On Location

The Seven Hills – A setting from ‘Sin’

They say write what you know.

It’s an interesting premise, though I’m not sure it always works. Did Tolkien have experience of fantastical creatures? Or Rowling of wizards and wizarding school? Maybe they did. And that’s, perhaps, a contributing factor to their vast success. Does Rowling have a fringe hiding a certain lightning bolt scar?

I read a book once, by Clive Barker, where he described a normal town, back alleys and the like. It sounded very much like my own home town, Grimsby. But, to me, Grimsby was so… boring! Nothing happened. I led my life. It was fairly mundane. Work, rest and a little play. There were no alien invasions – and nothing that would warrant so much as a passing glance from one of the heads of a passing ET aboard his (or its) flying saucer.

The town had once been the biggest fishing port in the world. Once. A few years ago the makers of the movie Atonement filmed scenes here – though, to be honest – they were in a rundown part of the old docks. Oh, and it featured in the game Killzone.

But that was later. When I was starting out on my writing journey, back in school and beyond, it was just plain old Grimsby. Grim… As a child, you’d think the name meant something more suited to your opinion of the place rather than referring to the founder, a man who settled here to protect the heir to a throne from those who might kill him.

So how come Sin, the character in my novel, escapes to here? How come, he could have ended up anywhere (whilst on the run) and still felt the need to return home? Possibly for the same reason I, though I’ve lived in other towns and cities and have come back myself. Because it’s home. And it’s not so grim.

When I was a child, at school, before writing had seriously grabbed me (thanks to a reading of To Kill a Mockingbird by my English Teacher), there was a place called the Seven Hills. It was a plot of wasteland, undeveloped (it has houses covering it now) that was bordered by Cambridge Road, Yarborough Road, Chelsmford Avenue and Littlecoates Road. My schools, infants, juniors and seniors, were all on Cambridge Road, so I walked along it every day. On three sides the Hills were surrounded by houses that backed onto its unkempt borders. The fourth had a low, knee high barrier. That side was, you guessed it, along Cambridge Road.

Rats. Rats the size of small dogs. They roamed wild, breeding, mutating, dining on the limbs of children careless enough to wander in their domain.

Of course that’s rubbish. I don’t doubt there were rats, but that they had grown to such epic proportions and developed a case for human flesh. Either way, the Seven Hills were legendary. When you stepped over that barrier, you were entering a world where your heart could race faster than you. And if you returned unscathed, you were a hero.

So, when Sin’s dead sister desperately needs to show him something, where else is she meant to take him? Where else would a journey into the belly of the beast begin, other than in the land that developers forgot?

The Seven Hills, alas, are no more. At least when I drive past there’s houses all the way around now. I don’t know if they occupy all of the land that the Hills once covered, but I hope that they don’t. I hope that, right in the middle – a heart still beating – there’s a remnant of the old Hills, where the demon rats are sleeping until the day when they awake, hungry, and fancying leg on toast.

Perhaps Grimsby does have its ‘grim’ side, but in some ways, this can be a good thing.

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