I’m delighted to welcome Eleanor Harkstead to the blog today, chatting about the “Captain” books she’s co-written with Catherine Curzon. Thanks for taking part, Eleanor. Over to you!
Tell me about the setting for The Captain and the Cricketer.
The novel is set in the Sussex village of Longley Parva. It's a charming English village set in rolling hills.
Was it inspired by a real place?
I write collaboratively with Catherine Curzon so our settings will be a blend (sometimes subconsciously) of places that both of us know, but we won't necessarily be drawing on the same places. For me, Longley Parva is a patchwork of villages I've known or visited or seen on television! That said, the village is set specifically in the South Downs, so we looked at photos of villages in that area, such as the delightfully named Ditchling, which gives us a feel for the architecture and the types of building materials that are used there. We hunted down photos of the houses that the main characters live in, and discussed the decor so that each of us could "see" it and if needs be we had the information at hand to be able to describe it.
Our first novel that we wrote together, The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper, is partly set in a chateau in northern France. I had a specific chateau in mind, which I was fascinated by as a child on trips to that area. So I found photos of it and shared them with Catherine. But the actual chateau in the novel isn't exactly that one - I've never been inside the original, or seen its stables or grounds so all of that detail came from our imaginations.
Do you have a firm idea of the layout? For example, have you drawn maps or diagrams?
Writing together, we have an idea of the layout of the village, the house, the chateau etc, but we're not pedantic about it. With The Captain and the Cricketer, we decided features such as Henry having a gravel driveway up to his crumbling manor house, and a lake in his garden. We decided that there would be a meadow between his house and the cottage that George is staying in. So they're neighbours, but not quite! Then we fill in details like the village pub, the cricket pavilion, etc.
We don't go into great detail about directions. Do we need to know that Henry turned left out of his driveway unless this information is crucial to the plot? Not really. For example, I'd write "He turned out of his driveway, heading towards the village through the leafy lane." I've read books where the author has gone into unnecessary depth with turning this way or that way, and while I appreciate that's what they can see in their head as their character pootles about, or they're following the route on a map as they write, it just confuses me and I lose track! "Oh no, was he meant to have turned left there?" Unless you give the reader a map, and unless it's vital, I don't think all that "he turned left, then he turned right, then he doglegged round" business is required - I won't remember all that when he drives through the same area again and it hinders the reader. I might say a particular building is "At the entrance to the village" but that's only if it's important. It's tempting to drop in a huge amount of exposition telling the reader where all the bits and bobs of the village are, insisting the reader sees the locale just as the author does, but I feel that just gets in the way.
It's really important for authors to remember that just as the village you're writing about is probably based on places you've known, it's exactly the same for the reader. They'll see their own crumbling manor house, their own lake and driveway, their own leafy lane. And that's absolutely fine - that's, I think, how you can engage readers. Without even knowing they're doing it, the reader is hooking up their imagination to your words.
We have drawn a diagram once, though, when we were working out the position of everyone around a table at dinner!
Do you have any special routine, visual aids, etc to get you into the right ‘place’ when writing?
While I'm working on fiction I always have a piece of my brain ticking over where that place and those characters live. So I could be at the day job, or peeling potatoes, and the novel is there, like a daydream. So I can dip in and out quite easily, and the characters chatter away, and I can see them and their world just as clearly as I can see the one I physically live in.
What’s the first book you read where the setting made a vivid impression?
Jill Murphy's Worst Witch novels, closely followed by M M Kaye's The Ordinary Princess. I was fascinated by the castle where the witches' school was based - it reminded me of the primary school I went to at the time, which was in a creepy old Gothic house!
A large part of The Ordinary Princess - at least, how I remember it after a few (ahem) years - is set in a forest, and I remember it being described so beautifully that I could feel the springy, emerald moss under my feet and see the sun shining through the leaves over my head. I absolutely loved that novel!
Have you ever chosen a book purely based on its setting? If so, what was it and why did the setting appeal?
I read Laurie Lee's As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning because it's partly set in an area of Spain I know quite well, but it's set just before the Spanish Civil War. It's part of Lee's memoir, and it was really interesting to be taken back through time on a trip to an area I know. Certain aspects haven't changed, but quite a lot has - there's so many highrise hotels along the waterfront, but fishermen still draw their boats up onto the beach.
Henry Fitzwalter is a solid sort of chap. An uptight countryside vet and no stranger to tweed, he is the lonely inhabitant of crumbling Longley Parva Manor.
Captain George Standish-Brookes is everyone’s favourite shirtless TV historian. Heroic, handsome and well-travelled, he is coming home to the village where he grew up.
Henry and George’s teenage friendship was shattered by the theft of a cup, the prize in a hard-fought, very British game of cricket. When they resolve their differences thanks to an abandoned foal, it’s only a matter of time before idyllic Longley Parva witnesses one of its wildest romances, between a most unlikely couple of fellows.
Yet with a golf-loving American billionaire and a money-hungry banker threatening this terribly traditional little corner of Sussex, there’s more than love at stake. A comedy of cricket, coupling and criminality, with a splash of scandal!
The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper: mybook.to/captaincavalry
The Captain and the Cricketer: mybook.to/captaincricketer
About Eleanor Harkstead
Eleanor Harkstead likes to dash about in nineteenth-century costume, in bonnet or cravat as the mood takes her. She knows rather a lot about poisons, and can occasionally be found wandering old graveyards. Eleanor is very fond of chocolate, wine, tweed waistcoats and nice pens. Her large collection of vintage hats would rival Hedda Hopper’s.
Originally from the south-east of England, Eleanor now lives somewhere in the Midlands with a large ginger cat who resembles a Viking.
My writing, research and any other randomness that seems like a good idea at the time.