A Character In its Own Right

Thank you, Fiona Lindsay, for providing a different slant to my blog series on settings for books this week. I was interested to see that in your books, Kirklochy becomes a character in its own right; that is just what one of my reviewers of Breath of Africa said about Kenya!

I hope everybody enjoys this piece as much as I did…

Fiona Lindsay

We all love a book which allows us to experience the place where we want to be – which explains why books set in Cornwall during the summer are always so popular; also, glamorous locations such as upstate New York or Monte Carlo – pure escapism.

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We also like a book set in a place we’re familiar with: we enjoy descriptions of places we recognise, and become more engrossed when the hero or heroine is walking down a street we know well. I believe this adds an extra layer of pleasure to our reading experience; we can better imagine the scene. A friend spoke of a series of detective stories she loves, not least because they are set in the Black Country, where she grew up. I am from the west of Scotland, and always prick up my ears when I hear about a new book by a Glasgow writer, and look forward to reading about my own haunts.

 

On the other hand, last summer’s big hit, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, was set in Glasgow, but there are virtually no references to this, and I wonder if the writer consciously avoided this, either to show Eleanor’s sense of alienation, or to make the setting more universal, as if the story could have taken place in any city. I also once heard a writer speak at the Edinburgh book festival, saying that she had purposely made her characters’ home town anonymous and nameless, with them occasionally making trips to “the city”. She said that readers tended to fill in the blanks for themselves, imagining the action to be taking place in their own home town.

IMG_20170524_122825 (1)The Irish writer, Cathy Kelly, invented her own village, Red Lion, in Kerry, saying that, since it doesn’t exist, there is no chance of any resident being offended by the goings-on there, while Iain M. Banks, who wrote science fiction, said, in an interview, that he didn’t have to bother doing any research for his books, as it is impossible to visit another planet – so he just had to make it all up. I would think that this is the same for all science fiction or fantasy writers – they must create their own strongly original world, where everything makes sense in its own internal logic. Then there are books which try to envisage what the world will be like in the future, such as my own personal favourite, 1984.

People have often said that, although they have never been to London or New York, they feel they know both cities well, as they have read so many books and seen so many films set there.

Setting a book in a bygone era can also add to the drama and suspense – for example, if a character is gay – in the days when this was a criminal offence, for which he could be sent to prison. Arguably, also, it’s more challenging for the detective of yesteryear to gather information, as he wouldn’t have had the resources of the worldwide web and Google to call on.

The Consolation Prize (The Kirklochy Chronicles Book 1) by [Lindsay, Fiona]I had my first book published earlier this year, part of a trilogy set in a fictitious village in the Scottish Highlands, some 65 miles north of Inverness. If it existed, it would be in the vicinity of Ullapool. It tells the story of Heather, who, after a broken romance, flees her native London to try to heal in the village where she’d spent all her summers, growing up, with her father’s family. Like Cathy Kelly, I can never be accused of getting my facts about the village wrong, or of basing one of the more unpleasant characters on a real person.

Here’s the link: https://bookgoodies.com/a/B07F14QK3H

After I’d finished writing Heather’s story, a friend suggested that I begin another book, again with Kirklochy as the setting, and this became Do Not Disturb, which takes place in a hotel in the village. The last book in the trilogy, A New Flame, has the main character leaving the village in disgrace, but later returning to face up to his past. Thus, Kirklochy, in a way, became a character in its own right.

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The Scottish Highlands boast beautiful scenery, and there are many descriptions of blue mountains, bright yellow fields of rapeseed, wildflowers, the salty tang of the sea, the changeless rhythm of the waves, the squall of seabirds, the sunset streaking the sky with rose gold, not to mention delicious food – which, hopefully appeal to all the senses, but, also, the village is in direct contrast to London: Heather is no longer in a vast, soulless environment, but part of a small community where everyone knows, and cares about, each other. She stops investing so much in her high powered job and, inspired by the beauty around her, returns to her first love, painting. She no longer aspires to look perfect, wear killer heels, and hang out at the latest hip club, but embraces a simpler way of life. She swaps private health clubs for  swimming in the bay and walking along the beach. She can totally be herself in a place where she feels known and accepted. And she finds true love.

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Lowering Skies in the Game Park

March 2018, and we are coming towards the end of my month’s holiday in Kenya.

