We are delighted to feature Harrogate author, Malcolm Hollingdrake on our Truth Legal blog.
As local Harrogate residents ourselves, we love this take on our spa town from Malcolm.
I left a body in a crate outside the Mercer Art Gallery one Sunday morning. It took a while for it to be noticed and when it was it caused quite a stir … strange that! I’ve left bodies in some very strange places; locations people pass on a daily basis without a second thought. However, I bet those who have read my books take a second look and that location will be remembered. That’s the pleasure of writing, the power and the delight. The words and ideas linger long in the memory. They might not remember the title or the author but they remember the deed. And that is what I love about putting words to paper … it’s timeless.
The first book I wrote, now entitled, ‘Bridging the Gulf’ was set in Bradford and Northern Cyprus. Here we see Roy Hanna blowing up motorway bridges. One, the large Gathurst Bridge is situated on the M6 near Wigan. I have been told many times by readers that they can no longer traverse the bridge without thinking about the book.
As a writer, part of the pleasure and thrill for me is mixing real with imaginary. Many of the ideas for my books are sparked by real events either gleaned from the present or the past and it is the same with the settings for each page, every chapter in all of the books that make up the Harrogate Crime Series.
‘The happiest place in the UK to live!’ was once the title. I read this at a time when I was looking to place a crime series. I have known Harrogate since I was very young – my Grandfather was born at Gouthwaite before the reservoir was built. I lived in Bradford for eighteen years before moving to Ripon College of Education for three years. So, for as long as I can remember, Harrogate has been in my life. Call it destiny, serendipity or simply fate: maybe setting eight books to date in this wonderful spa town was meant to be.
Having not only a good geographical knowledge of the town but also a deep love for its history, its architecture and its people creates a wonderful and natural ideas’ board when writing a new novel. And it can be the people, the chance conversations that move me into investigative mode. “Did you know that there is a tunnel under The Stray?” was once such a conversation. Discovering the New Brunswick Tunnel was the starting point for the book ‘Hell’s Gate’. Built around 1848 it had a limited life of fourteen years. However, during World War Two it was used as an air raid shelter. The entrance, now a roundabout. It was just too mysterious not to use in a novel and so devising cruel and sinister deeds to take place below ground proved far too tempting.
If you stand at the Cenotaph and turn slowly through three-hundred and sixty degrees you are surrounded by a cornucopia of beauty and history. The Cabmen’s Shelter, The Stray, Montpellier Hill, Betty’s Tearoom, Parliament Street and The Westminster Arcade, all perfect locations, all places that make a memorable mosaic within the pages of my books. Montpellier Hill is there in all but it features especially in ‘Dying Art’ and ‘Treble Clef’. If we trundle down the road, we pass the Pump Room, we cross to Swan Road and in front we see The Old Swan Hotel, steeped in the history of crime literature. Not only was it the hiding place of Agatha Christie when she mysteriously went missing in December 1926 but also the centre of the annual and world famous Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. It is here that the world’s best crime writers meet, Lee Child, John Grisham, Jo Nesbo can all be seen enjoying the hospitality Harrogate has to offer.
It is not only Harrogate that affords me the rich palette of people and places, it is surrounded by the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Many towns and villages from Ripon, Masham Nun Monkton and Thirsk have graced the pages of the series. It is important that I use places and businesses, landmarks and settings to bring life and reality to the work and I have been lucky to receive permission for this very purpose.
The characters within my books have to be real too. They must interact, laugh and cry, have a history that immediately separates them as individuals. They must have strengths and weaknesses. Those traits are all drawn from observation of people I know or have just met. Finding names for the characters has always been difficult. I can sometimes get to the end of the first draft and I realise that I have three people with the same Christian name or the surname of two sounds the same, which would be confusing to the reader. People often ask to be a character within my books. Usually I ask if they would like to be good or bad. I can assure you that the majority, nine out of ten females want to be bad! Being good, as your parents probably told you, can have its rewards. April Richmond, a reader from Ripon, wanted originally to be bad but I didn’t have a suitable character and so she was made a detective; she has been in three books whereas Monica Mac, a lady living in Tasmania, won a prize to be a character. She wanted to be the most evil of characters and so I made her an assassin. She died after three chapters. Being good has its rewards.
One of the most moving books and a possible favourite, if you can say that of one of your children, is the book ‘Game Point.’ It is in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin, Ramsgill, that I placed a body. I had always been attracted to one specific grave stone, its colour, the angle at which it is positioned and its wording:
Remember me as you pass by
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare yourself to follow me.
I remember seeing that as a child and it always stayed with me. To think that I would use it in a book many, many years later … what strange pathways we weave.
So, having real places and real people hidden in my work of fiction is an exciting part of my work as a writer.
People often say: “Why did you start to write?” I simply tell them that I was born in a library and maybe that was my destiny but that, as they say, is another story.
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