I grew up in a small coastal town in north-west England, and left to go to university at eighteen. It wasn’t the prettiest of places, but we had the Lake District to the east of us, sandy beaches north and south and a view across the sea to Scotland.
I wrote in secret when I lived there, stories set in some undefined elsewhere. Fictional towns no more interesting than the one that made me, except that they gave my mind room to roam.
It felt significant that I began writing my first published novel, Sugar and Snails, on returning from a long-distance walk of almost 200 miles that began near my hometown. It cemented the idea of having to leave it behind to write.
Since most of the action happens indoors - in a long-stay psychiatric hospital and in an ordinary house - it shouldn’t have mattered where it was. Especially as, as I said in this piece for the local paper, I had to adjust the geography to fit the story, so the setting both is my hometown and is not.
Although the bones of the story were set in 2018 when I embarked on my research trip, and there was a fair amount of flesh on the bones, I still relished that visit. Wandering through my hometown as an outsider, it was suddenly more fascinating than it had ever been before. So much so, that I’ll be back for my next novel featuring Matty in a care home a few miles to the north.
“Your memory book!” Beaming, Scarlett slipped the slim volume onto Olive’s lap. “We’ve done them for all the rezzies.”
With hands like claws, Olive turned the pages. She’d taught the girl’s parents. Scarlett meant well.
She rarely looked at her photo album. Those Polaroids and Kodak prints a blur. These images were much sharper, like a professionally published book.
But page after page of her three months in India? A skinny cow, women drawing water from a well. “What is this?”
“Your hometown,” said Scarlett.
“I’m Cumbrian born and bred,” said Olive. “You’ve given me Joshil’s book by mistake.”