Sunday, November 4, 2018

Death In A Cold Climate: Sarah Ward Writing About The Peak District

It’s my pleasure to welcome Derbyshire crime writer and blogger, Sarah Ward to Murder Is Everywhere this week. The first novel in Sarah’s DC Connie Childs series, IN BITTER CHILL, was published in 2015 to widespread acclaim. The fourth and latest instalment, THE SHROUDED PATH, came out in September 2018. As well as being a regular blogger and reviewer on the website, Sarah is one of the judges for the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. 

My books are set in the Derbyshire Peak District, an area of breath-taking beauty which lies between the cities of Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham in the UK. It’s proximity to urban centres means that it’s Britain’s most visited national park with over ten million visitors every year although, during the winter, we largely have the place to ourselves. It’s an inspirational landscape and, for me, it’s a joy to describe the changing seasons of the Derbyshire Peaks. 

My books are a mix of police procedural and domestic noir. They have the same series detectives who tell the story in alternate chapters and a different female protagonist in each novel who narrates the investigation from an outsider’s point of view. I’m particularly interested in showing the impact of a crime on a small community and a non-police character is perfectly placed to reflect this.

Bakewell town centre
I created a fictional town of Bampton for my setting. I did this partly because crime fiction has a great precedent of the use of fictional places from Agatha Christie’s St Mary’s Mead to Ruth Rendell’s Kingsmarkham and Sophie Hannah’s Culver Valley. The reader comes to these locations without any fixed preconceptions and it is up the writer to bring these places to life. I also didn’t want to be bound geographically by a real-life town.

It was important, however, to ensure that my fictional town had the feel of a Peak District community and I drew inspiration from three places. Bampton is partly based on Bakewell, chocolate-box pretty town which makes it a magnet for tourists with an array of gift shops, delicatessens and tea rooms. It has an elegant square that I use for the opening of In Bitter Chill and a strong sense of community that I imbue in my books.

Up the A6 towards Manchester, Buxton is my second inspiration. It was a thriving spa resort in the nineteenth century and the elegant Georgian buildings remain. The current state of the town is a far cry from its heyday but the famous crescent is being regenerated and the sense of a town aware of its own importance remains.

Derbyshire has plenty of industrial architecture
We also have a strong industrial heritage in the Peaks with mills that, although no longer being used for their original purpose, have been regenerated into shopping areas, housing and museums such as in Cromford. I love industrial architecture and incorporate it into my books. For my latest novel, The Shrouded Path, the crime takes place inside a former railway line inspired by the Headstone Tunnel on the Monsal Trail. These places are a tangible reminder of the past.

Headstone Tunnel
 When you live in a landscape that you depict in your fiction, you often worry that you’re not getting something right. However, my neighbours and those who know Derbyshire well say that Bampton has the feel of a Peak town which is a great relief and I also hope that I inspire those who have never visited the area to come and take a look for themselves.


  1. I want to live in those places you created, Sarah! As long as I can avoid victim status. :) Thanks for honoring us with your post.

  2. Go, Sarah! Great you have a post here.