Carol and I recently went for a week in the coastal town of Whitby. It is located on the north east side of England, if you’re located outside the UK and wondering, and it’s lovely. I went there when I was about three or four years-old with my mother, father, cousin, and grandparents. Then, after my middle brother had been born, I went back with just him, Mum and Dad.
A few years ago I persuaded Carol to come and have a look at the place, and she fell in love with it. The fishing harbour, the swinging bridge (which parts in the middle to allow boats to pass through) the old part of town with its vintage buildings and cobbled street, the 199 steps stretching up to St Mary’s church, and the old ruined abbey. It’s all potent stuff.
Little wonder, then, that Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula while he was there, and that other writers like GP Taylor (author of Shadowmancer, which started out as a self-published novel before being picked up by Faber & Faber and becoming an international hit) have followed suit.
One of the things I learned from The Writers Bureau correspondence course is how to make a story feel authentic, how to make it feel true. One way is to thoroughly research your subject so that reader discerns that you know your subject. Another way is to write about things you know from personal experience. With Anne Droyd and Century Lodge (CL), I employed the latter method. I combined the essence of the things I loved in childhood (Stig of the Dump, The Famous Five, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, The Red Hand Gang, Grange Hill and Doctor Who) with the way I felt during my early teens (I was a combination of Gezz, Malcolm and Anne, and envied the self confidence I saw in youngsters who were like Luke), and set it in places I had known (the school I went to, the den on the railway embankment and how I wished it could be, and the housing estate near where I was living at the time).
This time around, with Anne Droyd and the House of Shadows (HOS), I am utilising my memories of family holidays, travelling by coach, and the town of Whitby. Thrown into the mix is a particular theme I want to explore and a plot device that has always fascinated me (you’ll find out what they are when you read it!). Additionally, there are one or two things that were present in Whitby when I was a child that no longer exist.
One of these is the miniature railway which I adored. The layout is still there, but the train track has gone and a train shaped engine pulls two carriages on wheels across smooth concrete. Talk about cost cutting! Well, I was so annoyed that they’d got rid of the little train when I returned to Whitby as an adult that I have reintroduced it to the setting in the book.
That’s one of the pleasures of fictionalising a real place.
While I was in Whitby I took time to wander about, note book in hand, and get the names of the streets and the dimensions of the place. I also knuckled down with the writing, and I’m pleased to announce that I am now 150 paperback sized pages into HOS.
Even before I started writing this new book, I had a feeling that it was going to be fun. I have set the story just a few months after the events of CL, and the adventure picks up where the first one left off. The characters develop in a very natural way, and Anne is now central to their lives. It’s a lovely thing, having introduced Anne to the three main characters in CL, to be able to have her there from the very first page of HOS.
I estimate that I’ll have the whole story completed by the end of summer. After that, I will be farming out copies to see what people think. Then I’ll be doing an edit. Then it’s off to my editor, who will find everything that’s wrong with it, and then it will be the big one – the major edit.
It’s unlikely now that the book will be ready for November. I think February’s half term holiday is a much more realistic projection. One of the pluses of having complete control over a project like this is being able to set your own deadlines. If there are setbacks, all I need do is announce a fresh release date.
At the present time I'm on target.