Place and Presence in Novels by Derek Thompson
Although I’m an advocate of going with the flow when it comes to writing, I also believe – passionately – that everything within a book should be essential. This extends beyond the characters and plot to the setting. The landscape you choose for your novel (or that chooses you!) is more than mere backdrop; it may also function as a symbolic landscape. In Wuthering Heights, Cathy and Heathcliff had the wild and elemental moors; Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe prowled the sleazy streets of Los Angeles. Landscape, brought to life, is both metaphor and a character in itself.
I pondered all that when Thomas Bladen, the protagonist of my debut thriller, Standpoint, first introduced himself. He told me he was from Yorkshire and I laughed because I’d only ever spent a few days there – a week in York and two stopovers for work in Leeds. It took a little while to place him in the North Yorkshire town of Pickering, not too far from the North York Moors National Park. That decision and the sight of him standing alone on the moors, camera in hand and still as granite, while the ragged winds blew around him, gave me important clues to his identity.
If the natural world gave him solace and solitude, it was the urban locations that would test him and in some ways corrupt him too. In Leeds he encounters love and its consequences; in London he finds anonymity. The contrast is echoed in Thomas’s double-life, working as an intelligence gatherer and moved from department to department, while family and friends know nothing of his private world. A man who compartmentalises his life needs to stay in control, so what would happen if those two worlds collided and he couldn’t fit the pieces back together?
Location is an important factor throughout Standpoint because Thomas behaviour changes depending upon where he is. As the author, that became part of the fascination: who is he really?
Thomas’s world and mine intersect at certain points. I grew up in East London, so placing his flat only three miles away meant I could get a clear sense of locality. Naturally, the London Underground features, as does a building where I used to work. Each element helps me build up a clearer picture in my head that should translate on to the page. Place and presence, whether it’s blatant or subtle, can add colour and texture to a novel, creating imagery and mood that live on in the mind of the reader.
By way of an example, here are the words of a master:
To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. – The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
And to round things off, here are the opening lines to Standpoint:
Thomas Bladen focused his binoculars on a block of shipping containers far below the lookout. As a prolonged ferry blast carried across the port like a cry of mourning, he surveyed the slate sky, tracking a gull as it veered across and crapped on a Bentley.
About the book
Standpoint, published by Joffe Books, is the first in a series of novels about Thomas Bladen. Follow @DerekWriteLines for updates on the sequel to Standpoint, coming 2015.
Thomas Bladen is a civil service photographer, working in London, but the Surveillance Support Unit also assists other government departments – something he neglected to mention to the few people he allows to get close to him. The SSU is staffed by ex-forces personnel, careerists and Thomas. He has an eye for details that other people miss and a talent for finding trouble – a combination that was never going to bring him an easy life.
During a routine observation he unwittingly exposes a world of corruption and danger that bleeds into his private life. When the cards are stacked against him and the only woman he’s ever loved may end up paying the price for his choices, can one good man hold the line without crossing it?
About the author
I’m a diverse writer of fiction, non-fiction and comedy material. Standpoint is the first in a series of contemporary British thrillers that combine action, intrigue and dark humour.
Come visit my blog: http://www.alongthewritelines.blogspot.co.uk