I have wanted to return to the Levels in Somerset for some time. When I began writing the “Alex Hastings” books in 2010 my tutor, Carol Clewlow, told me I needed to find a setting strong enough to be another character in the story and the Levels soon became just that. I left Somerset twenty five years ago and apart from a quick trip by car one day whilst staying near Bath have not been back. Instead I hunted through second-hand shops for maps and picture books dated around 1980 and used the internet to look at locations and older photographs. Mixing this together with my memories and a pinch of imagination, I have written about the Levels for the last four years but I got a bit concerned I might be using too much imagination as the memories began to fade.
The chance to revisit this beautiful area came in the form of the annual rail excursion arranged by our local train enthusiasts. Not only could I get down to Somerset for a weekend, I could do it in style as the train uses first class Pullman carriages. The chance was too good to miss and I set off to see if I had somehow dreamed this mystical landscape. I hadn’t.
We spent a long, gloriously sunny day driving across the Levels, stopping for me to photograph at intervals. Some pictures were obvious and attractive – the encircling hills, Glastonbury Tor in the distance. Others probably have less universal appeal – the rusty sluice gate, for example. And the drowned cygnet. As we bounced along one road (it did have grass growing down the middle so probably should have been avoided) I spotted some peat workings, a fascinating mix of rich dark earth, rushes and water oozing from the torn land. Leaping out I began to photograph, much to the interest of a lady who had set up a picnic table and chairs by the road. As I looked around I realized I was standing opposite the exact building I had used in “The Drowners” as Derek Johns’ hiding place, only then it had been closed according to the pictures on the net. The lady beckoned me over and asked what I was doing. I tried to explain and she laughed. “That’s my father’s business,” she said. I told her it was in a crime novel and gave her a bookmark. Strange how things can happen like that.
And the image of the Levels I brought back? Despite the terrible floods, scars from which can still be seen in a number of areas, they are still quite lovely. The breeze blows almost constantly but on a fine day this sets up just a whisper in the warm air. It is hard to believe there are so many greens in the world, so varied is the foliage. There are vivid patches of golden hay, red and black cows and delightful, playful cream and tan goats. Swans drift in the canals and streams that catch the sunlight and send it, broken and glittering across the eyes. I saw so many tiny paths and little bridges and wanted to follow and cross them all. I will be going back soon, to explore some more but for now I have the Levels in my heart and my mind. it’s time to get serious about the next book.
Getting myself all prepared for the reading on Sunday 17th. Thank you to all at Saltburn’s wonderful “Real Meals” deli who are opening especially – and making their wonderful dark chocolate muffins with plum compote. There will be books available to buy and I’m happy to sign any you bring along – provided I wrote them, of course.
Just to put everyone in the mood, I’m trying to decide what to read. Will I go with the hands in a bag or the long, slow drowning in the marsh? Perhaps the intruder chasing Alex through the probation office at night…
You’ll have to be there to find out!
Now the new book is well and truly out there, I’m doing some appearances around the area. On Wednesday (13th) I’m on Southside Radio (107.3FM and via the web) at around 6.20pm. I’ll try to post the podcast on these pages after the broadcast. Then on Sunday (17th) I will be reading from “The Drowners” and signing books at Real Meals, Saltburn from 2pm – 4pm. I’ll have copies of both books available and if you buy both on the day you get a special price of £12 – and signed for no charge of course.
Do come along if you’re in the area. Real Meals have promised their wonderful Dark Chocolate and Plum compote muffins will be on the menu so it’s worth it just for that.
I must admit, I was very despondent at the end of last year when despite all our efforts “The Drowners” failed to make the shops in time for Christmas. We were so close to a December release but – there were problems with the cover and so we decided to wait and make sure it was as good as we could possibly make it before launching.
On the positive side, the cover does look very good now and the second book in the series is now available in paperback from Amazon, direct from Impress or can be ordered through any bookshop. The e-book is also ready and should be out in the next few weeks.
Although it is a sequel (the story picks up six weeks after “Death of the Elver Man” ends) “The Drowners” can be read as a stand-alone novel so if you are new to Alex Hastings and the world of the Somerset Levels in the 1980s, jump in and give it a try!
Please enlighten me if this is commonplace but it seems a lot of people I know or have known in the past are convinced they can recognise themselves in my books.
Now, like every writer, I tend to take a snippet of conversation, an overheard remark or an interesting personal foible and weave them in to the novels but none of my characters are based on real people – except for one who is fairly recognisable and she is quite happy about it.
There are echoes of real events too, but honestly, nothing like the events in “Death of the Elver Man” or “The Drowners” really happened and certainly not on the beautiful and peaceful Somerset Levels.
You see, it’s a story – I made it up.
Believe me when I say you are not seeing a reflection of yourself. Honest.
The next book in the Alex Hastings series is now scheduled for publication on November 1st 2012. It will be available in paperback and e-book format, from Amazon and other on-line sellers. I will post news of other sellers when I get some news but meanwhile, below is the write-up on the back cover to whet your appetites.
In Somerset it is carnival season once more, but probation officer Alex Hastings is not in the mood to join the festivities. Struck down by a potentially lethal illness, she is beset by problems both at work and within her family. Meanwhile, the demise of Derek Johns’ gang has left a power vacuum, and an uneasy alliance of criminals forms, determined to take control of the area for their own gain.
Then, one night out on the marshes a local man is found dead amidst reports of flickering lights and strange music —and rumours grow of the return of an ancient evil.
This second book in the Alex Hastings series picks up the story six weeks after the finale to Death of the Elver Man, leading Alex and her friends further into the mystery and menace surrounding the Somerset Levels.
Keep watching for news of live readings and book launch.