I am delighted to welcome Katherine Sunderland who blogs at Bibliomaniac and Mary-Jane Riley to put the very first book on the map in East Anglia.
The Bad Things and After She Fell form the first two books in the Alex Devlin series which uses the back drop of Norfolk and Suffolk to these crime thrillers with a strong psychological edge. Susan from The Book Trail has also created maps for these two books on her site so you can hop over to see her for an East Anglian extravaganza
For those of you not from the UK, or like me whose geography is a little on the weak side Norfolk is a county on the East of England, it borders the counties of Suffolk, Cambridgeshire which together with Norfolk make up the region known as East Anglia and is about 100 miles north-east of London. As Alex Devlin does a fair bit of travelling as the journalist turned investigator, it seemed appropriate to give her the whole region of East Anglia rather than a mere county or town.
Although I’ve visited Norwich many times as Owen went to Norwich University of the Arts, and we’ve had family visits to Norwich Castle, walked around this picturesque town and had a wonderful and hilarious evening in the Revolution Cuban Restaurant Bar,sadly I haven’t explored further afield and so I was delighted that Katherine and Mary-Jane have bought the places mentioned in these two excellent books to life!
Mary-Jane Riley – Author
I like to think my earliest memory of East Anglia is of me as a two-year-old, running across the beach at Mundesley, laughing. Perhaps I can remember the sparse luxury of the converted railway carriage in which we stayed. Or maybe it’s when I’m a little older, sheltering from the cold east wind inside a tent on the same beach with my father, eating ham sandwiches while my brothers sand-surfed. I know I can remember walking around Sheringham on a treasure hunt, looking for the clues in shop windows. And the time we went to the Summer Theatre at Southwold – though I can’t remember what we saw.
Some years later, quite by chance, I came to live in Norfolk with my new husband. We’ve moved around Norfolk and Suffolk once or twice, moves dictated by children and jobs, but for more than half my life now I have lived in this wonderful area of England.
I love it here. I love the isolated villages, the desolate salt marshes and reedbeds, the mysterious forests, the sandy beaches, the crumbling cliffs. The sky is wide and often grey, the air is crisp, the winds sharp from the North Sea.
East Anglia, with its contrasts and edginess is the perfect place to set a crime novel – as many writers have discovered – P.D.James, Ruth Rendell, Nicci French, Dorothy L Sayers to name only four – so what better place for me to use for my first crime novel?
With children and dogs, we have spent many hours trudging along beaches in summer and winter. The seaside has a very different feel about it in the cold months, and that is what I wanted to capture with The Bad Things. I didn’t want the light and sunny feel of a town in the summer, I wanted people huddled in coats, waves crashing on the shore, grey sky meeting grey sea. I wanted isolation, desolation. But I wanted a family place too, where a family should be happy, but where dark secrets lay just below the surface. Southwold was perfect, only it would be known as Sole Bay to enable me to play around with the geography (and not upset people!). It has beaches, a harbour lined with wooden sheds selling fresh fish, salt marshes and a wide horizon. In the winter the cold sea can be cruel – breaching sea defences, eroding the beaches and the coastline, flooding buildings.
I wanted the ‘Fine City’ of Norwich to play a part too… the vibrant market that sells everything from artisan bread to foam pads for cushions, the Forum building that houses the Millennium Library and is ultra-modern in design, juxtaposed with the beautiful old St Peter Mancroft Church. Scenes set in the city also gave the book a space to breathe, before plunging back into the events happening in Sole Bay.
It was on a visit to North Norfolk that inspiration struck for my second book, After She Fell. On a lovely day we took a trip to the village of Happisburgh (known as Hallow’s Edge in the book). Over the years, I had written many news stories about coastal erosion in the area, and I wanted to see it for myself. We walked along the edge of the cliff, and came across a road that ended in – nothing. It had fallen into the sea. I peered over the edge, and down below were the granite rocks that were supposed to protect the cliff, then there was the sea. When I looked to my left, I saw a beautiful Arts and Craft house.
That was it. I had always wanted to write a book set in a boarding school – blame too much Enid Blyton and a lonely childhood for that – and in my imagination I saw that house as a private school. What if a pupil from the school fell off the end of the road? I also wanted to explore the realities of youngsters living in an isolated village, and the tensions between private school pupils and local teenagers. There is also a beautiful lighthouse in the village, perfect for…. you will have to read the book to find that out.
And then, just down the road is Mundesley…. of course my characters had to go there. It is still a typical Norfolk seaside town, with cafes that do tea and coffee and shops that sell buckets and spades and windmills, and beautiful, golden beaches. I thought it would be somewhere where the characters could breathe – just for a while. It would also serve as a suitable contrast to the claustrophobic village and school.