I had a tiring morning shopping with Dennis at The Hub, a new shopping centre on the site of the former  Rusty Nail pub in Karen. The very thought of shopping always gives me back ache. I’d already marched for twenty minutes round the block exercising Sassie, an adorable golden retriever, rather big and boisterous for the confines of their home with pocket-hankerchief lawn. But they’ve got used to their lives, and Sassie tries so very hard to curb his exuberance.

In the afternoon we dropped Sassie off with obliging baby-sitters, and under lowering skies headed for the Nairobi Game Park.

“Shall we leave it to tomorrow?” I suggested, pointing to ominous thunderclouds hovering over the city. But no, Dennis was determined the weather would hold.

 The Park fees were cheaper than I remembered. We got as far as the first dam, and Dennis opened the roof of their new second-hand Toyota X-Trail. The first big drops of rain spattered onto the windscreen. He sat down to close the roof – and it got stuck on the runnels. Every time he pressed the button, an unhealthy grating sound scrunched at our ears. The rain settled into a steady downpour, and Dennis opened the umbrella he had thoughtfully brought with him.

Beneath the shelter of the large orange and yellow dome of the brolly, which admittedly covered the roof hatch quite effectively, he continuously tried to work the mechanism free.

Tamara set the wipers to full speed and I tried to peer through my darkened side window at herds of impala, and hundreds of  buffalo. A warthog. No birds. They were most likely cowering under cover of the downpour.

We went in the direction of the Ngong Hills, glowing under weak rays of sunshine, while the black clouds dumped their outpour over Nairobi city behind us. I persuaded Tamara not to test the new vehicle by venturing onto the treacherous black cotton soil of the plains. So we crawled along the fringe of the forest towards the dash of sunlight over the hills, eyes skinned, with little hope of spotting lion.

Buffalo met us at almost every corner.

We twisted and turned towards the plains and approached Kingfisher Gorge, avoiding the darkest clouds where we could, Dennis all the while concentrating on the scratchy roof hatch, trying to manhandle it closed.

“Sounds as if there’s a stone or something in the runnel,” I said.

Four other cars were parked at the campsite, and a group of dripping tourists huddled under the roof of a small banda. We stopped and refreshed ourselves with water and biscuits. The thermos Dennis had bought at The Hub for our tea proved useless, as it was missing its screw cap.

The rain didn’t abate, so we moved off, heading towards faintly lightened skies to the south along the Park border. Dennis renewed his efforts with the roof. The umbrella turned inside-out in a guest of wind. Tamara drove doggedly onwards, stopping to observe a giraffe, some kongoni, a few zebra and more impala. She’d been hoping to try out the 4-wheel drive, but I was glad to see that the well-constructed road was holding up against the weather.

With a shout of exhilaration from Dennis, the roof finally moved – and he managed to close it, hauling the broken, sopping wet umbrella back through the hatch. We all breathed sighs of relief. Ignoring the tempting fork in the road indicating return to the Park entrance, we followed the lighter sky southwards, and were rewarded with a sighting of rhino. A great specimen with a healthy long horn.

Dennis took the wheel as the rain turned into drizzle. We passed another vehicle, the driver indicating where to find lion. Going through drifts of expansive water, Dennis successfully engaged the four-wheel-drive. But we spotted no lion. A young giraffe observed us with mild curiosity and we spied a wildebeest amid a herd of kongoni. Several birds of prey lurked on and around the tree tops.

I spotted a group of cars on the skyline. Did that signify lion? We crept in their direction. People were outside their cars. Were they in trouble? No. I raised my binoculars. Diplomatic number plates – men splashing about in the mud. No problems… no animals.

“They shouldn’t be out of their cars!”

It was time to turn towards home. I felt refreshed after my first experience in a game park for many years. Just being in the bush, experiencing the rush of anticipation and adrenaline of making a sighting. And the birds had come out in the end as the rain abated. Even the twisting roads, now so much better preserved than I remembered, brought back memories as I recalled places I’d seen lion before.

Lion in Nbi Park Tamara

We saw no lion, but this photograph was taken in the park on a sunnier evening by my talented daughter-in-law Tamara de Melo. Soon, on canvas, it will grace my sitting-room as a constant reminder of warm and sunny Africa, which these great beasts call their home.

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The Setting for the Schellberg Cycle

It is my privilege to introduce Gill James this week, renowned author and accomplished historical novelist, who will tell you about the backdrop to her historical novels. We’re in for a treat.

