Nick Quantrill is a crime writer from Hull. His debut novel, “Broken Dreams”, is published by Caffeine Nights.
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The City as a Character by Nick Quantrill
Using the city as a character in crime writing is a concept which is very much at the front of my mind when writing stories set around my home in Hull. Although it’s very much an ongoing learning experience, I found different ways of doing this when writing my debut crime novel, “Broken Dreams”.
At the most basic level, describing the geography of the city starts to bring a sense of place to the writing. As my protagonist, Private Investigator Joe Geraghty, starts to move about the city, the use of street names and areas helps fix a map in the reader’s mind, and if that reader is local, the familiarity can often delight.
Going a little deeper, contrasting the city’s past and potential future in “Broken Dreams” enabled me to create another layer of depth to the city’s character. Once a thriving fishing port, that industry is all but gone, and so is the infrastructure which supported it. “Broken Dreams” starts to look at the consequences of this, and examines what, if anything, replaces it. To go a step further, when characters start to respond to their environment, that’s when I felt I was getting closer to the essence of the city as a character.
One strand of “Broken Dreams” sees Geraghty searching for a missing woman, last seen ten years ago. As Geraghty speaks to her family, it becomes apparent there are tensions simmering under the surface. Her father worked the trawlers for little pay until his job was taken without recompense, never working again until his premature death. Maybe his experience of living in Hull made it difficult for him to understand his daughter’s dream of being a singer? Maybe her teenage brother’s death from a drug overdose, after few opportunities offered in life, not even the fall-back position of working at sea, affected her deeply?
It seems to me that decisions and consequences are intimately tied to location and circumstance, and when they exert themselves, the city comes to the fore. As a writer, all you can do is look for your own truth and take a snapshot. By its ever changing nature, it can’t be anything more.