I’m delighted to welcome Anne Harvey to my blog today. Thank you for taking part, Anne!
You’ve written two books so far, A Suitable Young Man and the follow-up novel Bittersweet Flight. Tell me about the setting for these books. Was it inspired by a real place?
That’s an easy one to answer. I based both the books on a real place, Horwich, a small former mill town in Lancashire. I’ve been told by writer friends that it’s always a risk to use a real place as people tend to see themselves as characters, even more risky if the character is flawed. For instance, I had to be particularly careful about naming my villain! He’s in both books and in the third book in the series, which I’m working on at the moment. They’re nostalgic tales of family, friendship, love, loyalty and loss set in 1950s Lancashire, a time when rock and roll first came to Britain and, hopefully, reflect the social attitudes of what was seen as a new Elizabethan era.
Which brings me to my next question, do you have any idea of the layout or maps?
Well, Horwich is my home town and, although I spent much of my childhood with my parents living in domestic service, I spent my formative teenage years there. Because of this, the layout is imprinted on my mind, especially the places where we used to hang out as teenagers. As the timing is the 1950s, that’s how I remember it. During that period, it was a thriving, bustling sort of place, with the massive Locomotive Works and three cotton mills. It’s that vibrant period that I hope I’ve captured in the books. Now, with the Works and the cotton mills long since closed and a retail park built a couple of miles away, it’s mere shadow of its former self, though there are signs of new life, like the former butchers/abbatoir that is now a trendy coffee shop called, ironically, ‘The Cow Shed.’
The only visual aids I have are a reasonably up-to-date street-map of the town to refresh an ageing memory and an old street-map dating from the early 20th century. Obviously some things had changed by the 1950s but, because the first half of the 20th century wasn’t a particularly affluent period, not by that much.
Interestingly, part of my third book is set on an RAF base. Because of ongoing security problems, my base is completely fictional, though it is loosely based on a real RAF base in similar location. In this instance, I did lots of research on the internet and also obtained a couple of brilliant books about what life was like around that time for a serviceman’s wife. That’s been fun to do! The rest of the book is still centred around Horwich though, and yes, readers will be pleased to know that my villain does get his come-uppance.
What’s the first book you remember where the setting made a vivid impression?
Now you’re asking! At my advanced age, I must have read thousands of books so it’s hard to be specific. Having said that, one series that does stick in my mind for its setting is the ‘Clan of The Cave Bear’ by Jean Auel. That’s because it’s set in a pre-historic time and some of the descriptions of the various landscapes and the way of living are portrayed vividly. As one of my interests is archaeology, I found these books particularly fascinating.
What are you working on at the moment?
As I’ve said previously, it’s the third book in the series, working title In The Thick of It. I’ve written the first draft and completed an initial edit but it needs a lot more work before it will be ready for publication. Fortunately for me, I’m independently published and can work at my own speed. At my time of life, I don’t need the pressure of working to a deadline!
I’ve also been putting together a collection of short stories with the theme of everyday angels and I had hoped that this would be available for pre-order by the time your blog came out. Unfortunately, a problem with the cover has been discovered so that needs to be resolved first.
Looking into the future, my dearest ambition is to write a ‘real’ historical novel and I’ve already done lots of research. Again, and importantly, the setting will be Horwich but it will be in the 18th century when Horwich was a sleepy little village until a prominent Lancashire family, the Ridgways, decided to base their bleaching and dyeing business there. Although it will be fictional, much of the action will be around the Ridgway family and their influence on the town. And to whet your appetite, one of their descendants is a well-known ex-Prime Minister!
Anne has written many family history articles and short stories published in national magazines. Having been unsuccessful in finding either an agent or a publisher, she took the decision to self-publish, a decision she has never regretted. She has published two family sagas, A Suitable Young Man ( www.tinyurl.com/qy9yth7) and Bittersweet Flight (www.tinyurl.com/zmnek57) and has enjoyed considerable sales success, not only in the UK, but also among ex-pats in the United States, Canada and Australia.