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The stories told in this cycle of six interconnected novels are set in 1940s Europe and in particular Nazi Germany. In some ways this era is not so well remembered as that time within the United Kingdom.  Our parents and grandparents frequently talked about it. The parents and grandparents of my German friends didn’t so much. There are of course some rich archives, maintained and used by true historians. And then an absolute gem fell into my lap: letters written by young German women aged thirteen to twenty-two between 1938 and 1947.

One of the letters

One of the letters.

I found about how the women  did work experience and war work , how  they were frightened and deprived by World War II, how they fell in love, how they lost loved ones and how they eventually learnt about the Holocaust.  Over the years they developed  a taste for camaraderie and a sense of duty. Many of the letters are somewhat mundane. They were a little careful in what they said. Perhaps they feared the censor. More likely however they were very aware that their former class teacher would be reading their letters.

Nevertheless there were some vivid scenes. One girl described having to leave the

measuting heads

Measuring heads!

barracks vi the window when she was on work experience; they couldn’t get out through  the door as the snow was too deep. One girl became an actor and managed to be quite controversial.  Another worked with children and towards the end of this period was involved in measuring noses and the blueness of eyes. There were also some very colourful stories of life on a farm after all the men had gone to fight.

 

The hardest was trying to imagine a world without mobile phones, emails and the Internet. They had the wireless, postcards and telegrams.  A few families had phones. The girls would certainly not have known as much as modern young people do about the what was happening in the world but at least they were not plagued by fake news and trolls. Would  Hitler  have stayed in power or could  the Holocaust have happened if Facebook and Twitter had existed then?

Nuremberg

My girls lived in  Nuremberg and were used to skiing holidays in winter with the summers being spent in the mountains or by the lakes. Yet everybody even the rich were poor in 1930s Germany. These girls were born as the 1920s’ hyperinflation was coming to an end. The 1930s’ depression and the 1929 Wall Street crash hit Germany very badly. She struggled to become great again with all the restrictions imposed on her by the Treaty of Versailles.  BDM uniformYet the BDM uniform was a real treat. It comprised an elegant calf length navy blue skirt, a smart white shirt, a little bomber jacket that would still seem trendy today and a black neckerchief. The BDM – Bund Deutsche Mädel  – was compulsory from fourteen.  It was the equivalent of the Hitler Youth.  The girls learnt many practical skills. They camped and marched as the boys did. There were also plenty of opportunities for sport. Yet the main emphasis for the girls particularly as the war went on was on becoming good mothers and homemakers. No doubt it was at these meetings that they first met the notions of camaraderie and duty.

Only in novel one do we see what is happening in England. We can compare and contrast. War work is similar for the girls as are their hopes and fears. Yet evacuation is handled differently. There are no land girls as such. Our girls take over running the households so that the farmers’ wives can run the farm.

 

Mecklenburg today

Mecklenburg today

The second novel in the cycle is the story of the grandmother of one of the main characters in the first novel. Clara Lehrs travels quite a bit. She is born in Mecklenberg and later lives in Berlin, Jena, Stuttgart and Rexingen in the Black Forest. I’ve had to think about what it was like for an elegant Jewish family in a newly emancipated  town in north Germany.

Berlin in the Bell Epoch

Berlin in the Bell Epoch

What were the first trams in Berlin like? There is a sharp contrast between the Berlin of the Belle Epoch and the Berlin that suffers the hyperinflation. Then comes some serious work with disabled children in Jena and in Stuttgart. Clara later becomes the helper of a disenfranchised group of people and in the relatively benign private ghetto in Rexingen again finds herself as “Mutti Lehrs” this time to Jewish children instead of those at the Waldorf School in Stuttgart. Photos, eyewitness accounts, amateur film footage, memoirs about the Waldorf School and correspondence with those who knew the Rexingen Jews informed me of what I needed to create here.

the house in Rexingen

The house in Rexington

Rexingen Jews at work
The Rexingen Jews at work

StuttgartStuttgart

Book three traces the growing naziism and book four the rapidly developing antisemitism in Germany. Book five studies in greater depth the everyday lives of young German women. Book six will explore the life of one Jewish woman as she and her son move on from the 1940s.

The letters have obviously been a fantastic source.  Realia from the time is really useful: so, ration books, diaries, The War Papers (the adverts are superb), film snippets such as those from the Steven Spielberg archive and even a transport slip that tells its own story. The magazines of the BDM that initially look like scouting magazines but are a little more sinister are extremely informative. Less useful are eye witness accounts made today. These people are too far away from the events and may have over analysed what has happened.

