That is a difficult question to answer, considering that Westerby is not a real place. Or more to the point, it is not entirely a real place. Just like anything else that you read about in a story (like the characters who resemble people you know without being anyone in particular) Westerby resembles many real seaside towns without actually being any of them.
I’m sure you know the sort of place I’m talking about. The seaside towns with a pier and penny arcades and donkeys on the beach. The ones with shops that apparently survive by selling nothing more than plastic buckets and spades, postcards, ice cream, sticks of seaside rock and various cheap and colourful souvenirs. The towns that are crowded to overflowing on a Bank Holiday Monday, yet are virtual ghost towns on any weekday in February. The places where the children have their fun during the day, and you strongly suspect that the grown ups are having their fun after dark.
Some people might describe Westerby as “seedy” and “down at heel”, and there may be an element of truth in that. Certainly the place is a little past its best, and could do with a lick of paint here and there, but there are those who consider that just a hint of decay and decadence gives the town character. Explore only a short distance from the seafront, and you will find some odd looking bars that make you wonder how they ever managed to obtain a drinks licence. You will certainly be enticed by the smell of deep-fried batter and vinegar from the fish and chip shops, as it mixes with less identifiable odours from restaurants offering exotic, foreign cuisines to tempt the adventurous palate. You will be intrigued by nightclubs that try (but fail) to emulate much classier establishments on the French Riviera – they may only advertise dancing and cocktails, but few people can peek in through the brightly lit doorways without the passing thought that less innocent pleasures may be on offer within.
For where there is temptation, you are likely also to find crime – everything from a card sharp relieving some gullible visitor of a quid or two in a game of “Find the Lady” all the way to extortion and murder. In a town where visitors flow in and out like the tide, a fugitive criminal looking for sanctuary might consider Westerby a suitable place to remain incognito. A drunken brawl that breaks out after the pubs have closed might not be as spontaneous as it first appears. And in the depths of the night, who knows what cargo might be unloaded from a small boat, surreptitiously drawn up on the beach at high tide.
The police try their best to keep on top of it, of course, but there are so many things that they don’t have the time nor the inclination to deal with. So what Westerby really needs is a private detective.
Luckily, it has one…
Five and a Half Tons is to be published by Grey Cells Press (an imprint of Holland House Books) in August, 2013.