A sense of place

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Monday musings on writing

By Seb Kirby

I think it’s important for a story to have a sense strong of place. You don’t have to point as far back as the importance of London in Dickens’ novels or the Salinas Valley in John Steinbeck’s ‘East Of Eden’. A more recent example is the coastal enclave of Montauk in the HBO long form TV drama ‘The Affair’. Place becomes as much a central character in these stories as the players themselves, breathing life into the story.

That’s why I’ve visited and spent time in all the places featured in my books. It’s not that I favor extensive descriptions of places (or people for that matter). It’s more that the feel of a place comes through in the writing once you’ve spent time there and absorbed the sights and sounds.

I was fortunate that before I took up writing full time my job obliged me to make many visits each year worldwide. This often took me to places in Europe (Portugal, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Crete, Denmark, Romania), the US/ Canada (New York, Boston, Monterey, San Francisco, San Antonio, Austin, San Diego, Detroit, Orlando, Minneapolis, London Ontario, Toronto) and the Far East (China, Japan). Because of the nature of the work, it was often possible to stay over after business was completed and explore. This gave some great eye-openers. Like an ill-advised bus trip from San Diego Old Town across the border to Tijuana that made real the vast disparities between two ways of life. Or spending time in English Corner in Shenyang (in what was Manchuria in northern China) where the charming locals come to practice their English—much of it gained from US film and TV—in conversation with visiting English speakers.

Though I travel less these days, I still pay regular visits to two places that are special to me and my writing: London and Florence, as much for their cultural vibrancy as their enthralling locations.

Sometimes whole plot lines emerge from a single observation. Like the time I was in a restaurant in Florence when they charged for an order I hadn’t received. When I went to complain to the manager, a heavy in a black leather jacket intervened to make sure I knew not to be too insistent and I should accept that overcharging was more normal here than where I come from. This formed the germ of the ideas that led to the organized crime elements of Take No More and the rest of the James Blake story. To be fair to the wonderful city of Florence, the presence of organized crime is a rarity this far north in Italy but this didn’t stop my leap of imagination and its usefulness in telling the story.

In the digital world, “visiting” places becomes simpler and less liable to destroy the planet with wasted plane travel. Google Maps with its street view feature allows an author to walk those streets again from the (relative) comfort of his/her writer’s desk. I find this a particularly useful means of visualizing scenes where characters are out and about, active in their location, especially to refresh memories of places I’ve walked myself. More comes back than the visual experience itself. I recommend this to all writers as a means of capturing a sense of place in their work.

However you do it, sense of place helps bring a story to life.

Seb Kirby, thriller, psychological thriller and science-fiction

Seb Kirby

was literally raised with books: his grandfather ran a mobile library in Birmingham, UK and his parents inherited a random selection of the books. Once he discovered a trove of well-used titles from Zane Gray’s Riders of the Purple Sage, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to more obscure stuff, he was hooked.

He’s been an avid reader ever since.

He is author of the James Blake thriller series, Take No More, Regret No More and Forgive No More; the science-fiction thriller, Double BindEach Day I Wake; and Sugar for Sugar. His latest book is another psychological thriller, Here the Truth Lies.

Seb can be found:

BestSelling Reads author page  |   Amazon Author page  |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |    Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website & blog 

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Thursday teaser: Here the Truth Lies

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This week we present a psychological thriller teaser from the new book, Here the Truth Lies

JASON FARRAR VIA FLICKR

By Seb Kirby

I make it home in good time to take the call from Brian Cooper.

All the way, I’m worried that the tall man might get off the train at one of the stations further down the line, wait there and re-board my carriage when it arrives. But as each station stop passes and there is no sign of him, my sense of fear subsides and I sink back into the warm, welcoming arms of my whisky-aided world.

When eight-thirty comes around and there’s nothing from Cooper, I begin to think he must have second thoughts about calling. After all, I hadn’t been able to offer much hope of getting his case reviewed the last time we spoke, which is over two weeks ago. When the phone rings, I half expect it to be a cold call, but it’s Cooper’s voice at the end of the line.

He doesn’t waste time with any formalities. “Look, I don’t have long. I’m on three calls only a week and this is one of them. We have fifteen minutes.”

I try to put him at ease. “I’m glad you got through, I thought you might have problems accessing the phone.”

“They do you no favors in here. But, sweetheart, that’s something I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

“I have an important question, Brian. I want you to think very carefully before you reply. The way you answer may well determine if I can go on helping you or not.”

