To what extent should writers research the settings for their books? Opinions vary – after all, Harry Keating famously never visited India until long after his series about Inspector Ghote had won widespread acclaim, not least in India. I gather that the recently deceased Lionel Davidson didn't visit Tibet before writing the Gold Dagger winning The Rose of Tibet. But I think most writers nowadays like to be pretty familiar with their settings, and that’s certainly true of me.
But how do you acquire that familiarity? Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Many years ago, at a crime convention, a member of the audience from Liverpool expressed the view that the fact I hadn’t been born in the city disqualified me from writing about it. Working there for 20 years wasn’t enough. I think the general reaction from the audience was that this was absurd, and in fairness the chap in question (whom I decided to talk to later) eventually seemed to realise this.
With the Lake District, the challenge is different. I’ve never lived or worked there, although I do visit the area as often as I can to try to soak up the atmosphere – and get the details right. But with the Lakes as well as with Liverpool, what I suppose I’m really aiming to do is to convey my personal take on the setting. There is bound to be a degree of subjectivity. I was, therefore, especially gratified last year when The Arsenic Labyrinth was short-listed for Lakeland Book of the Year - the reaction from local people at the Awards lunch to my portrayal of the Lakes was very positive. The same was true this year, when I did a short tour of the area as the guest of Cumbria Libraries.
And finally, though I’m writing about real places, I also make up some of the component parts of those places, partly because I don't want to libel anyone unintentionally (easily done in a murder story set in a real place) and partly because a writer needs a degree of freedom with his or her fiction. You won’t find Brackdale, where Daniel Kind lives, on any map, just as you won’t find Empire Dock in Liverpool, where Harry Devlin has his flat. Authenticity is very important, but with fiction, ultimately the facts have to suit the story.