Thursday, 28 July 2011

Mapping the unfashionable city

Nick Quantrill is our guest blogger. He talks about his hometown Hull where his books are set and his series character Joe Geraghty. In 2006 he won the HarperCollins “Crime Tour” Short Story Competition. As states on his website when not writing fiction, Nick contributes reviews and essays to a variety of football and music websites. He lives in Hull with his wife, cat and the constant fear his favourite sports teams will let him down.

My home city of Hull stands in isolation on the River Humber in East Yorkshire. At best, you’d politely refer to it as unfashionable and possibly point to its regular appearance propping up national social and educational league tables. I certainly haven’t been dealt the hand of Rankin’s Edinburgh or Billingham’s London. Hull has always been an industrial city and its thriving fishing industry once provided the city’s wealth and purpose. But the Cod Wars of the 1970s, which saw Iceland’s setting of quotas in their fishing waters, decimated the industry, and along with it, the city.

My debut novel, “Broken Dreams”, attempts to capture some of this within the structure of a crime novel and explain the city. The star of the story, Joe Geraghty, is a small-time PI who operates from the historic old town of Hull. Asked by a dying woman to find her estranged daughter, the story behind her disappearance points to the girl’s deceased father, Ron Platt. As a former trawler-man left high and dry with no work and no financial compensation, his world was radically different, leaving him unable to understand the choices his daughter made. Hull had to be more than a map on the page. Hull had to bleed into the soul of characters such as Ron. The city had to impact on their lives, and for many, the lack of alternative employment has been a reality.

The second Joe Geraghty novel, “The Late Greats”, is also set in Hull. The challenge this time was to move away from one of the defining aspects of the city to capturing something of its character. “The Late Greats” is more inward looking and attempts to portray this through the story of reformed 1990s band, New Holland. When singer, Greg Tasker, is reported missing, Geraghty finds himself going deeper into the city and into Tasker’s life, forcing him to explore relationships between groups of very different people and how they make sense of themselves in the wider context of the place. Hull’s good and bad points surface in the story. The city can be often be cynical and wary of outsiders. But my Hull is also unpretentious and self-sustaining, as evidenced by the way the city, with little fanfare, dusted itself down after being the second most bombed city in the UK during World War Two, and more recently, after the 2007 floods.

The third, as yet untitled, Geraghty novel once again tries to examine the city from a different viewpoint. Instead of looking inwards, this time the issue of renewal and finding a new purpose in a changing world forms the backdrop to the story. The answer might lie in leading the way with renewable energy, with Siemens in the process of agreeing to build a major offshore wind turbine manufacturing plant, creating a significant number of local jobs. As a resident of the city, I hope the plan comes to fruition. As a crime writer, I can’t really lose either way. The future is very much open and there for the taking.

My Hull is a contradiction. Its isolation can make it a harsh and difficult place. You don’t pass through Hull. You have to have a purpose to visit. But the city also a distinct character and feel. For better or worse, it lives and breathes. Rankin and Billingham have the iconic buildings and the romance of Edinburgh and London, but I know I’m equally lucky. Every city is unique and fascinating, whatever the outside perception of it is, and through the eyes of Joe Geraghty, I’ll continue to discover and map my isolated city on the River Humber in East Yorkshire.


Broken Dreams” is published by Caffeine Nights. “The Late Greats” follows autumn 2011. Joe Geraghty stories feature in “The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime” Volumes Eight and Nine.

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