We’re very excited to welcome Mark Sennen to the blog today talking about setting the scene for Bad Blood…
There was, apparently, a writer called Doyle who set a story on Dartmoor. The story featured a large dog and a detective called Holmes. Other than that the South West of England has been rather neglected when it comes to crime stories. I maybe a little biased, but I find that surprising because the West Country is a great place to set a series and the location provides a unique setting.
Plymouth, the home patch for my protagonist DI Charlotte Savage and her colleagues in Devon and Cornwall Police, is a much maligned city. It’s the largest conurbation for a hundred miles in any direction and yet the grockles and emmets (Devon and Cornish terms for tourists) heading to the West Country overlook the place in their rush to get to quainter destinations. True, the city is not pretty – the centre was destroyed in WWII – but Plymouth Hoe and the Sound are stunning: no other urban location in the UK has such an incredible outlook.
The geographical area Devon and Cornwall Police have to cover is the largest in England. It’s a distance of 130 miles from Axminster in the east to Lands End in the west, another 30 miles if you include the Isles of Scilly (note never the Scilly Isles!). Within the area there are a huge variety of locales: from rocky coves, sandy beaches and sleepy villages to inner city deprivation complete with drugs, prostitution and high-level criminal activity. Devon and Cornwall are also the most popular areas of the UK to visit and as many as 11 million visitors descend on (or invade!) the region in a year. In addition Plymouth is home to the largest naval base in Western Europe and the only place the UK’s fleet of Trident submarines can be repaired and refuelled. With such a disparate range of social and geographical terrain the policing challenge is enormous.
Plymouth undoubtedly shares the same problems and vices with a dozen other similar-sized places, nothing unique there. What does makes the location special is its position. The city is surrounded on all sides. To the south lies the sheltered waters of the Sound and beyond the open sea. Not the piddling little sea which washes up on the beaches of Brighton or Blackpool or Scarborough but a heaving ocean, never without a swell, next stop: Newfoundland. Directly west of the city, over the natural boundary provided by the River Tamar, is Cornwall. The county is a patchwork of rolling fields and a few towns, a coastline built for smashing ships, little fishing villages built for sucking money from tourists. To the north east sits the upland area of Dartmoor, the moorland coming to within a couple of miles of the city boundary. Dartmoor is nearly 1000 square kilometres of rocky tors, ravines, bogs and moorland; a near wilderness where nobody can hear you scream. Lest that’s too unsettling, south of the moor and east of Plymouth lies the South Hams. This is a sort of softer and richer version of Cornwall, where signs advertising creams teas hang from every other farm gate and yachties and ‘London types’ frequent the ports of Dartmouth and Salcombe.
Within this milieu there are stories aplenty just waiting to be told. On Dartmoor there are nutters slicing up young hikers. In North Devon – far, far from the usual cream tea trails – there are hillbillies waiting for lost tourists to wander down some dead end lane. In Cornwall smugglers are running boats into isolated harbours and landing millions of pounds worth of drugs. On the mean streets of Plymouth hard men are staking out their patches and vying for control. On the waters of the Sound terrorists are waiting to attack the army and navy bases, causing, perhaps, nuclear catastrophe.
To be honest, the West Country – Plymouth in particular – is a writer’s dream, and I think there’s enough to keep me busy for a few more books at least!