We’ve been in York, searching out locations for the third William Quest novel. Interesting to walk around a city getting atmosphere for an historical thriller set in 1854. As an historical location, York is easier than most. Such a lot survives, compared to other places in Britain.
In the first two books The Shadow of William Quest and Deadly Quest, my hero is mostly adventuring in London – a place which has changed a great deal since the mid-Victorian period. But the Victorian elements can still be sought out even there, though they are few and far between. I’ve spent such a lot of years studying Victorian London that it seems very familiar to me. Indeed, modern London seems strange whenever I’m there.
York is a joy. Although there has been modern development and new shop fascias, many of the streets would still be recognisable to a man from 1854. In my book, William Quest has never been to York before, so he’s lost one of the great advantages he’s had while carrying out his often dubious activities in London – which he knows like the back of his hand.
For anyone who’s never encountered William Quest, he’s a mysterious figure, usually armed with a pistol and a swordstick, who rights wrongs, defends the weak against the strong, fights corruptions and has his own occasional vigilante methods of dealing with wrongdoers.
But in this book he’s having to take on the role of detective as well, solving a puzzle that has baffled the citizens of York…
And it means peril, high adventure and a sinister conspiracy….
Having spent the past couple of months writing the third Quest (no title as yet), it’s great to revisit familiar old haunts in York – though I confess to spending a lot of time in bookshops. York has some great second-hand bookshops!
We go to York quite often and always do a lot of walking around the streets, but I felt I was at the point in the novel where I wanted to see again some of the places I’d mentioned in the chapters written so far. There is one particular street, Tanner Row, which appears in the book and which I didn’t really know at all – an important street leading to what was once York’s original railway station. The one someone like Quest would have used in 1854.
This original railway station was within the city walls, the present station, though Victorian and magnificent is outside the walls. Much of the old station still exists, though it’s been revamped as offices for the city council.
Nearer to the Minster, we walked the streets where the mystery occurs which provides my novel with its plot – the area around Stonegate and Grape Lane. I know these streets very well, but it was valuable to stroll through them with my characters in mind. It’s the little details that make the difference when you are imagining fictional characters in a real landscape.
Most of my novels are set in real places. I often get ideas for stories by just going for a walk. The whole story-line of my 1930’s Scottish novel Balmoral Kill changed when I walked around Loch Muick in the Highlands. You could re-enact the final duel in that novel across a real landscape if you wanted.
I find as a writer that just going out for a walk is the greatest source of inspiration.
Some areas of York have changed since the 1850s. The streets known as the Water Lanes, down on the River Ouse, were a rookery at that time. In the 1870s a new road, Clifford Street, was driven through and much of the rest redeveloped. It’s still Victorian and charming to walk through, but not quite the setting Quest would have known.
Much the same happened in London. Jacob’s Island, where my book Deadly Quest comes to an end, was a much viler rookery than the Water Lanes. Charles Dickens used it for the ending of Oliver Twist, where it is Fagin’s final lair. Today Jacob’s Island is full of very expensive luxury apartments. If the ghosts of the poor devils who lived in the diseased original Island could come back and see it, I do wonder what they would think?
I came back from York enthused by what I’d seen. The visit spurred me on to finish the book. I hope it will be out at the turn of the year.
Though I still don’t have a title!
If you haven’t read the first two William Quest novels, there are links below. Both are available in paperback and on Kindle – and there’s a free Kindle App available for your Smartphones if you like to read on the move.