Rebecca Muddiman, on location
Author Rebecca Muddiman talks about the setting of her Gardner & Freeman novels.
Posted on September 22, 2016 in Guest Author
I was sitting on the tube, engrossed in Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham as I made my way home from work. On the page, a victim had just been found at King’s Cross station. I dragged my eyes from the page as the train slowed down. We were at my stop. King’s Cross. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe I could change trains somewhere else tonight.
There’s a certain thrill in recognising locations on the pages of a book. It can enhance your experience as a reader to immerse yourself in the familiar – even if it does mean scaring yourself to the point where you add an extra half an hour to your journey to avoid fictional serial killers who may or may not be lurking in underground stations. And often these locations are not even our hometowns, maybe just places we’ve visited on holiday or sometimes not visited at all. Who isn’t familiar with the streets of central London or Manhattan?
But sometimes the thrill is in discovering new places, being an armchair traveller, even if they’re not places you might care to visit in real life, places where you have to wade through a few crime scenes in order to see the sights. I love Dana Stabenow’s series set in the wilds of Alaska and Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston, a grim and seedy portrait of a Texas town. I probably won’t be booking holidays there soon but they’re cracking locations for crime.
Which brings me to Middlesbrough and its surroundings, the main location for the Gardner and Freeman series. And while it’s not as isolated as Alaska or as grim as Galveston (unless you count the time it was voted the worst place to live in England), it is fairly underrepresented in crime fiction, as are many other corners of the UK. And though we all might recognise London or Manchester or Edinburgh, what about the rest of us?
Whenever I speak to local people about my books, they always bring up the locations, eager to talk about their own experiences of a certain place. It’s that thrill of familiarity on a smaller scale, almost as if it’s a secret between me and them. And then of course there’s the pride of seeing your hometown on the pages of a book – even if it’s portrayed as a town full of killers and buried bodies.
And there are plenty of places to bury them around here. Middlesbrough can give any big city a run for its money with its mean streets and dives and seeping loneliness. But a few miles down the road there are small towns, run down because their industry is obsolete, claustrophobic and pressurised. There’s the sweeping landscape of the moors and closer to home the Gare, which looks out over wild seas. Further along the coast a seaside town, with its veneer of happy families and fun covering a sleazy underbelly.
Middlesbrough might not be as famous or as exotic as other locations but it’ll keep Gardner and Freeman busy for a long time to come.
Rebecca Muddiman’s latest Gardner and Freeman novel, TELL ME LIES, is out now in paperback.