It was also a chance for me and my husband to eat fish and chips on a bench near the town’s tiny museum and to walk on the beach and picture that two-year-old me, laughing.
I was absolutely thrilled to be asked by my Book Blogger Heroine Cleo to take part in her new series of blog posts which looks at the setting and location of reader’s favourite novels.
I’m going to talk about Norfolk. The best place in the world!
Book: Mary Jane Riley “The Bad Things”
Location: Suffolk and Norfolk Coast
We have been going to Norfolk at least 3 or 4 times a year for the last ten years. I love the huge skyline that stretches on forever, the never-ending flatness of the countryside and the sense of remoteness and isolation as you travel along the winding lanes. There is also an immediate sense of having to slow down, sometimes very literally when you get stuck behind a tractor on the meandering single lane roads but I think it’s also because of the simplicity of the horizon and the unspoilt coastline. My husband loves it because of the patchy mobile reception and temperamental WiFi meaning he can become unreachable for a few precious days!
Every beach along the North Norfolk coast line is different. There are the popular sandy beaches and seaside resorts; there are the lesser known sandy beaches, there are beaches framed with colourful beach huts and then there are the marshlands that stretch as far as the eye can see until the grassland merges into the murky water. There are beaches which are good for surfing, swimming, building sandcastles, flying kites, epic walks and crab fishing.
For us, Norfolk has always been one of “The Good Things” in our family, but that said, a busy beach, a crowded resort, an isolated headland and sinking marshlands are all prefect locations for stories about crime, mystery and tragedy – how many times has your mind envisaged missing children, a drowning, a devastating argument……
And what’s better than a beach at winter? I love the bleakness of the coast line and the exposure to the chilling wind. What of Norfolk’s eroding coastline -it’s unable to protect itself so how will it protect you? And those marshlands with their unpredictable tides – the way the water feeds in along its many invisible rivulets, weaving its way in and out of the higher land until before you know it you are completely cut off and cast adrift into the sea. Oh yes, a perfect setting for a novel!
When we were in Norfolk last year, I read a few thrillers set in the area. I was attracted to Mary Jane Riley’s book because the font cover reminded me of Holkham beach. It could have easily have been a photo from my album with my children wandering off to play while I put my head in a book!!
Although the setting for “The Bad Things” is a fictional town based on Southwold in Suffolk, the coastline is very similar to Norfolk and I think Riley has used elements of Norfolk towns in her writing. I enjoyed Riley’s novel because her descriptions of Suffolk/Norfolk are so vivid and incredibly easy to picture. They lend themselves perfectly to the atmosphere of the story and Riley uses the location to increase the tension and suspense in “The Bad Things“. I suppose reading a gripping thriller, with the most terrifying premise for any parent, which is set in a place where you always feel relaxed and safe should make me feel more unsettled, but it didn’t spoil my break at all and actually I just enjoyed being able to really “see” the novel.
If in doubt, make sure you have chosen to read your novel at one of the many friendly, bright and cheerful cafes that are sprinkled throughout the county!
Thanks so much Cleo for letting me take part in your #PutABookOnTheMap! To read my full review of “The Bad Things” by Mary Jane Riley please click here:
Bibliomaniac’s Review of The Bad Things
For a list of other books set in Norfolk click here:
Bibliomaniac’s Norfolk Reading Suggestions
You can find Katherine on twitter
The Bad Things Book Reviews from the blogosphere
The Bad Things by Postcard Reviews and can be found on twitter @TracyShephard
The Bad Things by Grab This Book who can be found on twitter
The Bad Things by The Book Review Café who can be found on twitter
The Bad Things by Cleopatra Loves Books – that’s me, I can be found at
After She Fell Book Reviews from the blogosphere
After She Fell by The Book Lover’s Boudoir who can be found on twitter @pscottwriter
After She Fell was written by Lizzie Hayes of Promoting Crime Fiction, this review can also be found at the wonderful resource for crime fiction lovers Mystery People
After She Fell by Relax and Read Book Reviews who can be found on twitter
And Claire Knight has provided a review of both books at Crime Book Junkie she can be found on twitter
Now don’t forget to hop over to see Susan The Book Trail to see the details of the book settings on her wonderful maps.
I do hope you’ve enjoyed this visit to East Anglia as much as I have and there are lots more wonderful destinations full of crime coming up on Put A Book On The Map.
Thank you so much to Mary-Jane Riley for writing two (five star) reads set in this great destination, and to Katherine for providing a piece and her pictures which illustrates how a setting that we know well, can add a special something to the reading experience.
All books featured in this #BookOnTheMap project will get a place on the master page listing crime fiction by their destination with links to the wonderful collaboration between authors and bloggers.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate in this feature.