Author in a Spot of Bother for 'horrible' view of Peterborough

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The Independent Online

Founded by the Romans in AD43, Peterborough has been an important centre for both brickmaking and weaving and boasts one of the country's finest cathedrals as well as a pioneering cycle network.

Now the city that was once home to Hereward the Wake, the Saxon leader who led a rebellion against William the Conqueror, has risen up again to defend its reputation against the suggestion it is a "horrible" place, lacking good hotels or restaurants.

The criticism was made by Mark Haddon, the multi-award-winning author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, who has set his latest book, Spot of Bother, in the city. Speaking at the Edinburgh Festival, Haddon admitted he had only visited Peterborough once during the writing of the book, when he stayed overnight in a hotel.

He was later quoted saying: "It's horrible and not in a funny way, just a bad way. I wrote the book without going there and then went for a night to check a few details. I stayed at a hotel. There's nothing I can say apart from: don't do that. I tried to go to a restaurant; there are no restaurants in Peterborough."

Although Haddon stressedthat the comments had been made in a light-hearted fashion and he had no intention of offending the city's people, it was too late to stop outrage spreading among its leaders.

John Peach, leader of Peterborough City Council, said: "Like anywhere, there's good and bad but we are consistently trying to improve what we have to offer in Peterborough. I am surprised he admitted he has written the whole book without visiting the city."

"Mr Haddon has clearly not done the necessary research before criticising Peterborough," said Michael Burton, the mayor of Peterborough. "This is a cathedral city with much history and there are many restaurants, various hotels and plenty of tourist activities."

Also leaping to the city's defence was Peter Boizot, the founder of the Pizza Express chain, who was born there. A former chairman of Peterborough United FC, he is now the proprietor of the Great Northern Hotel in the city - not the hotel visited by Haddon. "I'm very proud to call myself a Peterborian," he said. "It is a very nice place and there is plenty of good things going on. The place has grown and changed enormously in recent years with people like Poles and Muslims arriving who have added a lot to the city."

But despite also being chairman of Peterborough Arts Trust, Mr Boizot did admit that the town was "not rich" in cultural attractions and that, his own hotel aside, it was not a great place to eat out; most locals, it seems, prefer to dine in pubs in the surrounding villages.

Further support for Haddon's point of view came from Adrian Durham, a sports journalist and presenter on Talksport radio: "I fully endorse what Mark Haddon said. I spent the first 18 years of my life there and couldn't wait to get out.

"It's full of small-minded people who don't understand how cut off from civilisation it is. I'd rather live in Beirut than go back."

Haddon said his words had been taken out of their humorous context. "I was just trying to describe my research method of writing the book first, then go along afterwards to check the facts."

But he added: "Peterborough is one of those once rather nice market towns that have been murdered by developers. It's got a terribly beautiful cathedral, which is just surrounded by things like car parks."

Spot of Bother, published next month, tells the story of a man worried his wife is having an affair and who believes he may have cancer; he is also troubled by the relationships of his son.

The author, who was born in Northampton and set his last novel in Swindon, stressed that he was writing from first-hand knowledge of such places. "It's where the majority of the people in this country live," he said.

At least Peterborough comes off somewhat better in the book than Swindon, which the author describes as "the arsehole of the world", in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The writer lives in Oxford.

The city of Hereward the Wake

* Originally the Saxon village of Medeshamstede, by the turn of the first millennium its name had become Burgh

* Katherine of Aragon is buried in Peterborough Cathedral, while Mary Queen of Scots was initially interred there after her execution

* The area was once Britain's leading producer of bricks

* Peterborough FC hold the record for most goals in a season, with 134 scored in 1960-61

* Victoria Beckham is said to have wanted to stop the club from registering its nickname "the Posh'', as a trademark

* The Peterborough Green Wheel is an 80km network of footpaths and cycleways surrounding the city

* It has the fastest peak and off-peak travel times for a city of its size in the UK

* Kilt-wearing Keith Palmer, aka Maxim of the group Prodigy, was born there, as was Henry Royce, co-founder of Rolls-Royce

* A popular icon is Nobby the Tramp, made famous by the council's efforts to evict him from the bus shelter on Oundle Road

* According to 'Crap Towns', Peterborough has the character of "a colourless middle manager".

Dan Montalbano