Or how the 'Tradmouth' crime wave began!
Having lived all my life in the North West of England, I arrived in Devon purely by chance in 1984. The last minute offer of a holiday for myself, my husband and my elder son (then six months old) at a friend's apartment in Torquay led to a journey on the Paignton to Kingswear steam railway to the ancient port of Dartmouth. When I crossed the sparkling river on the ferry that sunny September day, chugging towards the historic town with its pastel coloured houses cascading down to the water, it was love at first sight and we have returned to Dartmouth every year since then.
When I began to write crime novels I had to decide where my stories were going to be set. I didn't feel drawn to a 'big city' setting and I found that the South Hams area of Devon with its seafaring connections, historic towns and beautiful countryside populated by all manner of interesting people - locals, incomers, farmers, artists, holiday makers etc, etc - fitted the bill perfectly.
I made the decision not to use real place names but to base my fictitious locations only loosely on actual towns and villages. Tradmouth is, of course, loosely based on Dartmouth; Neston on Totnes; Morbay on Torbay; Bloxham on Brixham etc. However, unlike the real Dartmouth my Tradmouth has a police headquarters and a large hospital; and my Morbay is far seedier than the attractive resort of Torquay. In 'An Unhallowed Grave' my 'Stokeworthy' is an amalgam of several villages near Dartmouth and 'Stokeworthy Manor' bears a close resemblance to Bradley Manor, a beautiful medieval house (National Trust) situated near Newton Abbott. This approach allows me a good deal of freedom to use my imagination and to change things around to suit the story I want to tell.
Of course everyone who reads my books will know that I like to feature past crimes as well as present…two mysteries for the price of one. And although I might take terrible liberties with modern day locations I try to ensure that the historical aspect of the stories is as accurate as possible. For 'The Armada Boy' I researched the D Day landing practices on Slapton sands and the evacuation of the South Hams in 1944…as well as the fate of the Spanish Armada of 1588. 'The Funeral Boat' was inspired by reading about Viking raids on south Devon in 997AD in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. And when I read about Devon's strong connections with the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 and the county's grim connection (courtesy of Judge Jeffreys) with the West Indies, 'The Bone Garden' was born. 'A Painted Doom' deals with the dramatic events of the Wars of the Roses (Devon was strongly on the Lancastrian side) and their tragic aftermath. I am currently working on book seven in the series which features Devon's darker maritime history…wrecking.
Of course as my books deal with contemporary crime and contemporary issues, my research isn't limited to events in the past. I spend some time each year in Devon just getting a feel for the area and what is going on. Several of the pubs mentioned in the books are based on real establishments (painstaking research again) and St Margaret's church where Gerry Heffernan sings in the choir is based on the lovely medieval church of St Saviour's in the centre of Dartmouth.
Sometimes Wesley and Gerry's investigations take them further afield. In my latest book, 'A Painted Doom', Gerry Heffernan takes a sentimental journey back to his native Liverpool. (I particularly enjoyed writing this as Gerry's youthful haunts seem to be strangely similar to my own). However, I'm afraid the crime wave looks set to continue in 'Tradmouth' for the foreseeable future and I only hope the people of the South Hams will forgive me for increasing the 'murder rate' in their beautiful part of the world.
and now the crime wave moves to North Yorkshire.......
For a while I've been keen to branch out and begin another, totally different, series (not that Wesley will be taking a back seat - I've just completed the next book in the Tradmouth series and the following one is in the planning stage).
It was while I was taking part in an archaeological dig in York with my younger son, Olly, that I had the initial idea for my new Joe Plantagenet novels. In search of entertainment after the dig had finished for the day, Olly and I decided to go on one of York's ghost walks and the tales our guide told planted a seed in my mind that was to eventually grow into 'Seeking the Dead'.
Since that evening I have come to know York rather well as Olly won a place at York University to study archaeology at King's Manor (now part of the university but once home to the Abbot of St Mary's Abbey in the Middle Ages and headquarters of the Council of the North after the Reformation). And so York became Eborby (as with Tradmouth, I like to use a different name to give myself the freedom to use my imagination). I love the city of York with its ancient walls, its narrow snickleways, its magnificent Minster and its rich and eventful history. It is also reputed to be the most haunted city in England so I couldn't resist adding a touch of the supernatural to the new books as well as memorable characters and mysteries with plenty of twists and turns.
I do hope my readers enjoy the new series!