A high rate of murders in the Peak District can be blamed on one man. Novelist Stephen Booth confesses all to Ian Soutar...
AS Edinburgh is to Rebus, Oxford to Morse, Ystaad to Wallender or the Thames Valley to Midsommer Murders, Stephen Booth has staked a claim for the Peak District as detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry’s patch.
His 10th thriller featuring the rival coppers is The Devil’s Edge in which a nasty murder occurs in a village already unsettled by a plague of burglaries.
Though he says didn’t set out to create what publishers call a “brand” Booth learned early in his career that readers like series of books where they can follow the characters and identify the locations.
“Readers get so passionate about it, they travel out to scour the Peaks for locations,” says the writer who refers in the story to familiar towns and villages such as Bakewell, Barlow and even parts of Sheffield but invents a name for his central locations.
“I use real places where I can but I am aware that people continue to live and work there so somewhere which turns out to have a dark secret I make them fictional – to protect the innocent,” he laughs.
“Riddings (the murder village in the shadow of a sinister-looking mountain range called the Devil’s Edge) has close similarities to a particular village and readers who know the area will soon figure it out but I blur the details.
Booth who lives just outside the Peak District in North Nottinghamshire knows the area well, having been rambling there for years. When he decided to write crime fiction he knew he had the ideal location, if not on his doorstep, then just down the road.
How does he decide on a setting? “It can work in one of two ways,” he says. “I will stumble on a location I hadn’t known which gives me an idea for a story or other times I will have an idea and then find the right location to fit it into.”
Eithere way he goes out and walks the terrain to get a sense of what the characters would see and do. “I go with my notebook in my pocket – old habits die hard,” says the former Worksop Guardian journalist, “and I notice things I probably wouldn’t otherwise.”
The books have covered various parts of the Peaks but The Devil’s Edge allows him to explore the boundary between the Peak District and Sheffield, the eastern edges where the Moors abruptly end. “Up on those moors you can be in a different world, the whole thing changes within a few yards,” he says, referring to the physical landscape – “ the point which held Sheffield back”.
Not so its people, however, many of whom have moved out to the country to live. As a result villages like Riddings are changing with an influx of wealthier urban people who are often resented by the country folk.
Apart from the geographical detail, there is also all the police procedure to get right. “The Derbyshire Constabulary have been tremendously helpful, every single person I have asked has been willing to help,” he says – and even when he hasn’t asked. Recently he was invited to have a look round Chesterfield nick
“All I am trying to do is capture the human side, I am not so interested in the technical detail. I want to capture the characters and what goes on in the office and, if I can, I want to hear people talk about their job and all the anecdotes.”
As to the actual writing, does Booth have a particular routine?
“The first two Cooper and Fry books were written when I still had a day job so were written in he early hours of the morning,” he explains but that’s not necessary now he is a full-time writer .
“I worked in a busy newspaper office and the one thing I find difficult is adjusting to working on my own with no shape to my day,” he admits.
The Devil’s Edge marks a switch to a new publisher (Little, Brown) and he is contracted to deliver another book in 12 months time. “I am very undisciplined because I am used to working to short deadlines,” he says and still ends up writing in the evenings.
Perversely as his books become more successful the less time he has to write because of all the demands to attend events such as readings and book signings around the country and abroad.
“I’ve been to the USA, and to Canada and Australia. That’s all part of the job. Contacts with readers are important too through websites, reader’s forums, Facebook and Twitter.
“I had an email this morning from someone in Uppsala, Sweden. The books sell around the world – they’ve been translated into 15 languages, mostly recently in Russia and Japan. “I would never have thought I was writing for people in those countries and introducing the Peak District to people who had never heard of it.”
The Devil’s Edge is published by Sphere at £17.99. The writer will be at Waterstone’s today (April 14), with Sheffield writer Danuta Wreah, 6.45pm.