Before I begin my usual rant about the ups and downs of moving from being a lawyer to writing novels, let me take a moment to introduce you to the work of Roger Clegg, a fantastic photographer based in the North East who is well known for his stunning work in and around Hadrian’s Wall, as well as the wider scenery of Northumberland.
It is his photograph of Sycamore Gap (above) which graces my Twitter account and will soon form the basis for the cover of my next book, conveniently titled, ‘Sycamore Gap: A DCI Ryan Mystery’, after some tinkering with text and all that jazz which I shall happily leave to a more qualified person!
This award-winning photograph was captured with the last light on Midsummer’s Night and took two years for the conditions to be just right. I am therefore delighted that he is happy for it now to grace the cover of my next novel – many thanks to him.
If you would like to have a look at this or any of the other beautiful pictures of the region, check out his website: www.northern-horizons.co.uk.
Now, onto the writing itself.
What a bloomin’ minefield it is, writing a sequel! Gone are those heady, blissful days of ignorance which I enjoyed before the success of Holy Island. Not that I’m complaining, you understand, but now I have something to live up to. I have to say that DCI Ryan has been drinking a lot more caffeine (mirroring the writer herself) and is somewhat grumpier than usual (again, I am guilty of this) in this second book. Coincidence?
Jokes aside, part of me wondered whether I would enjoy writing a second book as much as I enjoyed writing the first. I am happy to say that, for all the pressure, the re-writes, the second-guessing and creative tantrums (I admit it), this job still gets two thumbs up from me. The relative solitude isn’t suited to everyone, but being a largely antisocial git, it suits me to lose myself in a story for hours at a time and then to enjoy spending the rest of the time with family and friends. It takes inordinately high levels of concentration, to cut everything else out of my mind in order to sit and write for long periods of time, but it’s worth missing Geordie Shore for that. Let’s face it, practically anything would be worth missing Geordie Shore (sorry, reality TV fans!)
With that in mind, better get off and do some work!
Happy Easter, to those of the religious persuasion amongst you!
Today, I’m cheating a bit. Rather than patronising a coffee shop I’m enjoying my caffeine fix at beautiful Eshott Hall in Northumberland. It’s full of cosy charm and faded grandeur, surrounded by trees and pretty parkland. We’re here for a weekend getaway to celebrate Mr Ross’s birthday and it’s a lovely retreat.
Nowadays, I’m never without my laptop and so it is also an ideal opportunity to take an hour here and there to write a bit more about the murderous goings-on at the setting of my new book, Sycamore Gap. They’ve found a body in the cavity of Hadrian’s Wall and, let me tell you, it’s not some old Roman centurion…
The village of Eshott could also provide a bit of inspiration for future works, given my predilection for small, close-knit village scenes which mask a seething underbelly of crime. As on Holy Island, all is serene and quiet, but I find myself wondering: what lies hidden?
It’s funny, isn’t it, how appearances can be deceptive. For example, I was sitting reading a book by Rachel Abbot earlier in the day (Sleep Tight, it was called, and very engaging it was too) while an old couple sat nearby. At first glance, I thought they looked harmless and kind, like the perfect grandparents. Only after they had spent forty-five minutes bitching about their schadenfreude Doreen (“with the sizeable arse”), their daughter-in-law Mary (“who can’t cook for toffee”) and generally slated all those of their intimate acquaintance was I forced to admit that my initial assessment had clearly been way off base!
We’re all guilty of making value judgements, though. The kind of flash opinions based on another person’s looks, clothing, social status and, for some, the colour of their skin. It’s a tendency which has long tentacles. What about in the work place? Or, in the destruction of families or friendships? It’s food for thought.
Today I’ve brought my mobile office to the Roman Baths Kitchen in – you guessed it – Bath. It’s a classy-looking place which overlooks the Pump Rooms and the Abbey in the centre of town, washed with plenty of Farrow and Ball type paintwork, warm woodwork and muted classical music.
It’s a friendly, comfortable place which completely suits the setting. It’s not funky, it’s traditional, but that’s exactly right for the surrounding architecture and the tourist crowd that it will serve. The surprising thing is that, each time I’ve been to Bath, this place is never quite as busy as I would have expected. Perhaps it looks too classy, so your ordinary weary traveler who just fancies a coffee and a slice of Victoria sponge might worry about high prices or stuffy atmosphere. Actually, the opposite is true: it’s a cosy, competitively-priced little gem.
So, here I am, listening to a spot of Puccini, people-watching (and wondering how many of them may secretly be murderers, kidnappers, bog-standard psychotics…) and sipping strong coffee. It brings to mind J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, looking outside at the aesthetic beauty of Bath and wondering about the people caught in its underbelly, on the edges of polite, privileged society.
It’s so tempting to see only the sandstone, or Bathstone as the taxi driver informed me earlier today, and nothing beyond. But that would be cowardly. So, one of my goals for this year is to contribute more. I don’t mean just chucking a few coins to a homeless person, or setting up a few direct debits to various large charities and considering your social duty discharged. I mean physically giving my personal time and resources where I can. I’ll be looking at local organisations to see how I can be a better part of the community, not to make myself feel altruistic, but because I believe in social engagement.
We’re all human, after all.
Apart, that is, from the killer I am crafting in my next book: Sycamore Gap. I doubt there would be much in the way of human compassion plundering those depths…