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.

Stickers on Book Covers

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Stickers (or more likely pretend stickers) are all the rage on book covers. Those little bright circles used to contain important additional information, such as a shortlisting for a literary prize, but now it can be almost anything including frequent claims that the latest release is the new Gone Girl or for fans of The Girl on the Train or Stieg Larsson.

Anyway, I can hardly complain since I have joined in with my own circular cry for attention, but why stop at one? Perhaps I could coat my entire book cover in circles filled with the best and most exciting quotes?

Rewriting the City and its Dark, Twisted Streets

Why I chose Nottingham as a setting for my novel I Came to Find a Girl

Nottingham, UNESCO City of Literature, has provided the setting for classic novels from the likes of DH Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe, and continues to inspire today with writers such as John Harvey, David Belbin and Nicola Monaghan using the city in their contemporary works. Nottingham is also the main setting for my novel I Came to Find a Girl.

I Came to Find a Girl is a psychological thriller about art student Mia and how she meets famous artist Jack Flood when he’s in the city for the opening of his own exhibition. Mia goes back to his hotel, accepts a drink, and later wakes up naked with no idea what has occurred. She fears she may have been filmed for one of Flood’s future video artworks. Should she go to the police? And what has happened to here missing friend Jenny? Women are being murdered, and the city seems to have become a more dangerous place.

IMG_3610The novel began as a desire to look at what it’s like to be a young, single woman in an urban environment – the dark side of the Sex & the City/Bridget Jones lifestyle, if you like – and the reality that there is a downside to sexual freedom and that women will always have to watch out.

Thankfully most people live their entire lives unscathed by serious crime, but there is always the ‘what if’ scenario – that moment in anyone’s past where taking a wrong turn, though no fault of one’s own, could render a person vulnerable to harm. Moments like this are also more likely if you’re young and out partying, your better judgement fuzzed by alcohol, and so that’s why I chose to make my protagonist a young student, out enjoying her new found freedom in Nottingham’s numerous bars and clubs.

Nottingham’s lively, attractive centre is compact, and has a small-town feel, making it the  perfect setting for characters to repeatedly run into each other, even though one of them would rather not.

There is the legendary Rock City and the many other clubs and bars that contribute to Nottingham’s reputation as a great night out, and there is the contrasting sprawl of its various residential areas that span out from its heart.

Every night out ends with the need to return home. A bus or tram will only take you so far, and a cab may be too costly for the young. All women know that even the shortest walk home can suddenly feel treacherous if there are footsteps behind.

I spent three years in Nottingham, firstly in the Meadows area and then in Forest Fields. Walking home late at night was always a concern. My house was in the red light area and cars would sometimes slow by the kerbside, although thankfully apart from the odd proposition nothing untoward happened. But these memories triggered a sense that (like all cities) Nottingham is a place where dark happenings sometimes occur, and that the numerous worm-like streets that spread out from its beating heart could provide the perfect backdrop for a story that is ‘dark, haunting, twisted’ (according to the Telegraph). Nottingham is an attractive, vibrant city and as it continuously evolves, so too will it continue to inspire.

This feature was first published on NottsLit, Literature with a Nottingham Connection.

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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Also available in paperback and from Kobo / Barnes & Noble / Smashwords

Photo: Nottingham Council & Old Market Square by Ray Teece