“Unfortunately for Tom and the other residents of the house on Riversdale Terrace, it had been five days since the gas, along with all the other amenities, had been cut off. The house now creaked constantly as it adjusted to the lack of heat, and Tom was concerned the next major event in his life would be dealing with a burst water pipe. There had been portentous rumblings from deep within the walls.”
This, from the first pages of Blood on the Motorway, is something that I’d imagine speaks very directly to a specific group of people — namely those poor souls who shared the house on Riversdale Terrace with me, in the fair city of Sunderland, around the turn of the century. It really was quite the dive. Living up to every cliche of student living you could imagine, the house had seven bedrooms, a layer of grime that had turned the net curtains an ashen grey, and a revolving door of occupants of which I was the last to enter.
I have such good memories of that house, where I spent my immediate post-university life in a haze of music, drink, and cigarette smoke with a group of housemates who ranged from dealers to bassists to vinyl obsessives. While there I entertained long term careers as both Superstar Rock DJ and Rock Star, neither of which was to be, in the end. My prized possessions were my stacks of CDs, the veritable wall of VHS videos, and the faded, torn posters I’d lugged from house to house for the previous decade.
The lounge, with its mould-ridden sofas and single cathode-ray television, was the communal hub of the house, its walls thick with tar. It was while hoovering the burnt and pitted carpet that I watched the horror of 9/11 unfold. It was on those sofas that I watched Arsenal best Liverpool in the FA Cup Final sat next to a Liverpool fan, still my favourite game of football ever. It was in that house that I entertained my only ever stint on the dole, setting my alarm at 1.45pm each day in order to wake up to watch Neighbours on BBC1.
When it came to write a novel set at the end of the world, I thought it would be interesting to start the story there, in that house, because quite honestly, if the world had ended during my years there, I probably wouldn’t have noticed for half a day at least. Location is so key as a writer, and for my debut novel there’s only a handful of places in the book that aren’t torn right from the pages of my own life. ‘Write what you know,’ the old adage goes, and while I don’t know much about killer storms and serial killers beyond what I’ve seen on a screen, I do know the places, the world from which my characters are so violently ripped.
Of course, there’s only so many places I’ve been in my life, and if I want to keep writing books, I can’t keep setting them in my dingy, post-university accommodation. Sleepwalk City, the sequel to Blood on the Motorway, ventures to Birmingham, Scarborough, and Dalby Forest, places I’ve been, but to which I can’t claim a huge personal connection to. This is where Google Street View and Wikipedia become invaluable tools.
Now, I’m writing a Sci-Fi horror, set upon a spaceship I have definitely not set foot on personally, and an ice moon that I’ve only seen pictures of, for obvious reasons. I’m moving further and further away from the comforting embrace of the world I know. Hopefully I can still take my readers there as well as I can put them in that living room, with its pitted carpet, and its mould-ridden sofas.
Blood on the Motorway – An apocalyptic tale of murder and stale sandwiches, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and more besides. The sequel, Sleepwalk City, is available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and many more.