Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Crime scene: Brussels

Following the huge success of "Scandi crime" dramas such as The Bridge and Wallander, could Belgium be the next hot location for crime? Maybe...

This coming Saturday, 8th February, sees the appearance of Belgian crime series Salamander on BBC4. I love crime dramas and have been working my way through Whitechapel, Ripper Street, Hinterland and lately The Bridge. But I'll be taking a particular interest in Salamander, because my own YA crime fiction trilogy, Forbidden Spaces, is also set in Belgium. The first book, Silent Saturday (published in 2013) is set mostly in the suburb of Tervuren and the city of Brussels itself. The follow-up, The Demons of Ghent, coming in June 2014, is (self evidently) set in the Flemish city of Ghent, to the north-west of Brussels. The heroine, Veerle, is  a seventeen-year-old girl with a Flemish father and Walloon (French speaking) mother.

Now and again people ask me why I chose to set the trilogy in Belgium. For most Brits, it's probably associated with pralines, Eurocrats and the Manneken Pis rather than hard-edged crime. But for me the location was never in question. I chose it for a variety of reasons.

I lived in Flanders (the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium) for three years, so I had an opportunity to observe life there in detail. I've always been very much inspired by location, so my exploration of my surroundings provided lots of ideas. Abandoned castle? Hmmm, intriguing. Ancient bell-tower? Yes, we'll take a peek up there. Tram ride, Metro, visit to the sewers...? Yes, yes and yes. (The last one was a bit niffy.) Ghent was so inspiring that it has an entire book out of the trilogy set in it: a city that numbers a 95m high bell-tower and a torture museum amongst its attractions positively cries out for a thriller to be set there.

It wasn't just about the proliferation of interesting places to write about though; after all, the German Eifel (where my first three novels were set) has plenty of those. Brussels has a large expat population - estimated at 1 in 10. Some (though not all, of course) are very wealthy, with advantageous tax arrangements and a lot of expenses paid. A trawl through the luxury end of the real estate market in Brussels reveals that there is even an option to search the property databases for "castles/palaces"! I wondered what might go on inside some of those opulent homes when the occupants disappeared off for a week or two to visit their home countries - and that is where the idea for Silent Saturday came from. The houses in the book are, of course, fictional, but I used to get inspiration by looking at those real estate websites, with their suggestion of impossibly glamorous lives. A nice foil to the grubbier scenes in derelict buildings, and indeed to the distinctly un-glamorous things that happen to some of the characters.

Belgium as a location? It'd be a crime not to use it...

1 comment:

  1. I've been watching Salamander and it is very good. Having seen it i'll be tracking Silent Saturday very soon.