When I can’t find such realia from that time I have tried to repeat experience: travelled long distances on a train,  feeling the rumble beneath my feet, kept myself in a confined space, eaten war time food.

When even those two strategies fail, there is always the writer’s imagination,  very similar to what actors use. What if and how questions pop up. How did that school for disabled children  survive? How could Hans Edler work on th V2 bomb knowing it could harm his wife and child? What if Käthe Edler had remembered what she had in her bag when she saw that funny little man?

Setting almost becomes another character and should be developed as carefully as the personae of our stories. The questions go on and on.

Now then:

Which cut flowers would be available in London in September 1939?

What would your first day at a new school be like if you didn’t speak a word of the language?

What type of pigs did they have on a Barvarian farm in 1940?

Links:

The House on Schellberg Street - Schellberg Cycle 1 (Paperback)

https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-house-on-schellberg-street/gill-james/9781910542231

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Claras-Story-Holocaust-Biography-Schellberg/dp/1910542334

http://www.thehouseonschellbergstreet.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Life – My Country

BBC radio interview
Look what I found lurking among my old messages recently … this BBC Sussex & Surrey radio interview with Allison Fears took place in 2014, almost exactly four years ago.
It’s still relevant now, as I reveal pieces of my past life. If you persevere through the slight break towards the end of the interview, you will further understand the relevance, and learn a little about People Matter, the charity I am supporting with the proceeds of my new book.
I’ve always felt the people of Africa could teach the “developed” world a thing or two, and in the final chapter of the book, you will find an example from St. Peter’s Lifeline in Kenya of how this could happen.
GOING IT ALONE, a beginner’s guide to starting your own business, will be launched on 15th August, and if you pre-order the book, you will benefit from an introductory price of £.99 or $.99.
Here’s the Amazon link: https://bookgoodies.com/a/B07DN2RRXD
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Everything A Writer Could Need

A big welcome to Crooked Cat author Val Penny to talk about her favourite city, which just happens to be the setting for her exciting crime novels… (I, too, dreamed of being a ballerina, Val!)

Thank you for inviting me to your blog today, Jane. I am very excited because my second crime novel, ‘Hunter’s Revenge’ is published by Crooked Cats Books and available to pre-order from Amazon.

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The Police Station

The story is set in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. I think setting is very important to a novel and did consider creating an imaginary town for my story. However, I lived in Edinburgh for many years and know the city well. I definitely saw my main protagonist, Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson, as a city policeman. Also, Edinburgh is a beautiful city and it is lovely to ‘research’ by walking around my favourite places!

Edinburgh has everything a writer could need. It is a diverse city with all different kinds of buildings and people. It is small enough that characters can move around it quickly and large enough for it to be credible that anything I want to happen there, could happen.
Vicky's Edinburgh 1Edinburgh is a fabulous city with a castle, a palace and a cathedral, wealthy homes, horrible slums, fine restaurants, fast food outlets and idiosyncratic pubs. It is home to an Olympic size pool, the National Rugby Team and two famous football teams. It is also home to The Edinburgh International Festivals, what more could I or my characters want?

When I chose Edinburgh as the setting for my first novel ‘Hunter’s Chase’, I thought about it carefully. it is a beautiful city of around half a million people. I wanted the place to be big enough to support the series of books to form The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries, and I have no doubt that it fits the bill.
edinburgh persevereHunter Wilson is divorced. He lives in a flat in Leith, an area to the north of the City and drinks in his local pub, the Persevere Bar and plays darts there.

The delegated parliament of Scotland is where Hunter’s nemesis, Sir Peter Myerscough served as Justice Secretary. The Scottish Parliament has wide powers over how the people of Scotland are governed and meets in the Scottish Parliament Building, in the Holyrood district of the city.

Sir Peter Myerscough, has a fine home to the south in the Morningside district of Edinburgh. From his large house he has fine views across the Pentland Hills. The Pentland hills are situated just outside of Edinburgh. The reservoirs are picturesque and each hill is slightly different. If you are fit enough, you can visit the top of all of the hills in one day.

photos hermitage
The Hermitage of Braid

Another main character, Detective Constable Tim Myerscough is Sir Peter Myerscough’s son. He jogs through the unique park at The Hermitage of Braid and his favourite pub is the Golf Tavern, off the Bruntsfield Links where, it is claimed, the oldest golf course in the world is situated.

