One of my writing group has the topic ‘Lock and Key’ – or was it ‘lock’ or ‘Key’? – well, it was something about locks and keys as the subject for our next piece of writing. I guess I have been thinking about other things, and doing other writing, but it has been in the back of my mind. I’ve been trying to think of something different to write about other than what immediately springs to mind; my first thoughts were the lock on a door or a cupboard, or a filing cabinet, or a safe, and a lock as in ‘the device used for raising and lowering boats, ships and other watercraft between stretches of water of different levels on river and canal waterways’ (thank you Wikipedia.) I think of locks on rivers and canals because, as someone who spent a lot of time as a child and young person on the river with locks along its course, they are something of which I have many memories – going through them in a canoe (scary), walking across the gates (exciting) watching boats go through them (interesting). Lock keepers and their cottages fascinated me when I was a child, and they have featured in a couple of stories I’ve written. A few years ago we visited friends in Wiltshire, and visited a magnificent feat of engineering, Caen Hill Locks. This is what I wrote:
It was nearly two hundred years ago that a flight of locks was completed on the Kennet and Avon Canal near Devizes, called the Caen Hill Locks. What an amazing feat of engineering! The concept of building these locks, to raise the level of the canal by 237 feet in 2 miles, the planning, the purchasing of land, the maths needed to ensure the structure and building would work, the technology… all done on paper and in people’s heads, no calculators or computers! The course dug out by the strength of the navvies working on it, the locks lined with bricks and the gates constructed, the only transport would be what could be brought up on the canal on either side, or pulled on wagons by horses. What an immense undertaking!
John Rennie, a Scottish civil engineer, born in East Lothian in 1761 came from a rural background; his father was a farmer at Phantassie; Rennie was interested in what we would now call technology from an early age. He went on to design many bridges and docks as well as canals. The canal projects he undertook included the Lancaster Canal, the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, the Crinan Canal, the Rochdale Canal and the Royal Canal from Dublin to the Shannon near Longford. Closer to my Cambridgeshire home his other projects included drainage operations in the Lincolnshire and Norfolk fens, the River Witham and a new channel for the River Ouse.
As we walked down beside the canal, watching narrow boats negotiating their way into the different locks to progress up or down, we couldn’t help but marvel at it; the last commercial load was carried in 1948 and it fell into disrepair. Thank goodness it was restored, so many people use it in many different ways, and a whole new industry is dependent on it – leisure and tourism!
I’m not the only writer fascinated by locks; one of my favourite authors, Damien Boyd features locks in his novels – as they are set in the west country, there are canals in the area, the most famous being the Kennet and Avon Canal. Here is something else I wrote, this is about Damien’s book, Dead Lock:
A deadlock is a type of lock that without a key the mechanism is inactive – the door (or whatever) is locked and the only way to open/unfasten/access it is to use the key to open it. You can’t turn a handle or doorknob, it has to be unlocked. It’s also called a dead bolt/deadbolt; as well as being a physical device, the word can also be used figuratively to mean something which cannot be undone – like a negotiation which has become deadlocked. It is also a term used in computing – but I’m quite ignorant about that technology so all I can tell you is, it’s ‘a situation in computing where two processes are each waiting for the other to finish’.
However, I’m not going to write about locks, dead or otherwise, or negotiations stalled or not, or computers hanging around waiting for processes to complete… The Deadlock I’m thinking of is much more exciting and engaging than any of those! Deadlock is the new novel by my favourite writer Damien Boyd. If you haven’t read it yet – then buy it and do so! If you’ve never read anything else by Damien then lucky you because you have seven others to read!
Dead Lock is the latest in the series about D.I. Nick Dixon, a detective serving in Somerset and coincidentally, my daughter is based at the police station where Nick works – him in his fictional world of course. This particular novel which is gripping, interesting, and with an unexpected but believable twist at the end, is focused on the canals in Somerset and Wiltshire, including the now abandoned Somerset Coal Canal – not many people outside the area, and many in Somerset don’t realise there was coal mining round here!
Damien uses real locations in Somerset, all the places mentioned exist which is exciting for us who know the area, but must also make the scenes more vivid to people from other places. In Deadlock a lot of the action takes place between our little village of Uphill on the coast and Burnham, the next town to the south of us. When one of the suspects is taking a back road and clips a kerb on a sharp bend and ends up in a concealed pond, I know where that is! When another suspect has his cut-flower business turned over by the police, it’s in the same village where my husband and his band rehearse!
Well, I seem to have got enough to write about locks, but what about the keys?
My featured image is a photo my dad took in 1938 of Denver Sluice and Navigation Lock