When I arrived at the friend's, this was very much on my mind, and I remarked that I missed the public transport network in Flanders, where we used to live. There was a really excellent local bus service that ran from the airport at Zaventem to the swimming pool in Overijse and passed right through our village; there was a connecting tram (the 44, pictured) which went straight into Brussels; and after that of course there was the Metro and the rail network. I used the buses a lot and I recalled that they ran very frequently (every half hour or so) until fairly late in the evening.
"Ah," said the friend, "I did wonder."
She had read all of my Forbidden Spaces books, which are set in Flanders, and had noticed that the heroine managed to catch buses home at hours that would be unthinkable in my corner of rural Perthshire. Was this really possible, or was it invention on my behalf?
When I was working on those books, I took a lot of care to make sure that everything in them was as factually accurate as possible. I used to travel about on many of the same routes that my heroine, Veerle De Keyser uses: the 830 De Lijn bus, the 44 tram, the Brussels Metro. So I was fairly familiar with the timetables to begin with, but I took care to double check all of them. I took especial care with the public transport in the city of Ghent, which is the setting of the second book, Demons of Ghent; there is a scene at the beginning in which someone wants to get up to no good in the mediaeval city centre, and I wanted to be sure that at the time the action took place, there was no chance of him being seen by a tram full of shocked tourists rattling past (NB there is no chance of it; the Ghent trams stop in the small hours).
Apart from a very few scenes in the trilogy - when the hero Kris Verstraeten borrows his cousin Jeroen's car, for example - Veerle and her friends travel around entirely by public transport. On the night when Veerle first encounters the Koekoeken, the secret community of urban explorers who appear in Silent Saturday, she is actually travelling about by bus; she looks out of the bus window and sees a light where there should be no light, and gets off to investigate. On other occasions, she and Kris travel to the places they intend to explore by bus or tram; they go to confront someone in the city of Brussels by a combination of bus, tram and Metro. Even in the dramatic denouements of Silent Saturday and the final book, Urban Legends, Veerle gets to her rendez-vous with the serial killer by public transport!
I have to say that it didn't really occur to me to move my characters around the locations in the book by any other means than public transport. Veerle is 17 in Silent Saturday after all, and still at school; she would be unlikely to have the means to run a car. Many of the buildings she and Kris visit are fairly local to Tervuren and the pair can get about more inconspicuously by bus and by foot than by parking a car outside them. So there are practical reasons why buses and trams are such a part of the narrative. But actually I mainly used public transport in the books because I could. When we lived in Flanders I found it a really good way of getting about. The buses really do run that late, and to all those places.
If I tried to set Forbidden Spaces in my current home town, I'd struggle. The buses from Perth, though not as frequent as the Flemish buses, do run until fairly late in the evening, but on some nights of the week you cannot get a bus back from Stirling much after 7.30pm. That would put a bit of a damper on any urban exploration requiring the cover of darkness.
There's one other problem, too; as my blogging friend's husband pointed out, if you live in an area with very infrequent buses, you'd probably be able to track the evil killer pretty easily by looking at the time of the murder and then at the bus timetable...
Buses: transport for the discerning heroine.