For the penultimate post in my Travels with my Book series of guest authors, I’m delighted to welcome my good friend A A Abbott, who is so enthusiastic about her chosen destination of Birmingham, England that I reckon they should recruit her for the city’s tourist board!
The Birmingham in her books is the British one, in the West Midlands of England – not to be confused with Birmingham, Michigan or Birmingham, Alabama!
London and Bristol also feature in her stories, but Birmingham holds a very special place in her heart. Over to A A Abbott to explain why…
Birmingham is a big city with many suburbs too. Which particular part of Birmingham do you most like to write about?
Its attractive Victorian Jewellery Quarter and the creative Digbeth area.
Please tell us a little about your latest book to be set in Birmingham.
My psychological thriller Bright Lies is about a teenage girl plunged into a nightmarish situation. She runs away and ends up homeless in Digbeth, because that’s where her one-way coach ticket takes her. It’s also a place with a thriving club scene, which proves to be her salvation.
Bright Lies is my darkest story ever. I’ve also written a mystery thriller series about a glamorous young woman determined to make the world’s best vodka. If only she hadn’t tangled with gangsters when she was down on her luck…
These fun, fast stories feature Birmingham too. There are five books: The Bride’s Trail, The Vodka Trail, The Grass Trail, The Revenge Trail and The Final Trail. Each reads well as a standalone story, but together, they’re a gripping riches to rags to riches saga.
What makes Birmingham such a great setting for your stories?
Ever heard the saying that Birmingham has more canals than Venice?
It’s a city of contrasts: fascinating, friendly and fun. You’ll find canal-side cocktail bars, concrete towers and craftsmen making jewellery in Victorian workshops. There’s also an amazing sense of possibilities. The city is infused with a can-do attitude, so it’s the ideal place someone to turn their lives around. In Bright Lies, teenage Emily hits rock bottom and she needs to change in order to survive.
What is your relationship with Birmingham and how much of your life have you spent there?
I came to Birmingham as a student, adored the city and lived there for two decades. In Brum, as locals like to call it, I met the love of my life (we are still together), became a mum and forged a career. I also went to writing classes run by Barbara Joan Eyre. She wrote Mills & Boon romances to keep the wolf from the door, but darker stories were her guilty pleasure.
What is special about the people native to Birmingham?
You’re never alone in Birmingham. Brummies are the friendliest people you could meet, and strangers are welcomed. Perhaps that’s why, famously, the city is a melting-pot of cultures.
What challenges does your protagonist in Bright Lies face dealing with the local people?
Apart from the Brummie accent, there are dialect words to learn. Emily gets a cash-in-hand job at a nightclub called The Bobowlers. It is some weeks before she discovers that ‘bobowler’ is the local word for a moth. (As you probably guessed, Bright Lies is set just before the pandemic, in times when cash was more widely used.)
What are the distinguishing features of Birmingham in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?!
The city has an exciting mixture of architecture, with ornate Victorian red brick buildings as well as cutting-edge newbuilds like the Library of Birmingham.
My favourite time of year is the autumn, when mellow sunlight really makes the red bricks glow.
What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to Birmingham?
Take time to explore the canals in the city centre, as Emily does in Bright Lies. See the colourful houseboats and upscale bars in Brindleyplace, then walk to the Jewellery Quarter and grab a coffee in lovely St Paul’s Square. You will see a slower pace of life than the frenetic buzz around New Street station. Also, if you like a beer, you will be pleasantly surprised by the prices. I especially recommend The Gunmakers Arms, which is the brewery tap for Two Towers Ales (named in homage to Brummie JRR Tolkien).
“Only in Birmingham” – name three things that could only exist/happen there.
- If you’re female and even remotely young, you’ll be called ‘Bab’. My other half tells me it happens to guys too…
- You’ll find a library with its own herb garden (the Library of Birmingham).
- You can walk across a canal bridge decorated with pictures of Black Sabbath. Yes, the infamous rock band hails from Brum!
Are there any other authors’ books with the same setting that you’d like to recommend?
There are too many to mention them all, so here are a few! Park Life by Katharine D’Souza is a book all women over the age of forty should read. It’s set in the trendy Moseley and Kings Heath area, where I used to live.
Also, try Tom Bryson’s gritty police procedural stories and Andy Conway’s Touchstone series of time travel tales.
Where will your next book be set?
In a departure from the norm, my next book will be a psychological thriller set wholly in Bristol, where I stayed during the pandemic. Of course, I missed Birmingham. I’m excited to be able to return!
What formats are your books available in?
Bright Lies is available in audiobook, ebook, Kindle Unlimited, paperback, large print paperback and dyslexia-friendly paperback.
(All photos by A A Abbott)
BRIGHT LIES by A A Abbott
Jack wanders through the dark, silent streets. He stops, stares at the vodka bottle, sets it down and picks it up again. While desiring oblivion, he’s afraid of what might happen first.
He walks away from the city centre, finding himself outside a telecoms shop on Deritend High Street. The decorative red brick terrace was built when the English Midlands were the workshop of the world. Now it’s crumbling at the edges. A shabby black-painted door leads to the flats above. He is supposed to view one with Emily tomorrow, or should that be later today? It’s already Friday morning, although it will be several hours before the sun wheezes over the winter horizon. Until then, frost sparkles orange in the streetlights.
He won’t rent that flat. Without Emily, he can stay in a cheaper, smaller place. A studio is sufficient for his needs. He tells himself he doesn’t care what Emily does. It’s a lie. He cares about Emily a great deal.
At last, Jack unscrews the cap and takes a swig. The neat spirit burns his throat. He hadn’t expected that. Spluttering, he tries again, hoping to be rendered senseless and slumped in a gutter.
It hasn’t worked yet. He still feels stone-cold sober.
Can he believe a word she’s told him? He wants to, but most likely, she’s exactly what she first appeared to be. When they met, he was convinced she was a kid with a coke habit, on the run from dealers. Addicts are polished liars: they have to be.
His phone rings. Jack removes it from his pocket, sees it’s a call from Cassie, and swipes the red button. Who cares what she wants right now? He doesn’t need the hassle.
A moth beats its wings against the lit screen. Jack blows gently at it, sending it tumbling away on the cold air, and replaces the phone in his pocket. The club is well-named, for bobowlers are creatures of the night, seeking light and excitement. Emily has always reminded him of one: fragile, yet a survivor.
To find out more about A A Abbott and her excellent thrillers, visit her website:
PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES:
- To Fiji with B M Allsopp
- To the Caribbean with Helen Hollick
- To Europe and Roma Nova with Alison Morton
- To Egypt with Carol Cooper
- To The Fair Land with Lucienne Boyce
- Around the world with Clare Flynn
- To Italy with Jean Burnett
- To Salzburg, Austria with JJ Marsh
- To the Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea with Helena Halme
- To Wales with Jean Gill