Last year, I took part in a crime writing event called Liverpool Noir. It was hosted by Waterstones in the centre of Liverpool, and was put together and expertly hosted by none other than Barry Forshaw, the esteemed editor of Crime Time. Barry is originally from this fair city and can still slip into a convincing Scouse accent on request (and after a few glasses of wine). During the discussions, Barry told us about how, like Dick Whittington, he felt drawn to the gold-paved streets of London to pursue his career in writing (I have no idea whether he took a cat with him).
Others of us have not only stayed in Liverpool, but also made a conscious decision to feature it heavily in our writing. For me, though, this was not always the case. My first series of thrillers was set in New York. My reasons for this were mainly that New York has always held a fascination for me, and my influences in books and film were predominantly US-based. Looking back now, I think I also worried that Liverpool might not appeal as a setting to potential editors and agents. Silly as it might seem now, those fears were not wholly unfounded. My good friend and fellow crime writer Luca Veste recounted at the Liverpool Noir event how the choice of Merseyside for his Murphy and Rossi series initially acted as a definite barrier to publication. When it came to my turn to put A Tapping At My Door out on submission, it was rejected by one publisher who told me that, although she loved the book, she felt she couldn’t take me on because she ‘already has an author who sets his books in—’ At this point, I felt sure she was about to say ‘Liverpool’, and I wondered who the author might be, but she actually went on to say that she already had an author who sets his books in the North! So, yes, I think there still exists a bias against Liverpool, perpetuated by certain media. But what I have also found is that people who visit it for the first time (including my agent) are very pleasantly surprised. Some of the city’s attractions – the waterfront with its distinctive ‘Three Graces’, the two cathedrals, its music and football– have been around for a while. Others, such as the Liverpool One shopping centre, are newer, and owe their existence to the vast amounts of money that have poured into the city in the ten years since it was made the European Capital of Culture.
Like any major city, Liverpool has its areas of poverty and deprivation, and a certain edginess that is grist to the mill for a crime writer. But everywhere you go you will encounter the renowned friendliness and witty humour of its people. The streets of Liverpool may not be paved with gold, but they bear witness to a million stories, and I for one intend to keep on telling them.