One of the oddest things about setting your novels in a real-life city like Chester, is that the place is constantly changing and evolving. The question is: how do you catch-up with those changes? How do they affect your novels’ timeline? Or do you ignore them altogether?
When I wrote my first crime novel – No More Lonely Nights (available on Amazon Kindle now) – Chester was a fairly stable city. Nothing much was changing. The action took place in the city streets and suburbs. They will never change – and indeed haven’t. How could they?
But then came the second novel – Long & Winding Road (also available on Amazon Kindle). By the time of writing this, a fair few years after the first, Cheshire Constabulary had decided to move out of their seven-storey HQ in Nuns Road, opposite the magistrates’ court. They had a crazy idea that they didn’t want to be based in Chester, the county town of Cheshire, anymore. Instead they wanted to move to an industrial park in Winsford, the complete opposite side of the county. Bizarrely, the fire brigade made the same decision around the same time – and abandoned Chester for Winsford.
L&WR ends with my detective characters DC Dominic Strider and DI George ‘Slapper’ McKedrick telling the Chief Constable they didn’t like this move. Naturally they wouldn’t have been forced to move to Winsford too. But because Cheshire Police Station had been based on the ground and first floor at the HQ building, it meant there would have to be a new cop shop for Chester. This was eventually built on the Blacon estate on the edge of Chester. The police made this a divisional HQ, bringing together the different police areas of Chester and Ellesmere Port & Neston (at the base of the Wirral). Strider and Slapper didn’t want to be based there either.
So the police created a THIRD police station, by taking over some office space in Chester Town Hall. The argument was that Chester still needed a city centre police presence that the public could walk into and meet & speak to coppers face-to-face. Sounds sensible, right? To me, this is as integral to a front-facing police service as having bobbies on the beat. But the police nationally seem to be withdrawing more and more from public life and face-to-face contact these days…
Naturally, Strider and Slapper decided they wanted to be based in the police office in the Town Hall. And because they’d saved the Chief Constable’s daughter from the serial killer – read the novel, it’s all explained in there!! – they got their wish.
That all seemed fine with me. The second novel reflected local history. I was happy. But then came the problems with the third novel… and the fourth, which I’m currently writing….
You see, I decided that the first two books formed a perfect character arc for Strider, and I didn’t want to take his storyline any further from that point in his life. So for books three, four and more, I decided to reboot the series. Go back to the beginning. Let’s look at Strider’s cases from his early days, starting just before he becomes a detective. Plenty of scope for good stories there, and I have ample storylines in mind for them!
But here’s the rub: what the heck do I do about the police station and the disappearing HQ? You see, chronologically, go back to Strider’s roots and you go back to when the old Cheshire Constabulary HQ was still standing and operational in Nuns Road.
But for book three, I brought it up to the modern era, as I felt the story should remain contemporary. I gave Strider a smart phone, for example. He surfs the internet, he uses social media. None of these were particularly prevalent at the time I wrote the first novel.
So, I had to make a careful decision about the cop shop too: do I ignore local history and have him still based in the old Constabulary HQ, which would have looked weird to any Chester-based readers; or ignore what was written about the HQ in the old books and just have him based in the Town Hall police office (the current arrangement for the town’s coppers).
I opted for the latter and chose to conveniently ignore what had been written in the past.
My reasoning: it brings the new books up to date with what’s happened and is happening in Chester (even though they are set BEFORE the older books in time). It makes sense to new readers to just say where he is based and not explain it – they won’t want a history lesson.
And if the X-Men films and Bond films can mess with their own timelines, chronology and continuity (and seemingly get away with it), why can’t I??