‘It’s a small world’ is a common phrase in the place I grew up. You see, I come from a small city in the Midlands. It’s a city that seems stuck in its past, trying desperately to rise above the smoky days of its history. But it’s a city that is on the up. We are very much showcasing the beauty beneath the decay.
We have one extremely famous writer, Arnold Bennett, who would have been classed as a bestselling author with the amount of novels he wrote. Writing in the early 20th Century, his books tell of exactly as it was then. There are passages about affluent people on one side of the park on a Sunday afternoon separated from the thieves and local vagabonds on the other, which struck a chord in my heart when I read them recently. Funnily enough, it’s not much different now, although there are rough areas and desirable neighbourhoods in any city.
Not a lot happens in Stoke-on-Trent. It’s easy to become embroiled in day-to-day life, year after year. Most people have been born and bred here, going on to do other things without making a name for themselves, just a living. It has a population just short of a quarter of a million. As well as the murky dark waters of Caldon Canal and the River Trent, there are problems with drugs, homelessness and drinking in the city centre late in the evening.
You might not think it from how I describe Stoke-on-Trent, but I love living here. Its people are warm; its atmosphere steely. I know how gritty and working class our city can seem to outsiders, but we aspire to be so much more, and there’s a great community spirit. And a real mix: for every poor neighbourhood, drive for a few minutes and you’ll find grand houses and affluent residents. It’s definitely a case of mixing the rough with the smooth.
Because I know the good and the bad of my city, I wanted readers to be immersed in that through my plots.
Because I know the good and the bad of my city, I wanted readers to be immersed in that through my plots. That’s why I beef up the lowlife and the scum and create stories around them. So when I needed a location for my new crime series, featuring a detective sergeant, I decided to set it in my hometown again. Grace Allendale is my main character, yet I use Stoke-on-Trent as a character just as much to create a sense of its own personality.
For me, police procedurals are about solving a crime, and seeking justice. But in my books, I want to show how crime affects individuals too. The aftermath of a crime must be devastating for some and we all deal with things differently. Exploring dark, often nasty characters allows me to dive into the unknown and twist everyday situations into ‘what if’ storylines.
One thing for certain, for all its faults, Stoke-on-Trent may not be a glamorous city but it is a city with a heart. It’s also a city with a serial killer on the loose right about now… fictional, of course.