A trip down memory lane in Norfolk

For our holiday, my family and I crossed the expanse of the Midlands to visit the Norfolk coast. We drove through The Fens, where parents lived out their childhood, and saw the house where my mother was born, the market town where my father’s family had a store and by the side of a road, the cemetry where my grandparents are buried. It has been probably twenty years since I last visited these memory spots. Locating them wasn’t difficult, my memories are locked in, but they weren’t the same. A door had moved and why did I recall an upright gravestone, when in fact it is flat in the ground? The little alterations that I had made in my mind had stuck and I corrected them, chiding myself for not recalling the finer details.

Then on to the coast and the chance to see more places I visited as a small child and from which I took the inspiration for my book, The Women of Heachley Hall. Heachley doesn’t exist, but the woods around Heacham do. There is no Little Knottisham, my fictional hamlet, but Snettisham, Dersingham and Ringstead are real. The latter being the village where my grandfather was born. We drove through it, passed the flintstone cottages. I tried to capture those round stones in the walls of Heachley Hall because I knew they were significant for the region.

We came across a major fire – a haystack fully alight on the top of a hill. On the other side of the field, a small piece of hot black plastic had blown over and caught the dry grasses of a hedgerow. The smouldering fire quickly spread and we called the fire service, alarmed at the proximity of a row of houses. A few hours later, the field was black charcoal (according to the news reports) and the gardens of one house had suffered. How quickly devastation arrives, sweeping its way across the tinderbox of drought ridden fields. I never thought when I wrote my book and described how a house fire spread to a neighbouring wood that it would be played out miles from where I imagined my story to be set. Thankfully, the fire service saved the houses and the fire was contained.

Above Old Hunstanton cliffs, we ate ice-cream in the sweltering heat and down on the beach, paddled in the tidal pools. The cliff face in places had collapsed just below the prominent, inoperative lighthouse. I snapped photos, wanting to frame the images just as I described them in my book. The late afternoon sun loitered in the sky above the sea – an unusual feature of the east coast where the sun typically rises over the sea and sets over land. The curvature of the coastline allows the sun to track the beaches from East to West.

There, done. I felt satisfied. Mission accomplished. I might not live in Norfolk, but the connection to the county remains strong. I’m so glad I chose to set a book about memories where my memories live on.

As for my next work – I remain in East Anglia. Can’t seem to let go of the region.

The Women of Heachley Hall is now available on iBooks, Kobo, Nook and Indigo

The story is intriguing and at times had me on the edge of my seat. The book is beautifully written and the story tempts the reader with snippets of clues throughout the book. The house itself is almost a breathing entity with its own personality and I loved this about it. A cleverly written plot that drew me in and had me wandering the rooms of Heachley Hall along with Miriam. A story about love, regret and the secrets families keep. Highly recommended.  ~ Brook Cottage Books

 

Merging fact and fiction #amwriting

I wanted to set a book near Hunstanton. I have memories of Hunstanton that have stuck around and it seemed a good a place as any to write book. The choice of location reminds me of a debate I once saw on Facebook amongst authors – do you use real locations in your books?

Hunstanton is on the western side of Norfolk and is remarkable because as the town faces west, it can witness the sun setting over the sea. Most of Eastern England doesn’t have this view. I wanted to draw this feature into my story. But how far should you go with using real places?  I mention the lighthouse and library, which I admit, I’ve never visited. I only remember the long stretch of beach and the sea from my childhood visits. I actually based the library on another one I visit regularly in East Anglia.

I needed a house for Miriam, a Victorian mansion with flintstone walls, which are a feature of old houses in the area. I made up a name for it and the local village; Little Knottisham does sound similar to other villages in the area. If you were to give me a map, I’d know precisely where my imaginary house existed, but it isn’t there.

The world around Heachley Hall is real. I mention Docking, a small village east of Hunstanton that once had a workhouse and I used real newspaper articles about it to help with a sub-plot. In 1881, it had 86 residents, quite remarkable and depressing for a village. The workhouse still stands and has been converted in individual houses.

Miriam visits Kings Lynn and Norwich, but only briefly, so I didn’t need to bother with the details and as for her home city of Chelmsford, a fleeting excursion in one chapter hardly required any research.

So what was the general advice given to authors about locations? Don’t use your own street, which seems pretty obvious. Don’t pick somewhere real if you’re not prepared to do a little research. Readers will spot serious mistakes. Try to stay genuine about the look and feel of a place. How are houses built? Is the scenery pasture or arable? Does the city have skyscrapers? Are there forests and hills? What kind of weather is common?

There is snow in my wintery scenes. It can snow in East Anglia, but rarely heavily. This year Norfolk received a blanket of whiteness thanks to the Beast from the East. Now at least my little piece of fiction can be justified as fact.

 


When Miriam discovers she’s the sole heir to her great-aunt’s fortune, she can’t believe her luck. However, to earn her inheritance, she must live one year in a decaying mansion.

Miriam is desperate to discover the truth behind Felicity’s peculiar terms.

Has something tragic happened at Heachley Hall?

Opening Chapter –  Exploring Heachley Hall

Pre-order The Women of Heachley Hall – release date 4 May – special, limited time offer 99p.

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Goodreads:

The story is beautifully constructed and precious, and it is very satisfying. If you are one of those readers who hate cliff-hangers and always feel that there is some explanation missing and you’d like to know a bit more, you’ll be over the moon when you read this novel.

This beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it. It is easy to empathise with Miriam but there is a surprising conclusion which you are unlikely to predict. Reminding me of the books of Kate Morton, this is a story for lovers of ghost stories, history and romance.

I utterly loved this book from start to finish. A haunting romance full of intrigue. I was enthralled and had to keep reading, I needed to know what happens next, the end of every chapter left me wanting more.