Hellfire Gate

Elodie Harper shares her impressions of a certain place in Norfolk that inspired her novels…

The first time I got a sense of the true menace of the Norfolk landscape was after I moved to the county to work for ITV News Anglia. I was assigned a reporting job in Great Yarmouth and set off in the car with David Bush, the company’s longstanding cameraman.

We reached the Acle Straight – or ‘new road’ as David called it, in typical Norfolk fashion given it’s almost 200 years old – and entered the marshes. It was early morning and the ground mist rose like smoke. On either side of us, the land rolled out, seemingly forever, and through the fog stood the blue outlines of what looked like windmills. The odd cow or sheep loomed up close to the road, separated from the cars by nothing more than a ditch. I felt like we had driven into the middle of a 16th century painting by an old Dutch Master.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“This is Halvergate.”

“Bit eerie isn’t it?”

“People get mesmerized staring out at the marshes,” he said, looking straight ahead. “End up in the ditch. Drowned, mostly.”

I didn’t know David too well at this point, so it was a relief after we got to Yarmouth, finished filming, and he became less gloomy over a helping of chips, but Halvergate never became less strange. I later learned it had originally been called ‘Hellfire Gate’, which seemed appropriate for a landscape that’s literally smoking from the flames beneath. It was where I built my fictional prison, HMP Halvergate in The Binding Song, but the marshes are also the place that I picture in my mind’s eye whenever I am writing and want to draw on the peculiar menace of the landscape. For me it’s the soul of Norfolk Noir.

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