Welcome to Cumbria - enter at your own risk

Welcome to Cumbria - enter at your own risk

I thought, given that I am always banging on about my home city and county, it would be only fair to tell overseas readers a little bit more about Carlisle and Cumbria...Awe, who am I kidding - hardly anyone in Britain really knows where we are either!!!

Whenever I get into conversation with anyone not familiar with the area, I can always wager that I will encounter such gems as:

'Is that in Scotland?' or 'No, no, don't tell me - it's in Wales isn't it?' and the classic 'You sound like a Geordie to me!'

I always laugh when people refer to the North West at Manchester, Liverpool etc, a view that is supported by a brilliant road sign on the M6 just after Preston that simply reads 'The North'. (Priceless - all that's missing is a figure of a caveman with club.)

Cumbria is perhaps most famous for the Lake District but it also has a proud history, having made its mark on shipbuilding, the railway and textile industries, as well as being home to the Border City of Carlisle which has been fought over by Romans, Reivers, Jacobites and Hanoverians, Parliamentarians and Royalists, Scots and English for over two thousand years.

All of this aggro brings me to my point. I use my home city and county as an inspiration for my detective fiction but the question needs to be asked: is it cosy or just plain criminal? As Martin Edwards has one of his characters saying in The Cypher Garden "This is Cumbria, we have narrow-gauge crimes. Not the conspiracy killings you get on the Orient Express."

And certainly when local writing is considered, the cosy image is enhanced by literary giants of centuries past such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Ruskin and dear old Beatrix.

But perhaps there is call for crime readers to take a closer look at this sleepy backwater. After all, I seem to recall the gardener in Martin's novel came to a pretty grisly end. Moreover, Graham Smith's terrific DI Harry Evans (and his major crime team) series - set in the county - at times show Cumbria being as far from wandering clouds and dancing daffodils as can be imagined. And then when yours truly engineers a plot to have a poor Italian immigrant have a knife jammed in his neck at the back of Carlisle Cathedral, you could be forgiven for asking if God's Own County is that cosy after all?

I suppose as writers we are always trying to strike the right balance between plot, character and setting, in order to satisfy that certain type of crime reader who loves nothing better than the odd homicidal maniac doing his (or her) thing - as long as he is doing it against the backdrop of [say] dreamy Oxford spires, or on the immaculately manicured lawn of a nearby vicarage.

In real life, statistically Cumbria is one of the safest places in the country to live and I love it. I have to confess therefore that crime writers like me clearly want their cake and eat it!


My Inspector Armstrong series is published by MX Publishing and is available from all good bookstores including The Strand MagazineAmazon USABarnes and Noble USA, Amazon UK, and for free shipping worldwide BOOK DEPOSITORY.

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