Why did I Choose Whitby?

This is an extract from my December newsletter, which you can read by clicking this link. You can sign up for the newsletter – which I send out roughly every month – here.  

Cleary if I was going to write a series the books had to be set somewhere. I consciously didn’t read a lot of books in the mystery/thriller/suspense genre before I started writing Salt in the Wounds – I’ll explain why in a future newsletter – but one thing was very clear from even the most basic look at successful series: they were all rooted in one place. So why Whitby, instead of Scarborough which is where I live? 

There were three main reasons: 

First of all Whitby has a very strong ‘sense of place.’ Captain Cook, Dracula, fishing, fish and chips, the Moors, Heartbeat, the Goth Festival. Going further back the Abbey, St Hilda and whaling – Whitby used to be Britain’s biggest whaling port. 

So Whitby had a very clear identity and I wanted the town to become a supporting character in the books, as much as (say) Brady’s sister, Kate, or Dave the bacon sandwich man. It’s also very picturesque – I was never going to be short of photos. 

The final reason was simple. I live 20 miles down the road, I’d been to Whitby countless times and I knew the town really well. Well, I do live 20 miles down the road, I have been countless times, but once I started to write the books I found out that I barely knew Whitby. It’s a simple fact that you don’t know a town at all until you plan a murder there…

A good example is the scene in Salt in the Wounds where Brady is trying to see Patrick’s murder from the killer’s point of view. He needs to re-trace the killer’s steps…

He sees his chance. The alley is narrow. Three, four feet wide. He knows it must go down to the harbour. 

‘Stay here,’ he tells someone. ‘Watch this end. Don’t move.’ 

He’s off. 

Walking quickly up Church Street. He needs another alley. Parallel. Running down to the sea. Here. Between two pubs. The Board and the Duke of York. 

Down the steps. They’re wet and slippery. But he’s young, agile, surefooted. 

Twenty-five steps. They open out onto a paved seating area. Old York stone. Balconies of the apartments overlooking the harbour. The twin piers of the harbour curving round to meet each other in the distance, cradling the fishing boats. 

Quickly across. Dodging people. Looking for steps. There. Down to the beach. 

They’re even more slippery. But there’s a handrail. He can’t risk falling. 

And he’s on the beach. Low tide. The sea is 20 yards to his right. He jogs across the sand and the seaweed.  

There’s the window of the Rowing Club. A pint and a perfect view across the harbour. Maybe someone sees him. So what? He’s just another Goth…

Eight steps. Two at a time. He’s at the bottom of the alley. And there’s Patrick. Standing with his back towards him. Looking at the door of the Rowing Club. Waiting expectantly for his wife. 

I must have done that walk half a dozen times, not just to find out how long it would take, but to check what the killer would have seen as he walked round to the back of the alley. 

There was a couple sitting on the bottom of the steps eating their fish and chips. “I’m very sorry,” I said the third time I walked through their lunch. “I’m a writer…”