Underneath in Nottingham

John Baird
Fri 20 Sep, 2019

From the QMC's staff canteen to the Contemporary's unique shop, Underneath has local locations aplenty.

Anne Goodwin’s chilling novel Underneath is set in Nottingham so we asked the author to tell us about some of the book's locations, and her upcoming book signing at WHSmith.

Over to Anne: When I launched my second novel at Nottingham Writers’ Studio, I hadn’t considered how the venue would resonate with the story. Until someone questioned whether they’d be free to leave at the end of the night. Underneath is about a man who seeks to resolve a relationship crisis by keeping a woman captive in a cellar, and the party to celebrate its publication took place in the Studio’s basement event space.

Every other association to Nottingham in the novel is placed there intentionally, even if unnamed or modified to fit the plot. My narrator, Steve, buys a house in the Carrington area, a short bus ride or a long walk from both the City Hospital, where he works as an operating theatre porter, and the Arboretum, where he and his partner, Liesel, trudge through the snow one morning when the rest of the city appears to be spending the Christmas break in hibernation (p62):

Scooped like a bowl, the snow lay thicker here than in the streets, and our boots squeaked as we sculpted footprints three inches deep. A head of pampas grass poked out above a flattened flowerbed, but otherwise the frozen fallout cloaked all features indiscriminately, rendering tarmac paths identical to lawn. We were no longer pioneers: footprints and paw prints, and small depressions lined with yellow ochre where the dogs had pissed, zigzagged the park. We followed a set of tracks uphill to the Chinese bell-tower. Snow covered the pointed concave roof like cotton wool on a wizard’s hat.

Liesel, whom he first meets at the staff canteen at Queen’s, is an art therapist at Mapperley. Although he might eventually meet the criteria for admission, Steve is suspicious of the forensic mental health unit when he takes the notion to drop in on Liesel at work (p85):

No fence marked the perimeter, no bars stretched across the small windows on the upper floor, yet the place had a boxed-in feeling, corralled by cars parked on double yellow lines and overshadowed by the old red-brick asylum farther up the hill. A plaque set into the wall by the glass door announced its opening twenty years before by some minor royal. Getting inside proved a little too easy.

The hospital focus reflects my own introduction to the city, when I moved to Nottinghamshire twenty years ago for work. But, while most of the action in takes place in the house, my characters do venture beyond it and their places of work. When Steve and Liesel arrange to visit a modern art gallery together, they rendezvous at the stone lions in the market square. Unfortunately, Steve doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the Nottingham Contemporary (p14):

A wall of dazzling glass concealed the gallery entrance, right round the corner from where anyone would expect to find it. Inside, an open-plan reception housed a sprawling shop peddling posters and postcards, overpriced jotters and coffee-table books of high-concept art. Pretentious tat but, hey, I was not-buying it with Liesel.

I’m not sure what he’d make of the revamped Central Station; in the novel, returning from a visit to his family, he emerges into the Victorian entrance hall, bottle-green tiles and amber stucco mouldings … overlaid with the flat facades of twenty-first-century consumer chic (p248) that are sadly no longer there.

In addition to visual details, word choice and rhythm matter to me as a writer, and dialect can add local colour. But Steve, like me, is an outsider, so I had to give the Nottingham vernacular a miss. In my teens, I must admit I stumbled over DH Lawrence, perhaps because I had to translate it first into standard English and then into my native Cumbrian to get the sense. But I’m learning. I know that tabs are ears, and not cigarettes as they are in the North East, and my life has been enriched by the word nesh. Perhaps I’ll shoehorn them into my next book.

If you’d like to know more about Anne Goodwin's fiction, head over to her website annethology.

Or come along to WHSmith Victoria Centre on Saturday, 28 September, where you can meet her.

Anne will be signing copies of her books between 1pm and 4 pm.

Underneath and Anne's debut novel Sugar and Snails are also for sale at the fabulous Nottingham landmark, Five Leaves.

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Anne Goodwin

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