I recently did a telephone interview with Westender Magazine and it got me thinking about the subject of setting in ‘The Ghost of Helen Addison’.
The interviewer, Lorraine, asked me about the significance of Glasgow’s West End in the book, and I realised that it was of critical importance to both its ambience but more significantly to its lead character, Leo Moran. Most of the action in the book takes place at the fictional Loch Dhonn, and I will write a separate blog post on that soon, but two significant sections are set in Glasgow.
The ambience of Glasgow’s West End has always affected me, ever since as a child when we would visit family there. It is a wonderfully grand place with its towering apartment buildings, mighty churches and bridges, leafy parks and riverbanks, and overgrown backstreets and rear lanes. It is such as well-preserved area that it matches the glorious anachronism that is Leo Moran; he could not exist anywhere else in the world. Moreover, there is real architectural beauty to the place, which chimes with Leo’s aesthetic sense. There is also a melancholy gloominess which characterises the West End, particularly in late autumn and winter, and this matches Leo’s oftentimes gloomy outlook.
Leo resides in Spring Gardens, a place of ‘august, soot-stained Victorian tenements’. While Loch Dhonn is a fictionalised version of Loch Awe (fictionalised in order to permit me to move certain geographical items around to suit the plot), Spring Gardens is in fact a real residential street in Glasgow, and I know precisely the flat in which Leo lives, surrounded by his antiques and treasures. However, it hasn’t been called Spring Gardens since Edwardian times (a prize of a Blue Riband biscuit for whoever can identify the street’s current name!) I spent ages trying to identify a suitable location for Leo’s abode. It had to be a magnificent, top-floor apartment with a good view over the West End, and notably it had to sit on a landing on its own.
Leo’s apartment was comfortable, secluded and filled with his beloved things. He loved his flat. It was his den, his inner sanctum, his own private Dalmatia. Whenever he closed that front door and turned the latch he was left in glorious solitude; no one could bother him or hurt him. He loved the fact that his rooms were located in an end attic of the tenement, which itself was on elevated ground, affording some of the best views of the River Kelvin and the West End, upon which he could gaze down unobserved.
Nothing real-life seemed to fit the bill for what I had in my mind’s eye. Eventually, I just decided to leave it as entirely fictional, but something about this dissatisfied me. Then, just before the deadline for my edited manuscript’s final submission to the publisher, I came up with the perfect real-life apartment. As chance would have it, it had recently been sold, and the floorplan was still available to view on the estate agent’s website. And it matched almost precisely the floorplan I had sketched out for Leo’s flat!
Incidentally, I spent several pages describing the ornate interior of Leo’s flat, but my editor Alison very sensibly culled my self-indulgence. Still, it was great fun writing that up at the time.
I’m very excited to reveal that a new podcast series about my journey to publication is to be released on June 20. My first crime novel ‘The Ghost of Helen Addison’ will be released by Polygon on July 6, and ‘Debut: A Crime Writer’s Journey from the Bedroom to the Bookshelf’ tells the story behind the story.
The series is produced by BackPage media, producers of the iTunes-topping podcast ‘The Big Interview with Graham Hunter’, and it explores what it takes to get an idea into mainstream publishing. It traces the steps from my initial ambition to become a writer, to how I conceived of my first crime novel, to how I developed it and eventually found a publisher.
Loch Awe in Argyll was the inspiration for the fictional Loch Dhonn where most of the book is set. Neil White and Martin Greig of BackPage visited me when I was holidaying there last November for the first interviews, and we were blessed with a day of splendid sunshine which revealed the snow-capped Highland scenery in all of its glory. Other highlights in the series include me in conversation with two of crimewriting’s biggest names, Val McDermid and Chris Brookmyre. I asked them about their experiences in getting published and becoming established writers, and shared my experiences with them and asked for their views and advice.
The series also explores how I left a business career at the age of 30 to pursue my ambitions as a writer; the influences and coincidences that inspired me; how I found a London agent after years of searching only to lose him in a matter of days; how one rejection note, among dozens of rejection notes, changed everything; and much more.
Debut is really beautifully put together and I think crime fans and book lovers in general will enjoy it. It’s a great balance of narrative, interviews, music and readings, and obviously I’m hopeful it will increase awareness of my book, which I am very proud of.
Neil, who produced Debut, said: “Charles’s is an epic journey which starts with a soul-searching road-trip across Australia and will culminate with the publication of his novel in July. We were captivated by his story and wanted to capture the highs and lows of trying to get published.
“Charles’s conversations with Val and Chris, in particular, are fascinating insights into how these two great writers went through their own unique challenges early in their careers. They both had great advice for Charles about what lies ahead.”
The first six episodes of Debut will be released on Tuesday, June 20. They will be available on iTunes and all other podcast feeds. I hope you enjoy it!
Debut will be released on iTunes and all audio platforms. www.debutpodcast.com for full details.