Historical novel set in 1930s SINGAPORE
Talking Location With…. author Graham Bartlett – Brighton
6th August 2022
#TalkingLocationWith….. Graham Bartlett, author of Bad for Good – BRIGHTON
They say write what you know but I think I might have taken that to its extremes.
My debut novel, Bad for Good, starring Chief Superintendent Jo Howe not only centres on a police force and a role I am intimately familiar with but also a city I have loved and worked in for most of my life.
I served at every rank from Police Constable to Chief Superintendent in Brighton and Hove and the stories I had burning inside me would fill volumes. Mostly though, I wanted the city itself to be a character and, to those who thought they knew it, show a different side.
Born and brought up in the nearby harbour town of Shoreham-by Sea, as a child and adolescent Brighton was the town I gravitated to. Helped by the fact that my late father was a passionate Brightonian through and through – he was the Borough Surveyor and head of its volunteer Special Constabulary – my siblings and I got to know the place as well as our hometown.
Brighton’s dark underbelly has been its defining feature since the 1700s when it was first ‘colonised’ as a party town by the Prince Regent, who would become King George IV. Following the royal lead, aristocrats from London took to descending there for dubious weekends of pleasure and debauchery. In the mid-nineteenth century, the new railway line from the capital opened the place to the lower classes, among them enterprising villains who saw opportunity in its riches.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and it bore the scar of being where the only serving chief constable was murdered on duty. Last century, saw the Razor Gangs, made famous in Grahame Greene’s Brighton Rock, Mods and Rockers claiming the beachfront as their battle ground and the place where the IRA nearly wiped out the UK Government in the 1984 Grand Hotel bombing.
It has attracted the sobriquets of ‘Slaughterhouse of Europe’, ‘Crime Capital of Britain’, ‘Drugs Death Capital of the UK’ and described by columnist, Keith Waterhouse as looking ‘…like a town that is constantly helping the police with their enquiries.’
Aside from that, nestled between the English Channel and the South Downs National Park, it boasts some of the most stunning vistas this country provides, and some of its most fascinating history.
I had rich pickings of where to subject poor Jo Howe to her dramas, and I have personal story behind each place. Careful not to avoid spoilers then, here are some of the locations I feature each of which warrant a book to themselves.
Withdean Park, where the Bad For Good drama ratchets up, is one of the most beautiful of Brighton’s gardens. Carefully laid out with ornamental shrubs and flowers, it is famous for its collection of lilacs, the second largest in the world with over 250 types, which until 2009 was designated by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens as the National Reference Collection for the species. I first found it when looking for a safe place to let my irascible terrier puppy off the lead. It has a huge, fenced dog park which was perfect and I fell in love with the place. Where better else to kill someone then?
I then needed a place to dispose of dozens of bodies (you’ll have to read the book to find out why). After considering a shortlist of likely locations, I chose the British Engineerium, a place I visited many times as a schoolboy
Sitting proudly at the top of Hove Park its collection of majestic Victorian buildings and imposing 95 foot chimney, it remains a stunning, if a now little sad, landmark. Under its original name, the Goldstone Pumping Station, its huge steam engines drew up water from underground rivers. In the 1870s it was pumping 2,600,000 imperial gallons (12.000.000 litres) every day for the population of Brighton and Hove. For me, it was the four Lancashire boilers and the huge furnaces which kept them to steam that made it perfect for my purposes.
Admittedly just outside Brighton, Newhaven Fort provided everything I needed for other dastardly deeds in Bad for Good. Now a vibrant museum where I spent many a happy day showing my children how lucky they were not to have been billeted there, it was built in the 1860s to defend the strategically important Newhaven Harbour against invasion. It remained in service until well after the Second World War and control of the site was only handed back to the council in 1962. It remains open as tourist attraction and educational centre to this and none of the horrors I depict there have really happened – so far as I know!
Brighton is so much more than daytrips and sticky rock. It has a vibrant and fascinating history, a dark side it’s trying to fix but above all to me it’s the most cosmopolitan city in the UK and one I’ll always love.
Catch Graham on Twitter @bgpoliceadvisor
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