It seems surreal somehow, but I’m now about to publish number five in my crime series set in St. Andrews, after that tentative step into authorship when the first of my DCI Andy Gilchrist novels came to life in 2007. But the idea for setting a crime series in that picturesque seaside town came to me many years earlier.
If you’ve never been to St. Andrews on the east coast of Scotland, you must. Internationally famous for being the home of golf, and nationally renowned for being the town in which Prince William attended university and met his wife, Kate, St. Andrews is one of these rare old Scottish towns that appears to have marched through time with barely a change to its historical heart. No question, the place is awash with pubs and restaurants that attract many a foreign tourist into the old grey town or, as it is colloquially known, the auld grey toon, but it was not the pubs that sparked the idea of my crime series, but the historical and, yes, romantic setting.
Its castle ruins, its cathedral ruins and cemetery, its harbours, its pier, its golden beaches and black cliffs overlooking blacker seas, its old terraced houses built from stones stolen from the cathedral, its cobbled streets and narrow pends, all give any visitor to the old town a sense of being somewhere special. That spark of inspiration came to me one winter’s night, when I stopped mid-step and stared along a centuries-old cobbled street before me, with shadowed houses either side, and realised that this – St. Andrews – would make a terrific setting for a crime series.
I often market and publicise my crime series as being the first and only contemporary crime series set in St. Andrews, but it recently dawned on me that the only St. Andrews constant throughout the series is the North Street Police Station, which is where my fictional detective, DCI Andy Gilchrist, works each case. On reflection, I now understand the significance of that Police Station and the fact that it is only a two minute walk to the nearest pub, and how that location has defined Gilchrist’s character and turned him into the man he has become in my novels. Although he struggles with a sense of failure, having failed in his marriage, seeming never to sustain a long-term relationship with the fairer sex, and struggling to keep in contact with his grown-up children, he often ends up in one of the local pubs discussing the case with his team, or analysing forensic data, or strategizing their next move.
I now see that the setting in a novel is not chosen just to provide the author with an attractive place about which s/he can write, but is a useful tool which any author can use to develop their main character. Regrettably, the North Street Police Station has recently been closed, with the constabulary moving to a more modern building in a quiet residential area that seems as if it is an hour’s walk to the nearest pub. Would my DCI Gilchrist be the protagonist he is if the North Street Police Station had not been so close to the centre of that wonderful old Scottish town? I have to confess, that I very much doubt it.
THE MEATING ROOM will be published by Constable on 18th September 2014. For more information on Frank and his writing, visit www.frankmuir.com