Hi, book dragons! Tonight I am going to share something a little bit different! The Mausoleum by David Mark is being released in the UK today (HORRRAY!) so I’ve got Mark discussing how he found his inspiration for his newest thriller!
1967. In a quiet village in the wild lands of the Scottish borders, disgraced academic Cordelia Hemlock is trying to put her life back together. Grieving the loss of her son, she seeks out the company of the dead, taking comfort amid the ancient headstones and crypts of the local churchyard. When lightning strikes a tumbledown tomb, she glimpses a corpse that doesn’t belong among the crumbling bones. But when the storm passes and the body vanishes, the authorities refuse to believe the claims of a hysterical ‘outsider’.
Teaming up with a reluctant witness, local woman Felicity Goose, Cordelia’s enquiries all lead back to a former POW camp that was set up in the village during the Second World War. But not all Gilsland’s residents welcome the two young women’s interference. There are those who believe the village’s secrets should remain buried . . . whatever the cost.
Best-selling novelist DAVID MARK discusses how a fascination with places ‘on the edge of things’ helped him find the perfect location for his new literary thriller, The Mausoleum.
“I’m fascinated by edges. There, I’ve said it. God, that felt good.
I know, it’s a dangerous interest. I should probably wean myself off and be satisfied with the myriad possibilities of middles, but I’m afraid ‘edges’ is where it’s at.
For the past few years, I’ve been writing about Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy – a gentle bear of a man who catches killers in and around Hull.
Hull, as Larkin famously said, is a city on the edge of things. It has its back to the sea: hunched and scowling, gargoyle-faced, back into Yorkshire. That gives the people a certain quality – a defensiveness; a carapace seasoned with salt-water. It gives the people, quite literally, an edge. I know how to write about such people. Three or four years back, I began to wonder whether I could write about other people too.
I’m from Carlisle. Carlisle is, broadly speaking, on the edge of England. Sure, it’s landlocked, but it’s only a few miles from the Scottish border and suffers from the same kind of slightly miffed remoteness so common in towns and cities where it costs the locals a week’s wages to get a bus to London. It qualifies as an edgeland – to me at least.
For those of you who are still reading, I’d like to reassure you there’s about to be a point. And this is it. I grew up hearing stories about the debatable lands – the blood-soaked strip of England and Scotland separated by the remains of the Roman Wall. I grew up hearing tales of the Border Reivers – clans with feared names who sortied and stole and pillaged and killed in pursuit of cattle and crops and land.
My grandfather, on my dad’s side, was a great one for pointing out of the window of his Vauxhall Cavalier and saying ‘that’s where they reckon Old Tam Armstrong was skewered on a branch’; or ‘if you don’t tell your mam, I can show you the rock that Hadrian used to bash in the skull of the soldier who stood on his toga’.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I’ll accept that Grandad Joe was making this stuff up. But there’s no doubt that the area either side of the Border has run red with blood and has a fascinating history. In fact, for a chap looking for the perfect location to set a mercurial novel about friendship and lies and community cover-ups, it might be considered a gift.
There are castles and forests and tumbledown old buildings whose iron railings have twisted into rusting spears. Every now and again a farmer will churn up a Saxon weapon or the skull of a Roman legionary.
Let me tell you a little about a place called Gilsland. It’s on the very edge of Cumbria and the edge of Northumberland, split in two by the wall that used to divide England from Scotland. If ever there was a place suffused with the liminal qualities of an edgeland, this is it. Moreover, there’s a certain otherworldliness to much of the history. Chat with a local and you’ll hear about the mysterious qualities of the water and the obscure obelisks placed in the water at strategic angles by some long forgotten hand. They might tell you about the Spa hotel that served as a home for expectant mothers from Newcastle during the war – a place where they might be a little safer from the Luftwaffe.
Stay a while longer and pop along to the churchyard in the tiny hamlet of Lower Denton. Read the names on the graves. You’ll spot a couple of formidable-sounding ladies who each lived for more than a hundred years and whose Riever connections were as old as the land in which they lie.
Then there’s RAF Spadeadam – the airbase at the centre of an ancient peat-bog where the British space programme was conducted at the height of the Cold War. The older residents will tell you how the windows rattled and their fillings hurt as Blue streak broke the sound barrier time and again.
Most of all, make it your business to ask about the Prisoner of War camp where Nazi prisoners were housed after capture – becoming very much a part of the local landscape as they mended walls and built fences and helped work the land.
You could ask about all of the above. Or you could read my new book, The Mausoleum, which takes these gifts of landscape and history and turns them into a canvas for a tale of friendship, secrets – and murder.
Don’t let me down. I’m a man on the edge …..”
David Mark spent seven years as crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post and now writes full-time. A former Richard & Judy pick and Sunday Times bestseller, he is the author of nine police procedurals in the DS Aector McAvoy series and one historical novel. He lives in Northumberland with his family.