This week, AA Abbott takes us on a tour of the world from her love of books through both reading and writing. Author of The Trail thriller series, AA Abbott, writes about the places that she knows although some fictional places also feature in her books.
THE MARVELLOUS MAGICAL TRAVEL MACHINE
by AA Abbott
Do you love meeting new people and seeing new places? For me, a good book is a quiet adventure – a journey with the characters to exciting destinations. Reading Paul E Hardisty’s mystery thriller, Absolution, was almost a travelogue, albeit a scary one. The heat, dust, dangers and delights of Africa rose from the pages.
As a child, I had little opportunity to travel. Fiction, especially the well-thumbed tomes borrowed from the library every week, broadened my horizons. Joan Aiken was a particular favourite, bringing to life 17thcentury London, salty seaside resorts, and even fantastical magical lands. It was only recently that I discovered she’d written crime stories for adults too. Her descriptions of Edinburgh’s winding old lanes and the treacherous shores trapping baddies in Castle Barebane are exceptionally evocative.
Fantasy and Sci-Fi authors have the hardest task. While they have free rein to invent new worlds, they also have to convey them to readers in a way that’s fresh and engaging. Frank Herbert did an amazing job with his Dune series– so much so, that seeing the sandy planet in a film felt like revisiting old haunts.
Fiction brings a different perspective to familiar places. The tree-lined streets that an academic calls home in Ian McEwan’s Saturday are very different from the cramped, dystopian council estates of Martin Amis’s London Fields, yet they are only miles apart.
The parallel lives of rich and poor in London are also highlighted in my crime thriller, After The Interview . Spoiled, greedy Boris owns an executive flat overlooking the Thames, while his Polish concierge inhabits a jerry-built box in the suburbs. The envy this generates leads to an explosive encounter.
Readers tell me there’s a sense of place in my stories, and perhaps that’s because I tend to write about what I know. From the terraces of Walthamstow pre-gentrification, to slick City insurance offices, to the cocktail bars of Birmingham, I’ve lived, worked and hung out there.
Birmingham has historically had a bad press, despite being friendly, buzzy and thriving. My Trail series of crime thrillers showcases facets of the city that I love. There’s the Victorian Gothic Jewellery Quarter (where I bought my wedding ring, priced by weight), the unpretentious real ale pubs and the upscale cocktail joints. Below the surface, there’s a dark undercurrent, however, with a shoot-out in a secret tunnel network. This really exists, but access is strictly limited, so (as with Belmarsh prison and the fictional Soviet Union state of Bazakistan, also featured in the series) research was vital.
After reading extensively, watching videos and interviewing anyone prepared to help, I could take readers to these terrifying places in the blink of an eye. The beauty of a book, of course, is that you can put it down and return to the real world any time you choose.
Do you have a favourite story with a sense of place? Tell me about it at the Oakwood Festival!
Join AA Abbott and her fellow authors for the Gritty Fiction panel discussion at the Oakwood Literature Festival on 18th May at Springwood Leisure Centre. Let us know what you think of this article, please feel free to comment below.