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Sarah Ward on writing deadly Derbyshire Noir

From the ‘mean streets’ of Derby to the wild moors of the Peak District, Derbyshire’s atmospheric locations have exercised a powerful appeal for crime novelists. An event held at Waterstones, Sheffield, was dedicated to the rise of the genre. Sarah Ward, one of the authors featured, gives a round-up of how the evening unfolded.


Four Derbyshire writers got together on a hot June evening at the Orchard Square Waterstones in Sheffield to discuss all things deadly in Derbyshire. The Peak District is the setting for my three novels, In Bitter Chill, A Deadly Thaw and A Patient Fury all published by Faber. I was joined at the event by three other Derbyshire crime writers: Stephen Booth, Roz Watkins and Steven Dunne.

1. A Patient Fury 2. Black Dog

Stephen Booth’s first book, Black Dog, published in 1990 introduced the Peaks to crime readers as a setting for dark crimes, and Steven Dunne extended murder into the nearby city of Derby with his first book, The Reaper. Roz Watkins joined the Derbyshire Noir squad with her debut The Devil’s Dice which was published to critical acclaim in March.

Around forty crime fiction readers came to hear us describe what attracts us to the region. The long, cold winters, close-knit communities and age-long secrets were a common theme as was the use of the landscape in our books. Derbyshire is distinguished by a network of caves, former railway lines and post-industrial revolution architecture – all perfect backdrops to crime. We all tended to fictionalise real-life locations which are often easily identifiable to those who know the area.

All of us write police procedurals and we discussed the genesis of our protagonists. We each have at least one character in our books who have lived elsewhere, as an outsider’s point of view is key to portraying the unique nature of the Peaks.

We discussed taboos in crime fiction and what subjects we were unlikely to tackle. I was asked would I ever kill a cat in my books. Never, I’m afraid. I know my readers too well and, anyway, I’m an animal lover and couldn’t contemplate writing the passages.

There was a lively question and answer session from the audience where we were asked about our favourite fictional murder scenes. Mine comes from A Patient Fury, which shows a suspected killer hanging in front of a long, upper floor window. It clearly touched a nerve as a reader tweeted me a picture of her own home, with an identical window, afterwards.

Thanks to Russ, the events manager, for hosting the evening and allowing us to bring a bit of Derbyshire into Yorkshire.

– Sarah Ward

A Patient Fury by Sarah Ward is available now in paperback