A great many crime writers choose a single location for their crimewave, and their books become associated with that place. So, Miss Marple solves mysteries in the fictional St Mary Mead, Morse in Oxford and Rebus around Edinburgh. Often crime readers say how they enjoy a crime series set in a single town, and they have an appeal to TV companies looking for a new gritty regional cop drama that stands out from all the others. It doesn’t work for me though.
I’m a nomad by nature and have lived at over a dozen addresses in my adult lifetime so have not had the urge to set a whole series in the places I know well. London is massively over-used and York has been a frequent crime scene. I never had the urge to give the peaceful island of Guernsey an unfeasibly high crime rate, nor make the village of Wickersley the murder capital of Yorkshire.
That’s not to say I don’t ‘write where I know’, but my lifestyle has allowed me to get to know a fair number of places. Yorkshire, Kent, London and the Channel Islands have all starred in my books, but chiefly as backdrops rather than attaining the status of a character.
I enjoy travelling and discovering new places, so my characters do too. A sense of place is crucial to a novel, and the reader can discover a location at the same time as my characters. Writing in a new setting gives me the opportunity to explore an area, its history and its people and stay fresh. If my stories were eternally rooted in the parish of the Castel, in how many novels could I get away with describing the church of Ste Marie du Castel? And if I did not describe it, am I assuming either the reader is familiar with my backlist or can decide for themselves what the church looks like? No, I have the urge to move on.
This approach is helped by my characters not having static roles, such as working for a particular police force or an individual station. Jeffrey Flint, Tyrone Drake and Maddy Crowe are archaeologists, and they get about. It is an uncertain and insecure profession so they would be lucky to spend their careers operating from a single university or archaeological unit. I am developing a character for my 1930s novels who is a roving investigator that take him across Europe, and another for a contemporary series for whom the world is literally her playground.
I love road movies such as Thelma and Louise and TV shows which shift location such as The Walking Dead. There is unpredictability in discovery, uncertainty in the unknown. Bill Beverley’s double CWA Dagger winning crime story Dodgers encapsulates this and the popularity of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher shows I’m not alone. Conversely, I have a short attention span for British novels or TV series with a restricted modern setting. It is telling how much I enjoyed The Tunnel and although Peaky Blinders is notionally set in Birmingham, much of it isn’t and it is also set in the past which adds another dimension.
For the same reason, perhaps, I am also drawn to country music as so many songs are about travelling the open road or yearning to escape nowhere towns. Kacie Musgrave’s My House, about the joys of motor homes, or the Chicks’ The Long Way Around always make me want to hit the highway.
I give most of my books working titles for the planning and drafting stage. My fifth novel was jokily christened Woad Movie as it concerned making a movie set during the Roman occupation of Britain, and the characters spent a good deal of time on the road. My agent thought it was too jokey, and too ‘in’, so we went with Blood and Sandals. This a play on ‘Sword and Sandals’ which has become shorthand for historical epics such as Gladiator. For a while my website combining discussions of archaeology with crime writing was called Blood and Trowels as an homage.
There are sandals, and there is also blood. Maddy, Flint, their friends and adversaries traverse the country between movie locations and crime scenes. I use London, York and Hadrian’s Wall as locations I’m familiar with, plus the motorways and out of the way hotels that all travellers know. It’s murder on the move.