Murder Mystery With A Lancaster Influence

Neil Coley, The Cold Distance, Lancaster University

Neil Coley (History & Politics, 1973, Furness) tells how his time at Lancaster and thoughts linked to plans for a reunion has influenced his forthcoming novel, The Cold Distance.

"The Cold Distance is my second novel. It is a murder mystery story partly set at a northern university in the 1970s and partly in the present day where a writer of crime fiction is planning a reunion of his university friends.

Back in 2020 I had begun to think about organising such a reunion as most of my friends along with myself had started at Lancaster fifty years before. Then Covid came along and I had to shelve those particular plans. So, as I’d always fancied writing a crime novel, a classic whodunit, it was an easy leap to put the two ideas together and come up with The Cold Distance, a story of murder, regret, forgotten memories, sex, drugs and rock and roll. (The novel has its own, in my view, excellent playlist.)

The ‘70s setting of The University of the North is loosely based on the Lancaster University I knew at the time. I graduated in 1973 and after doing a Postgrad Education Certificate spent thirty-odd years teaching in secondary and middle schools in Staffordshire. Retiring in 2009 I decided that writing, rather than watching daytime television, would be the activity that would occupy most of my time. I’d always dabbled a bit in writing but while working had never found the time to do it on a regular basis. My first book was a collection of short stories about Lichfield where I have lived for many years. They were tales set at different time periods in the city’s history. I then wrote five other books about Lichfield and its history before deciding to write a novel. The result was An Alien Autumn, which is set in the London of 1888 and involves undercover extraterrestrials joining the hunt for the serial killer, Jack the Ripper and it was published in 2021.

With The Cold Distance I was able to use my memories of the 1970s, which was a vibrant and exciting period to be young and a very fortunate time to be at university. We were such a lucky generation. Unlike students today we didn’t have to worry about tuition fees and we were given local authority grants to cover our living expenses. For those of us who were the first in their families to experience any sort of higher education it was a wonderful, enlightening and valuable experience and there was no way I would have even applied to university had it not been free. It was a great pity when politicians, many of whom had benefited in a similar way, later pulled up the ladder and introduced

tuition fees and student loans. It seems that sometimes the past is a foreign country where people did things rather better."

The Cold Distance is published on the 28th March 2023 and will be available from all good bookshops.

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