Room at the Top

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This is a photo of the house I rented with five other students in Nottingham. It was rundown and in a rough area, not that we cared at the time as it was more important to be near the college and city centre.

My room was at the top. It provided a fascinating window on our street that happened to be in the red-light area of the city.

Watching from that window provided the inspiration for my novel I Came to Find a Girl.

This extract forms the end of the first chapter (after a woman’s body has been found nearby).

 

Back in my room at the top, I looked out the window to see if there were any girls out on the corner at the crossroads. The wall where they liked to sit was empty but I sketched it anyway – the waiting-for-a-trick wall with its bricks falling from one end.

I reapplied my eyeliner and pinned up my hair, gathered my uniform together, and raced down the two flights of shag-pile carpeted stairs. “Seeya,” I shouted out in the greying light of the hallway, and slammed the front door behind me, pressing my fingers against it to check.

Two women with bare legs were sitting on the wall opposite. It’s too cold to dress like that, I thought. What are they doing there? Have they not seen the news? I wondered if Mum and Dad had. Probably not, this was local stuff. They didn’t even know I was living in the red-light area.

As I turned onto the main road, I saw the police cordon further up the hill by The Vine, our local pub. Nottingham and particularly our scrappy corner of the city suddenly seemed more dangerous, and yet nothing had changed. The threat of a madman roaming the streets had always been there. It’s probably safer than normal – police everywhere, I thought. But still, to make the twenty-minute trek across town to Saviour’s Bar and Restaurant, I slipped my keys between my fingers. The sharpest, jagged-edged Yale was between my index and middle finger, and gripped discreetly by my side. Everyone needs keys.

Nottingham, London & Lee-on-Solent?

 

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Nottingham, London and Lee-on-Solent – three places that are unlikely to have featured in the same novel, until now that is.

I Came to Find a Girl is a psychological thriller set in Nottingham (with the odd excursion to the South Coast and a London finale), in which young artist Mia Jackson looks back on her recent past.

While studying art in Nottingham Mia meets famous artist Jack Flood, a man who compulsively films everything he sees. After a date that takes a twisted turn, there follows a battle of wills as they both try to gain the upper hand.

The story plays out in a climate of fear. Women are going missing and the culprit is yet to be caught.

Why Nottingham? Could the story have taken place elsewhere?

‘Write what you know’ is a quote frequently repeated, and all the locations I’ve used are places I know well. Nottingham was where I spent three years studying textile design and so it made sense to use my experience of student life as the backdrop to the trials that face my protagonist Mia Jackson.

Write what you know, but also write to find out what you really think. Novels can evolve from a  single image, or an unshakeable idea, or perhaps a short story that demands more attention and development.

For me, there was a desire to revisit Nottingham by night – its buzzy club scene, and its contrasting edgier side. And at the same time, I was thinking about the naivety of youth and what if, against your better judgement, you find yourself alone with someone you know little about?

‘One place comprehended can make us understand other places better. Sense of place gives equilibrium, extended, it is sense of direction too,’ Eudora Welty states in On Writing.

Nottingham is integral to this novel. It’s a dark portrait of a city I love. There’s no room for Robin Hood, but it does play on Nottingham’s reputation for violent crime – where better to set a suspenseful, psychological whodunit?

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Photo: Nottingham Council & Old Market Square by Ray Teece