Saturday, 7 October 2017

The Write Stuff with... Sarah Hilary

Today it's my stop on the Quieter Than Killing blog tour and it's my pleasure to hand the blog over to Sarah Hilary to talk about Writing the City.

(c) Linda Nyland
At the time I started writing my Marnie Rome series, I hadn't lived in London for over a decade. I wasn't born there, I didn't grow up there, but I did live there for around twelve years, until shortly after the Millennium celebrations in fact. I witnessed the London Eye go up, after months of seeing it lying on its side. I saw the fireworks on the eve of the year 2000, and watched ecstatic crowds dancing in the fountains outside Buckingham Palace. I walked to work through St James's Park, from an Edwardian flat in Westminster. Picture-postcard, tourist London, was all around me. But an odd thing happens when you live in the heart of one of the most famous cities in the world. You start to see and hear and feel things which tourists don't. The homeless people who sleep under the trees in the famous parks. Police cars in the middle of the night, the silent ascent of plainclothes detectives up and down the steps of a smart office block, carrying evidence bags. One night, I was woken by the sound of a woman screaming for help. She screamed for three minutes, somewhere to the south of where I was living. I sat up in bed, telling myself that other people would be phoning the police, or an ambulance; I was too far away to help. In any case, she might be partying, or drunk, fighting with friends. I still wonder what happened to her, whether she got the help she needed. London soaked up the sound of her, and there were just too many shut doors between her and me. London is full of shut doors. 

By the time I was writing Someone Else's Skin, it didn't occur to me to set the story anywhere but in London. I'd spent eight years in the countryside, but the stories I wanted to tell weren't there. The people I wanted to write about lived behind those shut doors, in one of the world's most photographed cities, where nearly everyone is a stranger. 

Tastes Like Fear, the third book in the series, is set in and around Battersea Power Station, one of my favourite of London's landmarks. An emblem of the city's industrial past, which is now in the process of being tortured into luxury living for London's rich and famous. Once upon a time, the excess steam generated by Battersea Power Station was fed through tunnels under the Thames to heat council estates on the other side of the river. Now it's penthouses and posh restaurants, private property in the way that so much of the city is becoming private property.

In my latest book, Quieter Than Killing, a gang of vigilantes is prowling the frozen streets. Marnie and Noah are caught up in the vicious cycle of violence and vengeance. I couldn't imagine these themes playing out anywhere else. London is such a perfect mixture of past and present, poverty and riches, overcrowding and isolation, friendliness and loneliness. There's a moment when Marnie contemplates the river:

She’d reached the Thames. It shifted delicately, persistently. Centuries ago it’d frozen solid in winters much worse than this. Solid enough for fires, and to walk from one side to the other. 
     Stripping off a glove, she touched the iron bar which ran along the wall separating the embankment from the water. The iron was a different kind of cold to the air. Blunter, softer. She wrapped her fingers around it, letting the bar burn into the palm of her hand. There are degrees of pain, just like degrees of cold. It was easy to forget that.

Writing that, I was very conscious of the weight of history, but also of how time stands still in London; anyone, in any century, could make the same observation about the city. 

And here, as Marnie and the team close in on their killer:

All of London strummed with show-offs and strays, fear and bravado ... Pain didn’t stop because you benched its latest player. (He) had passed it up the line, that’s all, a new friction plucking at the city’s strings, the whole of London one long dirty neon bruise, aching and echoing to this new tune.

I love writing about London, and hope my readers love the setting I've chosen.

It's winter, the nights are dark and freezing, and a series of seemingly random assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out onto streets of London. When Marnie's family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by someone who knows her. Then a child goes missing, yet no-one has reported it. Suddenly, events seem connected, and it's personal.

Someone out there is playing games. It is time for both Marnie and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. Keeping quiet can be a means of survival, but the effects can be as terrible as killing.

Thanks to Katie at Headline I've got a paperback copy of Quieter Than Killing to give away to a follower of the blog (sorry restricted to UK and Ireland only).  The winner will be selected at random when the giveaway ends and contacted for their postal address to post the book to them.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Gorgeous cover. Sounds like a great book.

  2. I love the very atmospheric book cover, and this sounds like yet another very gripping storyline by the author.