“You’re trying to pull a number on me?”

“No, of course not. But you have to understand that there are some things we have to get straight before I can offer any further help.”

“I get it, sweetheart. What is it?”

“You are on the level with me, aren’t you?”

“Is that it? If you mean, did I do it, you know what the answer is. I didn’t do it. I was nowhere near the house.”

“So where were you?”

“Like I told you last time, I was out and about, working my patch.”

“Pushing drugs? With Alison?”

“What else. That’s what we did.”

I take a deep breath. “I need to understand why Alison placed you at that house in Morden. You and he were mates, working together.”

“He was never a mate of mine.”

“But you worked together.”

“Call it a marriage of convenience. You don’t have to like someone to work with them.”

“You’re saying you didn’t get on with him.”

“No, I’m saying that’s how the world is, sweetheart.”

I hate how Cooper calls me sweetheart in such a dismissive way. No doubt this is his attitude to most women, but I let it pass. “You’ve got to help me here, Brian. Did Alison have any reason to want to set you up for the murder by testifying that you and he were at the house in Morden?”

“He may have had his reasons.”

“Like what?”

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be finding out?”

“You need to see how damaging that was to your case. In coming forward Alison was putting himself at great risk, admitting to drug dealing along with you and placing himself in a position where he could have been accused of being an accomplice to murder. That gave his testimony tremendous weight with the court. Why would he risk all that if he didn’t feel compelled to tell the truth about the killings?”

Cooper falls silent for a worrying length of time, as if he’s thinking too much about what he should say next. I’m left with the feeling that he knows the importance of the question and that the way he answers will have a major effect on whether I’ll continue to support him. A pause that makes me uncertain that he’s not seeking to find the answer that will manipulate me the most. And when he does reply, what he has to say doesn’t calm those fears.

“Look, Alison was a bad man. There are a lot of bad men like him. They do terrible things. How do I know why he turned me in? All I can tell you is, I wasn’t there. I didn’t kill that girl or her father.”

I take another a deep breath. “Look, Brian. I need to say this to you again to make sure I understand. You could win parole by admitting that you did the killings. If you showed remorse, told them how sorry you were, you’d be more or less certain to be listened to. They could conclude that you’re no longer a danger. A year in a low security prison or so and you could be out.”

He interrupts with an undisguised note of aggression in his voice. “And admit to something I didn’t do? Spend the rest of my life being known as a child killer? There’s no way I would ever do that, sweetheart. I thought you knew I was never going to do that.”

“Which means there’s something you need to understand. If I continue the investigation and I turn up evidence that places you at the scene of the murders, I’ll be duty bound to reveal it. That would weigh heavily against any chance you might have of an appeal.” I pause again. “So, tell me one more time. Were you ever at the house in Morden? Yes or no?”

“It’s like I told you. I didn’t do it. Is that clear enough for you, sweetheart? And if I didn’t do it, how could I have been anywhere near that house? Answer me that?”

The time is up. The line goes dead.

I’m less convinced by Cooper than before the call. He could be using me, regarding me as a soft touch. Yet I know that whatever force is drawing me to the story hasn’t changed, no matter how unconvincing Cooper is. And once again he’s refused to admit to the crime, even though that could have bought him his freedom.

It’s that, more than anything else, that stays with me.

Here the Truth Lies: psychological thriller by Seb KirbyAbout Here the Truth Lies 

Sometimes your past is stranger than you ever imagined.

Emma Chamberlain has a consuming ambition – to prove the innocence of a convicted murderer sentenced to life. But the more she digs into the evidence, the more she is forced to confront threatening secrets about her own past that lead her to the ultimate question: who is Emma Chamberlain?

To discover the truth, Emma must expose those responsible for a dark conspiracy that has ruined the lives of many and now threatens her own.

Seb Kirby

BestSelling author Seb Kirbywas literally raised with books: his grandfather ran a mobile library in Birmingham, UK and his parents inherited a random selection of the books. Once he discovered a trove of well-used titles from Zane Gray’s Riders of the Purple Sage, HG Wells’ The Invisible Man and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to more obscure stuff, he was hooked.

He’s been an avid reader ever since.

He is author of the James Blake thriller series, Take No More, Regret No More and Forgive No More; the science-fiction thriller, Double BindEach Day I Wake; and Sugar for Sugar. His latest book is another psychological thriller, Here the Truth Lies.

Seb can be found:

BestSelling Reads author page  |   Amazon Author page  |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |    Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website & blog 

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