My novel Dead Hill (The Book Folks), the first in the DCI Jack Harris series, is approaching 60 (mostly positive reviews) on Amazon, which got me thinking about how it came into being.

As you may have gathered, as a writer I am always inspired by a sense of place. Whether it be a gloomy city or a stunning hillside, a glass-strewn council estate or a majestic waterfall, something about my surroundings repeatedly triggers ideas.

So, let me take you back a number of years to a hillside in the North Pennines in an attempt to show you what I mean.

I was on a family holiday and we were staying in a village on the Durham/Cumbrian border. There was a play area in the middle of the village and every evening my two children would go for a swing and I would wander out to keep an eye on them - they had gone past the ‘Dad, give me a push’ stage but had not quite reached the stage where they could be left alone.

In such circumstances, a person has a lot of time to think and as they swung, so I found myself staring at the hillside opposite. And as with all writers, ideas started to swirl around in my mind.

Something about the hill’s slopes and its late evening shadows, the way the buzzards hunted across the ridge, the sound of the sheep bleating and the distant barking of a farm dog, worked their magic on me and by the end of the week, an idea was born, eventually turning into Dead Hill.

My experience as a journalist meant that I knew a lot about wildlife crime and the more I looked at the buzzards on the hillside, the more the place and the idea came together as a good theme for the book. But place came first.

Character arrived third when striding into my mind came Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harris, a disillusioned officer working in the rural area in which he grew up, dragged back by the pull of the hills despite his attempts to stay away.

Mix in a bit of gangland intrigue, a few friends with secrets to protect, the DCI's re-awakening as a detective and the ever-changing northern landscape and Dead Hill assumed a life of its own.

The story itself told about the discovery of a dead gangland figure in a quarry that brought back dark memories for Harris and the hilltop community in which he works. As the detective investigated the murder, not only was he forced to deal with hostile villains, frightened townsfolk and colleagues who doubt his capacity to bring the killer to justice, he also has to confront part of his past that he had hoped would be forgotten. And in doing so, he was forced to re-evaluate the loyalties of those closest to him.

And all from that hillside!

 

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