Tuesday, 18 April 2017

There is a reason I like desk research!

I know what it’s like to be lost in Northumberland. To look all around and see no sign of civilisation, to have not the slightest clue which way to turn. I’ve experienced the feeling of casting a nervous eye on the sky, wondering when (not if) the weather will turn. I’ve checked water supplies, wished I’d brought food along, wondered if I was ever going to make it home. In many ways my predicament was better than that of my protagonist in Dead Woman Walking. I wasn’t injured; nor was I suffering the grief of the recently bereaved. But I did have a child in my care, and the thought that I might have led him into danger…

It had seemed like such a good idea. During my son’s school holiday, he and I would drive north, as far north in England as I’d ever been. (Hal had the benefit of a geography field trip, the wild north was no novelty to him) We’d take our new tent, sleep under the stars, and in the daytime, we’d scout out all the locations for my new book. We’d walk the pilgrim’s trail through the Northumberland National Park that my main character uses to escape danger, we’d brave the tides and drive to Holy Island, we’d find the perfect location for the fictional Wynding Priory. Most of all, we’d have some wonderful mother/son bonding time.

It was all going to be quite a change. I do most of my research safe and warm at my desk in Buckinghamshire. I earn the scorn of fellow crime writers, because I don’t think it necessary to get on a plane to the Caribbean or the south of France every time I start a new book (Research trip. Business expenses. Yeah, right!) Google maps and a few good textbooks have been all I need. 

This time, though, I was going to do it right. I was going to live this book. 

Bloody hell, camping is boring. Stuck under a sticky, damp piece of canvas, with no company but a teenager glued to his iPhone and nothing to see but the surrounding hedge. Trying to keep a groundsheet clean of grass cuttings. Having to trudge half a mile in the night, torch in hand, to go to the loo. Who the hell does that for fun? 

Next up, Hal had no interest in culture. He’d already visited Bamburgh Castle (geography field trip) didn’t like it the first time and had no intention of seeing it again. Nor could I tempt him with Alnwick or Warkworth.

And then, Holy Island is seriously scary. I mean, who drives to a place where you might get stranded if you stay too long? The causeway, a narrow, damp, spit of land that takes you over the sands to the island scared the living daylights out of me: rotting marker posts, danger signs everywhere, sand-strewn tarmac, not to mention all the photographs of half submerged cars, of pensioners trying to outrun the waves, of young children being swept away by the returning tide. I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the drift. I swear I looked at my watch every five minutes we were on Holy Island. Time to go back? Thank God. Hang on, what if the car breaks down? 

And then, we got lost. Our plan had been to follow St Cuthbert’s Way, an ancient pilgrims’ trail, just as my protagonist does in the book. It’s clearly marked, it’s walked often, we had a very detailed ordnance survey map. What could possibly go wrong? 

Well, maybe we shouldn’t have tried to walk it from the wrong end. Starting in Wooler, the signposts just weren’t in the places we needed them and we soon learned Ordnance Survey isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Within an hour, we’d lost faith in the map. Within two we were going round in circles. Chance got us to a road. The road took us, blistered and weary, back to our campsite where our damp tent gave us a soggy welcome. 

Where do you want to have dinner tonight,’ I said to Hal. ‘We could drive to Berwick, find a place overlooking the sea?
Could do.’ Heavy sigh.
I looked at my watch. Four o’clock. It would be a seven-hour drive home. ‘Shall we pack up and go?’ 
God yes,’ 

Next time, I’m staying at my desk. 

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton is published by Bantam Press on 20th April 2017
A cold nugget in her heart told her that she hadn’t escaped after all, that five, ten, twenty years weren’t enough, that there was no escape and that the day would come when he would find her.”  Just before dawn in the hills near the Scottish border, a young woman is brutally murdered. At the same time, a hot-air balloon crashes out of the sky. There’s just one survivor.  She’s seen the killer’s face – and he’s seen hers. Now he won’t rest until he’s eliminated the only witness to his crime.  Alone, scared, trusting no one, she goes on the run. But the biggest danger of all could be where she least expects to find it.

More information about Sharon Bolton and her books can be found on her website.  You can also find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @AuthorSJBolton

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