A curious novel set in FRANCE
Talking Location With … Trevor Wood – NORTHUMBERLAND
22nd March 2023
#TalkingLocationWith … Trevor Wood, author of You Can Run – Northumberland
After writing three books set firmly in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne I needed a radically different location for my new standalone thriller You Can Run.
You Can Run is set in a remote village which is being held at siege as a group of hired gunmen seek a young girl. I prefer to set my books in real places and I had a clear vision of what my village would look like. It needed to be far from any urban settlement, surrounded by miles of empty countryside and lowly-populated with a single road passing through it, making it easy to prevent people entering and, more importantly, leaving.
Luckily an area with many likely contenders was on my doorstep – Northumberland, the county with the lowest population density in England.
I set out to find my village. A lot of my research was done during that strange semi-lockdown period when pretty much all you could safely do for entertainment was go for long walks in the country, so I packed up a rucksack, stuck on my walking boots and went exploring.
The Northumberland National Park seemed the most likely spot. I first headed to Holystone, which was almost ideal, about eight miles from Rothbury, the only biggish town nearby, a population of around 70, but the village was a little too spread out and the road layout wasn’t quite right. I’m glad that I moved on now as, unbeknown to me at the time, the brilliant L J Ross was working on Lady’s Well, her latest best-selling book which is set exactly there and was released just a few days before You Can Run.
I decided to head further south. I already had some knowledge of Northumberland and wanted to check out Otterburn, home to a military training camp and the largest firing range in the UK, two things that I could use in You Can Run. The road layout looked promising. There’s a couple of routes in and out of the village but one of them does run through the middle, unfortunately it’s a pretty big one, the A696. Also there were too many people – a population of more than 600. But my journey wasn’t wasted. I kept seeing signs to Winter’s Gibbet and I just had to check it out. Turns out it’s the location of a murder committed back in 1791 by a man called William Winter, who was hanged for the crime. Almost 100 years later a local lord decided this should be commemorated and a rather macabre symbol of this crime remains. Sometimes there’s a moment of serendipity with these things and this was one of those moments. One of my characters already had the surname Winter – so his cursed ancestor gets namechecked when he’s threatened in the finished book.
Back to the drawing board for my village though. I figured I needed to spend more solid time exploring so booked an airbndb in a tiny place called Snitter, too close to Rothbury to be a contender but a great base to explore. I headed north towards Alnham, an isolated hamlet. My timing wasn’t great, there were high winds and falling trees and the locals were warning of imminent snowstorms but I’m a pro so I was undeterred. The location was perfect, very isolated, quiet roads, sadly, however, the sparse population was too spread out, there’s nowhere to hide. However, yet again, my travels bore fruit. I happened upon the memorial to the tragic death of two shepherds, who were stranded in the wilds when a blizzard hit in the 60s, their bodies eventually found buried in the snow. They say that every crime writer needs a splinter of ice in their heart and I think that’s probably true. Not only were my villagers going to be blockaded by armed men, they were now also going to face a snowstorm and the real-life story of the unfortunate shepherds would be another deterrent to prevent them trying to escape. The falling trees all over the paths I tried to navigate provided me with another deterrent that would also end up in the book. And a discovered what a Blind was. Sometimes research really does pay off.
I was beginning to realise that I may have to create a fictional village if I was to match all my requirements so started to draw a map. I have the drawing skills of a three-year-old child so I passed the challenge to my wife who produced such a perfect representation of the village that I wanted that I knew my search was over. Coldburn was created. But it was placed right in the middle of the areas I’d been visiting and all the info and real-life knowledge I’d picked up on my trekking around has hopefully given it the feel of a real place. (Sadly my publishers passed on my wife’s map to one of their resident artists who produced the version that features in the book, so she no longer speaks to me.)
Catch the author on Twitter @TrevorWoodWrite and IG @TrevorWood5822
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