Sandstone Press

On the Blog: Songs By Dead Girls Tour

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Edinburgh – a crowded place to die

Scotland’s capital is a beautiful city, awash with heritage, and sporting a literary history that is written large across its landscape.  However, some authors would also have you believe that it is one of the murder capitals of Europe, right up there with Oxford, Midsomer, and Ystad with its corpse count.

Yes, Edinburgh is a crowded place to die and no mistake.  Ian Rankin’s Rebus has been investigating these mean streets for thirty years now, with Quintin Jardine's Bob Skinner not that far behind.   Between them, they’ve mined every Edinburgh nook and cranny for the evil that is lurking there, and that’s before we even get to the newcomers like Kate Atkinson, whose Jackson Brodie has been seen probing deaths on the cobbled streets of the Old Town.

So what happens if you’re an author, born and bred in Edinburgh, who also wants to locate a crime series in Auld Reekie? Where is left for a newbie to plant a corpse? I was born in Edinburgh in 19 *hem hem* and aside from university and the first few years of my working career, I’ve always lived here. When I came to write my first novel, I was keen to follow the debut novelist mantra of writing about what I know, more specifically, writing about where I know.

But if the streets of Where You Know have been pounded by as many fictional coppers’ feet as my patch, you know you are going to have to be inventive.

With my first novel A Fine House in Trinity, I went for super local. I avoided all the town centre dark and dingy closes beloved by Ian Rankin. I steered clear of the well-known tourist sites such as the Walter Scott Monument, where author Neil Broadfoot recently had a body plummeting to the Earth. 

Instead I chose the more rarefied avenues of Trinity, concentrating on the old houses with their hidden rooms and alleged secret tunnels. The landmarks I was referencing would not be known to many tourists, but the book definitely hit the mark with the locals.

I then got cocky and decided not only was I going to write another book set in Edinburgh, but that it was going to be the start of a series.

The first book in the series, The Health of Strangers, took the usual Edinburgh landscape but gave it a twist. In this version of Edinburgh there has been a massive pandemic and the government has instituted a set of monthly health checks. They have also established the Health Enforcement Teams who come and track you down if you have missed said health check. The HETs are made up of seconded ex-Police and health service people.

So far, so good.  From what I had established, no-one else was writing about this. But I still had to find locations for my bodies to be found and my action to take place. So, with this novel I decided to go underground and have nefarious deeds taking place in the tunnels of the former railway line under the city. A good place for a rave, according to some of my characters.

For my second book in the series, Songs by Dead Girls, I took some of the action out of Edinburgh. Scotland’s leading virologist is missing and two members of the HET have to go and retrieve him in London, a city that proves hot, confusing, and potentially deadly. 

And for the next book in the series, which is still in the process of being written, I’ve body swerved the problem entirely by inventing a location. The next body that turns up in one of my books will be found in the Edinburgh Museum of Plagues and Pandemics. So, at last, I can be sure that no other author will have beaten me to that location.

Although a little part of me wouldn’t be surprised if when the HET get there, they see a certain former DI Rebus already nosing around…

Lesley Kelly’s third novel, Songs By Dead Girls, is published by Sandstone Press in April.  Her Health of Strangers series is set in a virus- ravaged Edinburgh of the near future.   @lkauthor

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