Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have been rather chatty in the last two weeks. In fact there have even been days when I have written more then one blog post. This is mainly because I had finished the first draft of my next book, Last Christmas (which is coming out next Christmas).
I use the word "finish" advisedly. This is the fifth novel I've written (seventh if you include two unpubbed children's books) and over the ten years I've been plugging away at this I've come to realise that my MO tends to be to get the story out as quickly as I can, and then go back and fill in all the gaps, insert a bit more depth and spend lots of time polishing. When I first started out I used to revise as I went and it nearly drove me demented, as well as having the unfortunate effect of editing out any of the energy and impetus of the original version. Plus I usually hated it when I came to look at it again. This way I throw the story out warts and all and then take a long hard look at it when it comes winging its way back from my editor and agent.
Good news this time is editor and agent both like it (What, said Spouse, would you do if they didn't????), phew. Other good news it's coming back in time for me to be in the proper pre-festive mode suitable for writing a book about Chrimbo. I can't TELL you how hard it was writing about Christmas in July. I kept all the kids' nativity bits and pieces and letters to Santa (have been hiding them all year, they've just written new ones which is handy), have got stacks of Christmas books to look at, lists of Christmas carols to choose from and last year's Argos catalogue. But there is absolutely nothing like having that sinking feeling I got to today when I realised there's a month to go and I've barely started, to dig deep into what it really means to plan Christmas in all it's glory(which is vital for one of my characters).
For this book I have created a village in Shropshire called Hope Christmas, which is loosely based on the town where my mother lives, and where I got married. Hope Christmas is both like and unlike my mother's town as I have picked and chosen the bits I like best. I spent a few days with me ma and the sprogs over half term, really trying to get the geography and location really fixed in my head. It was quite weird in a way as I have been visiting my mother's town for twenty years and there were some views I felt like I was looking at for the very very first time. I tried to keep a very strong picture of the places I visited in my head, so I can write them properly into the book, but I also took lots of photos as an aide memoire.
So here are a few of the locations for Hope Christmas, which I like so much now I want to live there...
One of the locations I've made up in the environs of Hope Christmas is a place called Hopesay Manor. It doesn't look quite like this, but Stokesay Castle picture below was a great model.
Here's an outside view
Here's the mediaeval entrance, unchanged apparently since the 12th century. Fabulous.
And here's the Great Hall
I have also drawn huge inspiration from Walcott Hall which has a wonderful drive way and lake in front of it, for the outside of my manor.
Plowden Hall provided me with my initial inspiration, having as it does a mediaeval chapel, which I have used as the basis of the chapel in Hopesay Manor which is a vital part of the plot.
I also scoured the area to find various houses that my characters live in. Two of them live up a lane by a stream, which I found here, just outside my mother's town.
This is the track to my hero's house
And this is the track that leads from his house to the hills where he farms his sheep
And the stream near where he lives, which has a vital part to play in the story...
And finally, here is a valley which my heroine walks in constantly. It's also somewhere I have walked more times then I care to remember over the last 20 years, and for which I have an abiding passion. Every time I go there it looks different, depending on the season, the weather and whether the heather is in flower, or the gorse is going golden. It is the most wonderful magical place, and has had a hold on my imagination since I was a small child and first read Malcolm Saville's brilliant Lone Pine Adventures which are partially set in this area. My parents very conveniently chose to retire here so not only could I have my wedding in the most wonderful location,but also come and visit regularly and use it for my own inpsirational purposes. Thanks parents...
So now it's back to the grindstone. Doing a lot more research to make sure I have got things right. Trying to pull out the depth of emotion I'm after. Making sure my character's dilemmas feel real and true. Having actually the best time of my life, and best of all getting paid for it.
I can't wait.