Last year I released The Scottish Diamond – a romantic suspense novella set in Edinburgh. The scenes in my story follow a trail often taken by tourists, taking in sights such as Castle, the Grassmarket, and Calton Hill. Jennifer Young is a Scottish author living in Edinburgh, and her new, edgy romantic suspense – Blank Space – shows a darker, less well-known side to the city.
Jennifer has dropped in today to give a fascinating insight into the background to her novel.
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Like many people, I’m a bit of an escapist reader. I like to get away, preferably somewhere where the sun is hot and the drinks are cold, where money’s no object and luxury is a dream come true. Perhaps, therefore, it follows that I’m a bit of an escapist writer as well, projecting all my own fantasies onto somewhere in the Mediterranean.
For my new venture, a series of romantic suspense novels, I find myself much closer to home. Indeed, the opening scene takes place three miles or so away from home, in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge area. Quite what made me choose Edinburgh is beyond me. It’s a romantic enough location, with its old town and its castle, but I’ve chosen to go dull suburban.
I think the real reason is that, unusually for me, the plot and the characters, other than the location, are the book. I don’t remember when the idea came to me, though I do remember that my starting point was the opening scene (see the excerpt below), and that it came into my head almost as it appears in the final version of the book. But in terms of location, that scene could have occurred in a penthouse on the Riviera or in a 1960s semi in Milton Keynes.
I didn’t decide to set it in Edinburgh until the plot required it. My hero, Marcus, is a policeman involved in some very dodgy doings in the name of law and order. My heroine, Bronte, is a former political activist turned bank worker who still retains some strong left-wing ideals. With an upcoming G8 summit looking large in both their minds, they find themselves on very different sides of the fence. They, too, could live anywhere — in Dublin, or Denver, or Dudley.
G8 summits can happen anywhere, too. But, as it happens, I remember the one which was held in Scotland in 2005.
It wasn’t in Edinburgh itself but at nearby(ish) Gleneagles — but Auld Reekie was the focus of demonstrations, of an influx of protestors who couldn’t get within several miles of the main venue itself. There was no violence, but plenty of people feared and expected it. A slightly febrile attitude brewed around the place when Bob Geldof suggested that honest Edinburghers would be more than delighted to have complete strangers camping in their gardens. (Sir Bob obviously isn’t au fait with the capital’s less-than-glowing reputation for hospitality.) I took a bus along Princes Street and watched the workmen boarding up the shops in expectation of Trouble. That scene’s in the book.
In the end I wrote about Edinburgh, and about the G8 summit, because it was something I knew about. Writing about a place you know well frees you up to concentrate on the people and their actions. And the great thing is that, rather than finding my home city dull to describe (familiarity and all that) I’ve loved it.
Just as well, because not only will Marcus and Bronte continue their ideological differences for at least two more books and hopefully rather longer, but I rather feel I might be featuring this beautiful city again. There may not be tropical temperatures, but there’s luxury and history and exotica all around…
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Blank Space: Extract
My first thought, when I discovered the body on my kitchen floor, was that it was a criminal waste of an exceptionally handsome man. My second was that I’d seen him somewhere before. And even as I crossed myself, I realised. He wasn’t dead.
I dropped my bag, sending the ingredients for the evening’s supper spilling out across the floor, and fell to my knees beside him. He lay on his back, one arm thrown theatrically wide, the other clasped across the patch of scarlet which flooded his shirt. As I watched, the deep stain broadened, livid red seeping outwards from between his fingers. His thick, dark hair was glossy with blood from a separate wound to the back of his head. You didn’t need to be a doctor to see where that came from; the trickle of red on the edge of the kitchen unit gave it away. My mind raced. He’d fallen. How? Why? And what would happen next?
I must call an ambulance. Then the police. But first, I must be sure he was alive. Curiously unable to help myself, I reached out a tentative hand and touched his cheek, the almost-bloodless skin shadowed with stubble. It was warm. Under my touch, he responded, mumbled something, and opened his eyes.
To think that a near-dead face could contain eyes of such live, vigorous blue. Breathless in my alarm, I froze, my fingers still touching his cheek as we stared for a moment, each measuring the other up, each trying to make something rational from this suburban nightmare. Was he friend? Was he foe? Had I saved him or condemned him?
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A bit about Jennifer Young
For years I sat in an office. For years afterwards I ran around after the kids and tried my best to keep the cat quiet. Now I have a little time for myself, although the demands of the cat still can’t be overlooked. So I’m indulging my passion for writing.
I write everything – short stories, travel, novels. In my wilder moments I write poetry. The thing that matters is that I write something.