Darkness in the City of Light by Heidi Edmundson

Writing.ie | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
Heidi Edmundson

Heidi Edmundson

Author Heidi Edmundson on the life experiences that have led to the writing of her novel, Darkness in the City of Light . . .

I was a very imaginative child. I grew up in a guesthouse in Portrush. Every winter it would shake and groan in the gales that came off the sea. We only kept guests in the summer and the house lay empty for the rest of the year. I still regularly dream about it and I’m sure that house fuelled my imagination.

For as long as I can remember I have loved stories. After school I would go to the house of an elderly neighbour, and she would fill my head with all kinds of fairy tales and folklore. I was an avid reader. Around the age of nine I discovered Nancy Drew and that was the start of my love affair with detective novels. I spent a lot of time wandering round Portrush hoping to find my own mystery to solve. When I was about twelve, I discovered a box full of Agatha Christie novels, with the original fontana covers and spent the summer solving crimes with Poirot and Miss Marple.

As a teenager I wanted to be a writer. However, I went to medical school in Dundee and graduated as a doctor in 1994. Initially I persisted in saying that one day I would write a book but in time I forgot about it.

In 2008 I finally finished my postgraduate training and became a consultant in Emergency Medicine. It was a tough journey getting there and included having to sit several postgraduate exams. I promised myself that the next time I did any kind of  course it would be in something that I wanted to do rather than I had to do to pass an exam.

I signed up for a writing course which ran over six weekends. One thing led to another, and I started to attend a weekly creative writing group run by a writer called Diane Samuels based in Norh London. I have attended regularly since 2011. Through this I also met Claire Steele who runs creative writing retreats in various locations over the world. Both of these are designed to allow participants to explore their creativity and develop a writing practice.

For a long time, I never wrote outside the time I was in the group or on one of the retreats. It became a bit of a joke with some of the others who attended writing group. However, in 2018, after attending for 7 year, I began to think that I might like to start working on something.

I was still thinking about this in 2019 when I went on a writing retreat with Claire to Venice. Cliché that it is I found Venice magical and immediately fell in love with it. I was there the week after the high Acqua Alta that flooded Venice at the end of 2019. One afternoon, whilst sitting in one of the flooded churches I got an idea for a story.

Darkness in the City of LightI may never have written it except that in March 2020 I went on another writing retreat to Essaouira in Morocco. Whilst there Morocco shut their borders due to the COVID pandemic. We spent a stressful few days trying to get home. However, Claire made us write every day. Initially I thought that she was mad. To begin with I thought that I couldn’t possibly write, there was too much else going on. But to my surprise I could. Not only was I able to write but I found that it helped manage the stress. I realized that a lot of what was going on was actually going on in my head and writing helped control it.

When I returned to London, I decided that I would write daily and so got up a little earlier each morning. I created a location called the City in the Sea partially inspired by Venice but also with a little bit of my hometown of Portrush thrown in. Many people may find this surprising because they do not initially appear to be two places with much in common. However, when I was in Venice I felt that it was really just a big seaside own. As I was writing during the pandemic everything felt strange , and so the City in the Sea became very real to me.

I wrote a crime novel as I loved reading them, but as I quickly discovered it was not easy. One thing I did was listen to several Agatha Christie stories being read as audiobooks to try and learn how she did it and how to hide clues. Listening to them was a very different experience from reading them. Another person who is an expert at hiding clues is Marian Keyes. Although she wrote only one detective novel many of her characters have secrets and she is constantly directing the reader to the truth but in such a way they often don’t realise until the character does.

My finished book was called Darkness in the City of Light. It’s a classic whodunnit style murder mystery but with a twist. The City in the Sea is a magical place and the crime is that someone is killing mermaids. However, the magic is very much on the periphery and my heroine Vulpe solves it using very conventional methods. She also learns something about herself along the way.

I was lucky enough to have fantastic mentors in the form of Diane and Claire who both guided and encouraged me. Claire is an editor and I had given her a draft to edit professionally for me. Whilst doing so her and her business partner started a boutique publishers called Constellations Press and asked me if they could publish it.

Claire also designed the cover. I know this is something that you shouldn’t judge a book by, but I love it. It reminds me a little of the classic Fontana covers for Agatha Christe that so entranced me all those years ago.

(c) Heidi Edmundson


X @heidi_ed

About Darkness in the City of Light by Heidi Edmundson:

Darkness in the City of LightVulpe Tempest, thwarted in love and disappointed in her hopes to be an artist, has been left in charge of her uncle’s detective agency for the summer. Against the backdrop of a series of murders in which the victims are all mermaids, she takes on what appears to be the simple case of a missing person. To solve the mystery, she must descend into the dark underworld of the City of Light, its rivalries and its disconcerting and fantastical stories.

Part detective novel, part ghost story, here the magical and the real are almost indistinguishable. Everything is visible and nothing is as it seems, and Vulpe brings both tenderness and tenacity to the challenges she must face.

This intricately woven tale invites us into a world where instinct delivers as many insights as intellect; where the light is fractured, shattering certainties only to illuminate brilliant hunches, before directing our attention elsewhere, like magic.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Heidi Edmundson grew up close to the sea surrounded by the legends of Northern Ireland’s spectacular Causeway Coast. As a child she lived in a guesthouse which creaked and groaned every winter with the gales coming off the Atlantic. All of this fuelled her vivid imagination. She was an avid reader, particularly myths and fairy tales. She also developed a love of detective stories especially Nancy Drew. This continued into adolescence when, one summer, she discovered a box full of Agatha Christie books with the original fontana covers. Her love of reading became a love of writing and she wanted to be a writer when she grew up.

Heidi studied medicine in Dundee, Scotland and has worked as a doctor since 1994, predominantly for the NHS. She currently lives in London where she has been a consultant in Emergency Medicine for over fifteen years. However, she never forgot her love of writing and started to attend a weekly writing group about ten years ago.

​Initially she only wrote for fun and did not intend to write anything for others to read. However, when the COVID pandemic began to take hold in Britain in March 2020 she was in Essaouira, Morocco on a creative writing holiday. During this time Morocco shut its borders, and she spent an anxious few days getting back to the UK. There she discovered that having a writing practice helped her manage the stressful situation.

​She continued to write daily when she got home to cope with the pressure of being a senior doctor working through the pandemic. She originally planned to only write a short story but surprised herself by discovering that she had a lot more to say and she enjoyed creating a crime to solve as much as reading about one.

Her love of creativity has also influenced her work in the NHS. She is passionate about building positive workplace cultures and has developed a number of initiatives using fun and creativity to facilitate staff wellbeing.

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