Location, Location, Location by Jonathan Whitelaw

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Jonathan Whitelaw c. BSPortraits

Jonathan Whitelaw

The Lake District is Home from Home from Home for Jonathan Whitelaw, author of The Bingo Hall Detectives and the forthcoming third book in the series, The Concert Hall Killer.

Writing has a strange knack of being able to take you all over the world, indeed, cosmos, without ever leaving the room.

That’s not just for readers, it’s us authors too. When we sit down at our desks, our laptops etc, the world around us tends to melt away. Whether it’s a study, a library, coffee shop, on top of a mountain, you become completely immersed in the universe occupied by those fictional people in your head.

It’s pretty cool! It’s also no wonder that location and setting are so important to any and every work of fiction.

We’ve all heard the old cliche – a place in a book can feel as much like a character. Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels create such a vibrant, dangerous, intriguing sense of Edinburgh that it’s hard to imagine them being placed anywhere else. The same can be said for the murky London of the Slow Horses series from Mick Herron. You can savour, smell and sulk in these places with every page.

To say that setting and location is important to an author would be an understatement. Where a novel is set plays heavy on our minds. Especially for crime writers like me. The setting can dictate the whole ebb and flow of who, what, when and why all the good and awful stuff that happens between the pages. From the rugged loneliness of the countryside where a murder may have happened to the cold, uncaring concrete jungle of a big city sprawl. Location, location, location is key.

When it came to my cosy detective series – The Bingo Hall Detectives – there was only really one place I could stage the action. It was a no-brainer. In fact, I’m certain I didn’t even think twice about it.

The Bingo Hall DetectivesThe Lake District is as beautiful as it is famous. Perhaps more so. From the bucolic splendour of Ullswater, Windermere and Grasmere to the craggy peaks of Scafell and Skiddaw, Cumbria and the region are known the world over. And not forgetting your urban collections like Carlisle, Penrith and Maryport. It’s a part of the UK that’s bursting with life.

Having grown up in Scotland, Cumbria and the Lakes were always just a quick hop away on a train. And as I grew up, I found myself spending more and more time there whenever I could. In the region, I found a home from home. And, now that I’ve moved to Canada, it’s a home from home from home.

From a literary sense, the Lake District has always held an intriguing appeal to artists, poets and writers. Thomas Gray’s Grand Tour in the mid 18th century is considered to be the first real attempt to bring the area to the attention of the wider world. And who can forget William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” – inspired by the sight of daffodils on the shores of Ullswater. Fairly hefty stuff on the grand scale of things.

For The Bingo Hall Detectives, I think I wanted to pay my own homage to Cumbria and the Lakes in as best a manner I could. The salt-of-the-earth humour and good wit of the region are very dear to me. And trying to capture that essence is a daily challenge when I’m writing. For my bumbling detectives – Amita and her son-in-law Jason – they’re proud Cumbrians who call Penrith home. The town and especially its people are fiercely protected by them. They defend the peace, order, justice and Digestive Biscuits of Cumbria fiercely.

Writing cosy mysteries allows for that kind of character to be showcased and given centre stage. The emphasis on humour, on dare I say it the “lighter” side of murder and mayhem, always felt like a natural fit for these character. And the location too of course.

I had the stupendous honour of winning the Lakeland Book of the Year prize for fiction in 2023. The award celebrates top quality writing inspired by the Lake District and over the past four decades has created a back catalogue of work that covers everything from landscape and tradition to literature and poetry.

To have The Bingo Hall Detectives included in that archive has been truly the honour of my career. But there was also another aspect to the win. The awards were held at the beautiful Inn on the Lake hotel on the shores of Ullswater – where the conclusion of the novel takes place. It’s a location that I have dear memories of with my wife and family. And to be honoured in this way in that place was truly special.

As I went to collect the prize, the thought struck me – I felt like I had been accepted into the fold as a Cumbrian at large. Indeed, in my acceptance speech, I thanked the people of the region for the recognition, their boundless hospitality and welcoming spirit. Awards have a strange way of surprising you. Especially when, like me, you never think you’ll ever win any. And in that moment, as the vibrant Cumbrian sunshine beat in through the windows, I felt like I had come home.

So yes, location is important to every writer, and by extension, their work. The setting is a deliberate choice, a well-planned, thought out and thorough process that oozes reason and purpose throughout the book. It’s a truly wonderful part of the process that can lift the spirit and keep the momentum going during those tricky early days of a project. And it can give that depth and richness all writers seek when it comes to our work.

It’s also pretty cool as a writer to see and read about places you know, or perhaps would love to know more about. We are, after all, aspiring Phileaas Foggs at heart.

(c) Jonathan Whitelaw

Author photograph (c) BSPortraits

About The Bingo Hall Detectives:

The Bingo Hall DetectivesEyes down to find a killer who’s playing to win…

An irresistible slice of murder and mystery – there’s a killer on the loose in the Lake District, and the members of the Penrith Bingo Club have decided they’re the ones to catch the culprit…

Jason Brazel is an out of work journalist who lives in Penrith with his family and mother-in-law, Amita. She knows everyone and everything that’s going on in this corner of the Lakes.

So when it’s discovered that Madeline Frobisher, one of Amita’s fellow regulars at the bingo club has died, found by the postman outside her crumbling country home close to Ullswater Lake, she senses immediately this is no accident. The trouble is, no one else seems to take her suspicions seriously.

That is, until she enlists the help of her friends at the Penrith Bingo Club. Dismissed by many as eccentric, over the hill or out of touch, it turns out that it’s unlucky for some that these amateur sleuths are on the case…

Order your copy online here.

The Concert Hall Killer is published 11th April 2024. Pre-order your copy online here.

About the author

Jonathan Whitelaw is an award-winning writer, journalist and broadcaster. After working on the frontline of Scottish politics, he moved into journalism, covering everything from sports to music to radioactive waste – and everything in between. He’s also a regular reviewer, podcaster panellist and commentator.

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