So why Hertfordshire and especially why Letchworth Garden City as the backdrop for a series of crime books? As I said in my earlier post when talking about why I made my main character disabled, I was just following some good advice – write about what you know. As I live in Letchworth I know it quite well. There’s a bit more to it than that though.
Letchworth is the result of a unique experiment as it’s the world’s first garden city. It looks and feels different too, the building above was actually a factory! I’ve been living here for around four years now but it feels longer. I really like the place and feel like I owe it something. So what really decided me on Letchworth?
Mac Maguire has a back story and it’s quite detailed. He started his police career in Birmingham, where he was born and grew up, but had to leave (nothing shady, at least not on his part). He ended up in the Met in London where he worked for the next twenty five years or more. However I didn’t like London as the setting for a number of reasons, one being that it has been done to death, however, I must admit that the main one was that I felt I didn’t know it well enough to write about it.
Then I saw a piece on the news about Ystad where Henning Mankel set most of his his wonderful Wallander novels. It was described as a really nice, fairly low crime town. Pretty much like Letchworth then I thought. Well, if Henning could set numerous murders, explosions and robberies in a ‘nice’ town, why couldn’t I?
So I had Mac live in Letchworth on the pretext that his wife wanted to live near the country when they moved from Birmingham and it was also close enough so Mac could commute to London. What is really good about Letchworth though is that it’s a really nice place stuffed with (mostly) really nice people. Just the place for a really good murder.
I then thought about location and how important it is to the crime novel and how it can almost become another character its own right.
Just think of Hansom cabs, street urchins,coal fires and swirling fog and Sherlock will surely spring to mind. Then think of pastis, brasseries, the Palais de Justice, the new look, Montmartre and the stolid pipe smoking figure of Maigret will appear in your head. The settings aren’t just a backdrop for the action, they modify everything that is happening in the stories. Think of Sherlock in Paris and Maigret in London – it’s just not right is it? So Letchworth it was for Mac Maguire and I must admit since taking that decision I haven’t looked back. It felt right at the time and feels even better now after four books. I have often daydreamed about Mac being on television at some point and I think that Letchworth, with its unusual backdrop of arts and crafts buildings, would look beautiful behind the actors.
So location can be so important but first you have to have a good story, wherever it’s set, and that’s the really hard part.
Thanks to Ruth Sharville and Wikimedia for the great photos