her reading corner.
The obvious thing to say about my books is that they are set in the north of England. Apart from a very brief stay in Worcester in my pre-school days, I have lived all of my life in the north of England, covering pretty much the full width. The majority of my childhood and early twenties were spent in Wakefield in West Yorkshire, my teens in Bridlington, and since then I’ve been based in Manchester and Preston. The north has been my own backdrop, so it seemed an obvious choice to set my books there.
It wasn’t always that way though. My initial idea, fifteen years ago and more, was to write books set in the United States. This was based on nothing more than my enjoyment of American crime fiction and the fact that it made the research more exotic, even if it was mainly confined to the internet in the days before fibre broadband, my research beginning with the whine and screech of a modem.
My final efforts lacked something though, and it took me a while to realise it, which was that I didn’t know the locations well enough. More importantly, I didn’t know the people in the locations. Those phrases that people use or the little ways that they have that become unique to particular locations.
I’ll give you an example that I’ve used in one of my books set in Lancashire, and that’s the exaggerated speech used by many women in the northern mill towns. Think Janice Battersby from Coronation Street, where her mouth contorted itself as she spoke. This is a hangover from the cotton mills, where the machinery was so loud that the women who worked in them learned to lip-read so that they could talk to each other. All the old mill workers can lip-read, and of course the younger generations ape it as it is what they grew up with.
You can’t get that from Google Streetview.
It affects the action too. Every time a character goes anywhere, it affects the journey; whether it’s a stop-start through city streets, or a gentle run along country lanes. Every scene is painted in the mind of the reader, and the locations are the canvas.
What about my locations?
My first five books were set in two fictional towns but based on two towns near to me. For those who’ve read the books, Turners Fold was based on a small town called Great Harwood, and Blackley was based on Blackburn, with bits of Burnley and Accrington thrown in. These are old mill towns but set in countryside, filled with character, with old mill buildings and chimneys, and old wharfs on the canal that joins all the towns.
I set one book in the Lancashire hills, Beyond Evil, and then I wrote three books set in Manchester.
In my Lancashire-set books, the locations were very much a backdrop, a setting. For the Manchester-set books, the Parker brother series, the locations became pivotal, with key scenes set in actual locations and integral to the plot. Had I not used those locations, the books would have been very different.
When researching locations, there is only one way to do it, and that’s to visit. You get the feel of an area. How busy it is. The sort of people walking its streets. Is a neighbourhood old and traditional, or has it taken over by hipsters, making it vibrant?
One tip for every budding writer: always include a pub in your book. That is often the best part of the research, and unsurprisingly the most thorough.
The best thing about visiting an area is that something might happen that ends up in the book, however innocuous. In trying to depict the feel of a place, when you are drowned out by a loud motorbike, or see traffic disrupted by a colourful line of weekend cyclists, put them in the book.
The use of locations is one reason I love books set in the Deep South. Think of all those books by southern writers like James Lee Burke. The slow drawl of a hot night. The crickets chirping. The Spanish moss swaying. If one of those books left the South and was transplanted in New York, it would be a different book, even if the story stayed the same. Location provides the colour, the mood. The story merely provides the action.
About the book:
He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .
Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.
When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.
But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.
Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost . . .
About the author:
Neil White was born and brought up around West Yorkshire. He left school at sixteen but returned to education in his twenties, when he studied for a law degree. He started writing in 1994, and is now a criminal lawyer by day, crime fiction writer by night.