I really don’t know that it was a conscious choice. My era? The time I came to consciousness. Yes, to both I suppose, so that must have played into it. But I don’t remember at any point thinking, ‘Right, I’m going to set this thing in the 1980s.’
But marginalisation was the key. A youngish Detective Inspector who’s already sifted too long through the worst of what humanity has to offer, whose breaking point has been and gone and left him reeling in the slipstream. An even younger black female detective constable battling prejudice in and outside her department. Both pushed to the edges by bigotry and apathy.
I needed to accentuate their problems, and the geographical setting was always going to be the place I was brought up. Why? Because if you want to tell a story about isolation and insularity, then the Calder Valley and its surrounding moorland has the rest of England licked. For me, anyway.
But after being shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in 2016, I was advised the title and setting might be an issue. A crime thriller set in Calderdale with Valley in the title might have been a tough sell after a certain TV series…
So, Dark Valley was no more. I fictionalized my hometown from the Calder Valley into Crag Valley and changed the title to The Trauma Pool.
But the modern day was too switched on about these things, I thought, to be home to a series of novels about marginalized police officers facing systematic intolerance. Racial equality isn’t out of reach anymore, I thought. Attitudes to mental health and illness have moved on, I thought.
The thing about the 80s though – we were on the cusp. On the brink of understanding, or at least of recognizing that understanding was within reach. But at the same time, machismo and jingoism were unchecked. (I know, sounds familiar, but at least these things are seen as aberrant now, rather than the norm). So, I was pretty sure that the 80s was the era for these characters, for these stories. Then I read an amazingly useful piece of research about policing of that time and found that the thing that black officers were truly perturbed by wasn’t the canteen culture, and wasn’t the abuse from the public or the fear of being disowned by the communities they came from. It was the dawning certainty that if they found themselves in difficulty, backup might not arrive.
Imagine that. You’ve put yourself in harm’s way to serve the public, you buzz in for help, and it just doesn’t come.
I started thinking about that. And couldn’t stop. Awful, awful, awful. But to a crime writer… gold. It gave me a character and an arc that to me is the spine of the novel. Possibly of the series.