All posts by Mark

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…” 

Dial M for Mushroom

The first thing I ever started writing was a (hopefully) humorous weekly column about family life. Eighteen years on I’m still writing it although, with the children having left home, these days it’s far more about the minefield that’s married life. 

The problem is, once you start writing crime thrillers, you see everything through that prism. Although this column is humorous, it does illustrate that point (and another important one – that being married to a writer isn’t easy…) 

Friday night and I had violent stomach cramps. 

There was only one possible suspect! 

My wife…


The Roman Emperor Claudius was, according to legend, murdered with a mushroom. A poisoned mushroom, lovingly offered to him by his wife, Agrippina. 

As I clutched my stomach on Friday night, I asked myself a simple question. “Was the same thing happening to me?” 

Surely not? Thirty years of bliss with never a cross word? Then again…

“All you ever talk about is your books.” 

“Do I want to discuss your next plot? No, I want to watch Silent Witness.” 

“A day out? Lunch at a country pub? It sounds lovely. What? After we’ve driven round the Moors? So you can…” 

Had I gone too far? Given my wife too much of a good thing? 

“What do you fancy for dinner tonight?” I said on Friday morning. 

“I’m going to do mushrooms on toast.” 

“Oh. Cool. Haven’t had that for years. Are you going to do them in a sauce?” 

“Duh…” And I was ordered out into the rain for garlic and parmesan. 

And very lovely they were too: generous sauce, parsley sprinkled on top, just the right amount of garlic. And there’s no toast like the toast from home-made bread…

Then it struck me. Eight o’clock that night. Stomach ache. Cramps. I didn’t feel well. Anywhere near well. 

I put my head round the lounge door. My wife was watching Gardeners’ World. Chatting to the Beloved Daughter. Telling me that, no, I couldn’t watch football because Gogglebox was coming on…

Looking remarkably chipper. Not like a person with stomach cramps…

“As if I wanted to watch football,” I said without a hint of bitterness. “When do I ever want to watch football? I’m off to bed. And I’m feeling sick.” 

I wrapped my arms round myself and stumbled upstairs. Threw an extra blanket on the bed and crawled into it. 

Inevitably, started thinking about storylines. 

No question, it would be a good ’un…

‘He went for a walk in the woods, officer. It’s full of wild mushrooms. He told me they were safe to eat. Said he’d seen it on ‘Countryfile.’ He insisted. Ordered me to make him mushrooms on toast while he drank beer and watched football. No, I can’t show you the pan. Or the plates. I put the dishwasher on…’ 

What was that Agatha Christie book? Dial M for Murder? There you are – I’ve brought it up to date: Dial M for Mushroom. 

And that’s the problem. Once you start writing crime thrillers it takes over your life. You see everything through the plot prism. 

‘Hang on,’ I thought. ‘Maybe there’s a series in it…’ 

The Strychnine Steak? The Cyanide Surprise? The Poisoned Pizza? Given the number of blokes whizzing around town on bikes and scooters that one could be a series on its own. Memo to self, ring Netflix…

After I’d finished groaning. 

I read some more about poor old Claudius. What do you know? Modern historians now believe it wasn’t Agrippina. Far from his wife doing him in, it was his own greed and stupidity. ‘Don’t eat that, Great Caesar! Not until the slaves… Oh, too late.’ 

Greed and stupidity. 

Sadly, that rang a bell…

“I’m hungry,” I’d said, some time around three. “Forgot to eat any lunch.” 

“Well don’t have any now. Remember I’m doing mushrooms tonight.” 

And I’d found a packet of dry-roasted peanuts in the cupboard. Sat at my desk scoffing them. A quick check on Google confirmed it. ‘Digestive reactions can take a few hours to occur after eating too many nuts. It’s common to feel nausea…’ 

Forget Dial M for Mushroom

It’ll be Dial P for Peanut

Or a couple of other words beginning with the same letter…