She has a memoir-based blog Passionate about the Past at www.annelharvey.blogspot.co.uk, is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Anne.Harvey.10 and on Twitter as @annelharvey1.
Did you know that there are four levels of ghostly encounters in Shropshire? First we have “Summat to be sid” [seen]. These are things like ghostly animals, headless pigs, dogs with glowing red eyes—non-human apparitions. If you find yourself faced with a purposeless terror such as a headless ghost or mysterious indelible bloodstains, then you’ve been subjected to a “frittening”. Come face to face with a revenant—a ghost of someone who can’t rest or has unfinished business—and you’ve either met someone who has “come again” or “come again very badly”, depending how malicious the ghost might be. Did you also know that the large hill dominating the area—The Wrekin—was created when a cobbler tricked a vengeful giant into dropping his load of rocks just outside Wellington, instead of using them to destroy Shrewsbury?
The reason we know all this is because of a remarkable woman, Charlotte Sophia Burne, who lived in Edgmond, just down the road from Harper Adams University. If you get the time to go for a walk through Edgmond, look out for this blue plaque on Newport Road, marking her home. Not much is known of her life now, apart from the facts recorded on the plaque: she lived in Edgmond from 1854 until 1875, and became the first woman president of a leaned society—the Folklore Society. Yet she must have been a remarkable woman. At a time when learned societies were dominated by men—and men living in London, to make matters even more difficult for a provincial woman—she not only gained entry to the council of the Folklore Society, but became its president. The work she is most famous for is editing the four-volume “Shropshire Folk-Lore: A Sheaf of Gleanings”. As you can tell from the precision with which she records the different levels of ghostly sightings, she not only collected and wrote down folk-lore, but classified it, showing the hierarchy of beliefs underpinning Shropshire society.
As a writer of historical fiction, I’m fascinated by folklore. If anything can give us a glimpse into the minds and imaginations of the people of the past, it has to be through the tales they told. Most of my stories have been set in Shropshire and the Welsh Marches, so I’ve turned to Burne’s work many times, to help build up the layers of the world my heroes and heroines inhabit. Even though she’s unknown today, many writers are indebted to her, and that’s why I’ve included her in this mini-series on notable literary connections of this part of Shropshire.
With the annual RNA conference fast approaching—this time just a couple of miles from my home in Newport, Shropshire—it seems like a good idea to write a few posts featuring the literary figures associated with the area to whet your appetites. One day—who knows?—people might describe Newport as the home of Tora Williams, the well-known romance author. There’s a space on the wall of my house just right for a blue plaque… But even without my inclusion on the local literary roll of honour, it includes some illustrious names.
If you drive through Newport on your way to Harper Adams, you'll pass a large house on Chetwynd End. It's now been converted into flats, but back in the nineteenth century it was a grand residence called Chetwynd House. It was occupied by Sarah Parker, a spinster who had been jilted on her wedding day. Local legend has it that on hearing the news, she locked the door to the room set up for her wedding feast, allowing no one to enter it again. Sixty years later the door was broken down to reveal the preserved wedding decorations, all draped with cobwebs.
Does that sound familiar? If so, you won't be surprised to learn that Charles Dickens was a regular visitor to Newport, and stayed at the Bear Hotel—now Barclays Bank. It's almost certain he would have heard the sad tale of Sarah Parker while he was there; according to local tradition, she's the inspiration for Miss Havisham in Dickens’ Great Expectations.
On researching this tale, I've discovered that other places also claim to be the home of the ‘real’ Miss Havisham. It seems you couldn't move in nineteenth-century England without tripping over an ageing jilted spinster slowly rotting in her wedding finery. However, call me biased, but I'm convinced Sarah Parker is the original. Have a look for her house as you drive past. Incidentally, it’s now part of Havisham Court, although I think it received that name after the fact. What do you think? Can you see Miss Havisham mouldering away inside, or do you think Dickens’ inspiration came from elsewhere?
My writing, research and any other randomness that seems like a good idea at the time.