Monday 6 May 2024

A research trip

At the moment, I'm working on a stand-alone crime novel, something quite different from my other books, but with a strong puzzle element. The setting is fictional, but it's firmly based in a lonely part of the north of England. The idea for using this location came to me last year, when I was driving to Berwick-upon-Tweed (itself the setting for a short story, 'The Widow', that will be published shortly). I travelled across Alston Moor in Cumbria on a lovely day, but the twisty road climbing towards Hartside Summit was wreathed in mist. Quite spooky, and it made a big impression on me.

The nature of the story means that the plot is labyrinthine. But I believe that even a story with a strong focus on puzzle benefits from having strong characters and a believable setting. So I felt it was important to spend more time in the area and get a better sense of what it's like to live there. The place is seen from the perspective of outsiders rather than locals, which an approach I take quite often (so the Lake District is seen largely from Daniel Kind's perspective in my cold case series).

I benefited from the kindness of Ann Cleeves, who was happy for me to stay in her cottage in Northumberland, an hour or more away, but again interesting for its isolation and sense of peace and quiet. Although my story is set in winter, I felt it was easier to research the area in better weather, and I was extremely fortunate with my choice of days.

So I discovered a variety of places in both Cumbria and Northumberland that were full of interest and which, in one way or another, may feed into my writing - perhaps in ways that haven't yet occurred to me, such is the nature of the process of creating a story. I was fascinated by Alston, Nenthead, Kielder Water, Otterburn, Bellingham, and Corbridge, none of which I'd ever explored before. I also had the pleasure of meeting Stephen Tomlin, an actor (and former Mastermind winner!) who founded the Border Readers, a wonderful group of performers who have, amongst many other things, read my stories 'Bad Friday' and 'The Case of the Musical Butler' to audiences in the region. We've been in touch for a while but finally met in person for coffee at Hexham Abbey. Very enjoyable. A great trip in itself, and also very useful.



Michael Lydon said...


I live in Newcastle, so Northumberland is almost literally on my doorstep, and I never tire of visiting and walking on the hills and moors. You do seem to have seen a lot, and I look forward to seeing how it feeds into your work. If you are able to make a return visit, do try and visit the coast.


Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Michael. I've seen quite a bit of the coast on previous trips. I loved Bambergh in particular. Whitley Bay and its surrounding area is also very pleasant. And as I mentioned before, Berwick was great fun.