Edinburgh is such a diverse and cultural city home to the National Art Galleries, beautiful parks and all kinds of people. It is the perfect place to situate my new novel, ‘Hunter’s Revenge’ and all the cases DI Hunter Wilson has to solve.

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Val Penny is the author of The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. The first in the series, ‘Hunter’s Chase’, was published by Crooked Cat Books on 02/02/2018 while the sequel, ‘Hunter’s Revenge’, will be published on 09/09/2018. Both books are available to order from Amazon.

Hunter's Chase banner

Hunter’s Chase

 

 

Hunter's Revenge Cover

Hunter’s Revenge

author pic 2Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However, she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books.

She may be contacted at

www.authorvalpenny.com

www.facebook.com/valerie.penny.739

Friends of Hunter Wilson &The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries – www.facebook.com/groups/296295777444303

https://twitter.com/valeriepenny

 

 

 

 

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An Erudite Man, Well spoken and Highly Intelligent

Early March, 2018

Back in Nairobi, determined not to be reliant on others any more, I persuaded my daughter to lend me her car for a debut drive in the atrocious traffic conditions of the city. A good opportunity was a visit to my friend, John Sibi-Okumu, only just up the road from where I was staying.

John s-okumu

“It’s only ten minutes’ walk,” John told me over the phone. “My block of flats is opposite a land-mark pub. Call me when you get to my road.”

It might take him ten minutes to walk, I thought, but I’m old enough to be his mother; and I didn’t want to be knocked down while crossing the street, or to have my bag snatched…

It was midday, so the traffic was light, and I drove without mishap into the road John named. But I couldn’t see the pub anywhere. I’m no good on the mobile phone – can’t hear it at the best of times. I stopped, and compelling traffic to pause, did a three-point turn, eventually pulling into a nearby block of flats. I addressed an askari at the gate.

“The pub is down that road,” he said, pointing to a turn opposite.

I drove to the very end and stopped at some more gates to take out my mobile phone.

“Ask the askari for the mwalimu, (teacher),” John told me. “Then you walk to the top floor. There’s no lift.”

Puffing a little, I entered a large, well designed abode. John’s wife Kaari is a professional designer when she isn’t helping her mother to look after her disabled sister. John left me with Kaari for a while and we had plenty to talk about. She’d read both my books and had a question:

“What happened to Maina in Grass Shoots – perhaps he could be the subject of your next book…?” I pulled a face. I’ve resisted all thoughts of writing yet another Africa book, I don’t think I have the energy.

Kaari disappeared into their spacious kitchen while John showed me round the flat. He led me upstairs into his lair, a wonderful room lined with books. No – he hasn’t read them all, he told me in answer to my unspoken question. Everyone asks it. A lot of them are books handed to him as a good home by people who’ve left the country.

He showed me an adjoining study where he helps students to cram for their French exams. Then we sat in comfortable armchairs surrounded by the books and chatted. My eyes wandered along the shelves, and I saw several familiar titles. Dust was there, by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, a beautiful Kenyan read; and, by contrast, When the Crocodile Eats the Sun, a disturbing account of Zimbabwe’s past history, by Peter Godwin. John’s preferences are biographies and autobiographies. Although he has authenticated specified chapters of my two Africa books, he hasn’t read either of them through to the end! His favourite read is poetry, and he reads a poem every night before going to sleep.

He’s just emerged from a period in hospital and is not allowed to drive because of the medication. An erudite man, well-spoken and highly intelligent, he told me about plans to set up his study into a sound-proof room for reading talking-books for a US company. This would be much cheaper than him flying to the US, which charges a fortune and pays the reader only a meagre amount. John, with his thespian skills, would make a wonderful reader of Breath of Africa, I tell him.

He has written several plays, produced locally to full houses, but no publisher has wanted to take them on; so he’s thinking of writing a novel instead. But he also has an idea for yet another play, he wanted advice on the plot and especially the ending. I have a feeling he is full of enthusiasm and ideas, but wonder how many will come to fruition, given his health problems.

I asked him for his thoughts on my two novels becoming set books in Kenya schools. Not a chance, he replied. Wazungus (white people) writing about Africans is not PC in Kenya. But the Aga Khan Academies have their own curriculum, so there may be a chance there, although the sales wouldn’t be so good.

