I’m delighted to welcome international crime writer and dear tweep friend, Mari Hannah, to the blog today. Mari is author of the DCI Kate Daniels detective series and just this week she was awarded the Polari Prize 2013 for her novel, The Murder Wall. Congratulations Mari! She releases her fourth book, Monument to Murder, on 21st November. Today Mari joins us to talk about the influential setting for her crime series.
Landscape, any landscape, has long influenced art: music, painting, poetry and prose. As an avid reader, what I most love about books is that they transport me to places I’ve never been. For example, Brighton is a city I’ve never visited except in Peter James’ novels and yet he draws it so clearly, I feel I know it well. The same could be said of David Mark and Hull. Now, through my writing, I have the privilege of sharing my own part of the world with new readers both here, in Germany and in the US.
When I was asked to contribute a piece for Jane’s blog, I thought it would be good idea to pinpoint where I live and explain what makes me want to write about it. My home is in the village of Corbridge, Northumberland. With a population of less than 3000, it is the former garrison town of Corstopitum, the most northerly in the Roman Empire.
Corbridge is nestled in the Tyne Valley and was once the home of the late Dame Catherine Cookson. It is equidistant from the Scottish Border, the Land of Prince Bishops (County Durham) and the Lake District. It’s also within spitting distance of Hadrian’s Wall, a location that plays a big part in my second novel Settled Blood, a book in which a young woman is found dead at the base of the Roman wall in the shadow of Sewingshields Crags.
When I wrote my debut, The Murder Wall, I didn’t really think about setting at all. It was only after publication that I came to realise what a major player it was in the series, almost a character in itself, and deservedly so. I know this because readers have commented on the novel’s strong sense of place.
Now it’s time to ’fess up. I’m not a northerner at all; I was born in Westminster and moved here as a child. That said I’ve always credited the region and its writers with inspiring my success. I believe you can’t separate people from places. Once I’d created Kate Daniels as a miner’s daughter from Northumberland she took on a life of her own. I couldn’t write about her without making tangible references to her surroundings.
So, who is my fictional murder detective and where does she hang out? Well, Kate is a DCI in Northumbria Police. For those who don’t know, it’s one of the largest police forces in the UK serving a population of one and a half million, covering two thousand square miles. The area is my stamping ground too, so I have to travel widely for research. I visit locations day and night, in fine weather or foul, to really get a feel for places I’m writing about.
Kate lives in Jesmond – a leafy suburb of Newcastle upon Tyne – the centre of my universe before I moved out of the city. I still visit often and I’m proud to have been included in a long list of writers from the 1800s to the present day who have a connection to the area. Not a bad accolade for an incomer! See if you can spot my flag on the photograph below.
When Kate’s not investigating crime she likes nothing better than to climb on her Yamaha motorcycle and ride out into the countryside. Her destination of choice is Hartside Pass, the place she goes for solitude after a harrowing case. From there she can see right across the Solway Firth to Scotland as well as Helvellyn, Great Gable and Skiddaw in The Lakes. Like me, she loves the area.
There really is nowhere I’d rather live than Northumberland. The landscape is so diverse; the city isn’t far away and those of us lucky enough to live here have the most dramatic countryside right on our doorstep, as well as sweeping coastline and castles. It really is magical, providing a constant flow of ideas and creativity. I just spent a week location hunting on the north Northumberland coast, part of the research for my sixth novel. What writer could fail to be inspired with views like this?
It has been said that I depict the dark side of my region. That is certainly true but I’m always sensitive to places and people. Where necessary I play with the geography, changing names of key buildings where I have to. For example, I renamed a church where two bodies are found in The Murder Wall because I thought that using its real name might upset its congregation.
The dramatic and far-reaching landscape around me means that I’m able to ring the changes as far as locations go. It keeps the books fresh, taking my readers to new destinations every time. In Deadly Deceit, we move to a gritty inner city area, Newcastle’s West End, on the eve of a World Cup football match, with all eyes on South Africa.
I think it’s fairly obvious by now that I set my books in the north of England because it’s where I live and where my heart is. When I’m away from the region, it pulls me back. I feel a deep sense of loss, even though I wasn’t born here. I fell in love with the area and I hope you will too.
My next book Monument to Murder is due to be published by Pan Macmillan on 21st November. Who knows where that book will take readers?
Thanks for inviting me to you blog Jane!
When an assault on duty ended her career as a Probation Officer, award-winning author Mari Hannah turned to scriptwriting, creating a number of projects, most notably the pilot episode of a crime series for the BBC. The Times described her series character DCI Kate Daniels as a Northerner set to join the roster of top literary detectives. Mari is the author of the Kate Daniels series and is published by Pan Macmillan.
Website and Twitter
You can find Mari at: marihannah.com
And on Twitter: @mariwriter
Monument to Murder is available to pre-order here.