Even though Birmingham is one of Britain’s largest cities, historically it’s never been the setting for fiction (or even drama) in the same way that, say, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh or Glasgow have. That may be changing with the success of the BBC’s Peaky Blinders (even though it was filmed elsewhere) and less obvious drama such as Hustle and By Any Means (both set in London, but ironically filmed in Birmingham…). There has been the occasional literary excursion, too, and it recently occurred to me that I have appeared in three of them.
First there was Birmingham Noir (Tindal Street Press, 2002, edited by Joel Lane and Steve Bishop). Well before Peaky Blinders, this anthology showed that Birmingham was just as gritty and crime-ridden as any major city. After the building of the ICC and NIA, Birmingham had established itself as a major conference and sports venue, with accommodation to match – from Hilton and Radisson hotels down to the humblest Travelodge. And keeping pace came adult entertainment; either legit or criminal, businesses grew to keep visitors amused. My contribution – “Brindley’s Place” – was set among the pubs and restaurants that were growing up alongside the newly-scrubbed canals in Brindleyplace and along Broad Street. It showed what happened when those at the bottom of the food chain get caught up in the inevitable sleaze and corruption – whilst offering the hope of some form of redemption.
Years later, to accompany a historical walk around Brum’s Digbeth and Deritend areas – part of the Andromeda One convention held at the Custard Factory – Weird Trails (Fringeworks 2013, edited by Adrian Middleton) was published: a compilation of facts that tied in with the walk, and short pieces of fiction set around the area. I supplied a mock article that was supposed to have been originally published several years earlier in the magazine Strange Brew (a fictionalised Fortean Times). Under the by-line Clifton Davies (“…a writer and fortean investigator living in the Midlands”), the article – “Bird’s Over the Bullring” – was a melange of actual history (the Bird’s Custard factory in Birmingham and Banbury) mixed in with reports of UFOs, strange figures, hauntings and mysterious voices on the telephone. All completely fictional (at least, that’s what I told the editor). It was a fun thing, and gave me a chance to indulge my interest in strange phenomena.
Then most recently has been Second City Scares (Horror Express 2013, edited by Marc Shemmans), an anthology of horror fiction not only set in Birmingham, but with contributions from local writers who should know the place (and its terrors) best. I supplied “Cheechee’s Out”: a straight to video nasty about the subversion of the city fathers and other well-placed individuals, and the role of the extensive underground car parks and miles of passageways underneath Birmingham (almost a mini-city in itself). All played out in a part of the suburbs which, despite some altered names (to protect the innocent), might be familiar to anyone who knows where I live. Again, it was a fun to write and, I hope, to read.
I’m pleased to be able to write about my home city: its seedy underbelly and even darker, less tangible elements. Birmingham has a rich history, present and intended future – all of which may be mined for their potential. Here’s to future editors and anthologists, and the shadowy treats they may perceive in the city’s grimy heritage or burgeoning prospects.