“What are the chances of them being published locally?” I asked. John offered to initiate steps and got straight onto his mobile phone to an editor friend,  who was busy. He tried another contact, then – always ready to help if he can – he suggested I leave copies of my books and if he finds a local publisher interested, he can send them over.

We could have gone on talking for hours, but I had to leave at 2pm to hand the car back to my daughter. John chivvied Kaari in the kitchen and lunch was finally produced. Delicious baked chicken joints, kachumbari – made with avocado, tomato and onions – and roast sweet potatoes, salad and gravy; followed by fruit salad.

We paused for a quiet prayer and I managed to eat my lunch and get away in time.

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A Lively Place with a Long History

I’m delighted to introduce another friend from Authonomy days – Polly Johnson. Her book, Stones, sticks in my mind as an unforgettable story, beautifully and sensitively written. You really must read it. Over to you, Polly to talk about the vibrant setting for your book.

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Stones was my first novel to be picked up. It is set in Brighton, an English seaside resort town (designated a city in 2000) about an hour out of London on the South coast. It has a broad shingle beach with the expected amusements and two piers – one still running and the other a black skeleton after a fire destroyed it. It also boasts the famous Brighton Pavilion, built as a seaside pleasure palace for King George IV, and is known as a young, diverse and arty place to visit with unusual shops in it’s Lanes and North Laine.

 A lively place with a long history, we love to visit our friends in Brighton. I was asked in an interview – why set the book there? And there are two answers to that. One is that I honestly had little part in it. Stones was the result of an attempt to recapture the joy I used to take in writing just for myself, but lost in the busy round of adult life. It was a ‘start typing and see…’ exercise, and the characters and setting just appeared without my active choice. The second reason, if I had thought about it first, would be the nature of the place itself.

beach

It is perfect for the story in that both the main character and Brighton itself contain contrasts. On the surface there is sea, candy floss, fun to be had, but underneath there is another side, which is true of most places, but especially in seaside towns where the surface looks so alluring (think Brighton Rock by Graham Greene). With this in mind, I went along with one of my daughters to take photographs to use back home when doing my first edit, so the pictures here are not sharp and beautiful, or even particularly attractive. For Brighton’s sake, I’d urge people to google and see all it has to offer. These, though, are the photographs we took that day.

brighton boats
The beach and pier both play a part in Coo’s story and are the well recognised face that most people know. The Palace Pier, was built to replace The Chain Pier which never made it past construction in 1896. It was popular as a theatre and entertainment centre and continued to function up to the 1970’s, when it was damaged and rebuilt, reappearing as an amusement park with fairground rides and arcade.

Brighton pierThe West Pier, which features on the book’s cover, was opened in 1866 and was the first to be Grade I listed. It closed in 1975 and since then, neglect and a fire means it has become increasingly derelict and is now considered to be beyond repair. It is perhaps a more fitting symbol for Coo than its neighbour.

Other places invented for the book – the landscape that Banks, the anti-hero of the story would be more familiar with – we had to go and search for (a treasure hunt without any clues.) Riding along the sea-front on the Volks  railway we were on the lookout for a place where Banks and his homeless friends might live, and there, right at the end of the line, almost up to the marina, we saw this:

The Mansion This became ‘The Mansion’ and we couldn’t believe how perfect it was. All we needed now was the bench that Coo and Banks sat on to talk – and as we walked back from the mansion towards the town – very close by, we found it:

The bench
Coo and Banks have many talks here, and although the story might sound rather downbeat, it is also full of hope and a kind of magic that both the main characters are trying to find in each other. It was also rather magical to find these two settings right next to each other, already perfectly imagined, and strange to leave them and return to the colourful seafront.

The StreetSo, my photographs are grainy and don’t really show the many attractive sights that Brighton bubbles with in all its variety and creativity, but this other side of things is as much a part of the story as the other, and Coo, the main character, moves between them, in and out, as easily as the clouds that cross the beach.

Stones

In STONES, Coo is trying to cope with the hand that life has dealt her. At sixteen, she feels she’s too young to have lost her older brother, Sam, to alcoholism. She’s skipping school to avoid the sympathy and questions of her friends and teachers, and shunning her parents, angry that they failed to protect her. Then, one day, truanting by the Brighton seafront, Coo meets Banks, a homeless alcoholic and she’s surprised to discover that it is possible for her life to get more complicated. It is also available here:

Polly Johnson

Polly Johnson lives just outside London. She works with special needs students and is working on her second YA novel, while an adult novel is currently with her agent.


 

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