Monday 1 April 2019
Research, travel, and writing
This year, I'm involved with a good many library events of one kind or another, and there are also books to be written and to be researched. So when I was invited to give a talk about Gallows Court at Middlesbrough Central Library, I thought it would be a good plan to combine the trip with some research activity, mainly related to my work-in-progress, Mortmain Hall, which will be the sequel to Gallows Court.
A key setting in Mortmain Hall is on the Yorkshire coast, and although the Mortmain peninsula doesn't exist, the real-life places that were its inspiration are Flamborough Head and Ravenscar, two fascinating spots that I wanted to take a closer look at. Why do this, when the setting in the book is invented? My reasoning is that although my books are most definitely works of fiction, I like them to have that "feel" of authenticity that only comes from seeing for oneself how the land lies. I'm not trying to get background precisely right in a slavish or pedantic way, but rather to get a sense of atmosphere, as well as seeking a clue about specifics (an obscure example, for instance, being: what sound do stonechats make when they sing in the Yorkshire grassland?) which help to give the narrative touches of depth. And I was very lucky that last week's excellent weather made the trip delightful as well as informative.
Flamborough Head is a peninsula to the south of Scarborough, with a limestone and fascinating chalk cliffs. Ravenscar, just north of Scarborough, is a place which made a great impression on me when I was a boy; during a holiday, my parents took me there, to "the town that never was". Ravenscar was, at the end of the nineteenth century, intended to be transformed into a new seaside resort. But the company which ran the enterprise collapsed, and only a few buildings and roads were left. The result was eerie but also highly atmospheric. I loved having the chance to spend time there, and to explore the local area as well as staying at the excellent old Raven Hall Hotel - a great place, with its own battlements and some interesting wildlife nearby...
And then it was on to Middlesbrough, via two fishing villages, Robin Hood's Bay and Staithes, which might just have inspired another story setting. Yes, I came away with rather more research material than I can fit into Mortmain Hall, which was a real bonus. It's nearly nine years since I last gave a talk at the excellent Central Library, as I discovered to my surprise when I checked this very blog to see what I said about that trip in 2010, and I was delighted to make a return visit. And to sign copies of the new paperback, and to meet Richard, of Drakes' Bookshop in Stockton. All in all, a trip that was both enjoyable and invaluable.