Research as the springboard for fiction.
With my background in history and sociology I have researched material, people and places which have in the first place been nothing to do with my fiction. Some of this was for academic essays, reports and journalism. But alongside this is fiction. One example of this is Paulie’s Web (see sidebar) which emerged from work and enquiry in a women’s prison.
|Twins appear in more than one novel|
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A Dark Light Shining came from quite another place.
One day the vicar of what had been Witton Park - which had been a cruelly poor village in the 1930 - asked if I would record interviews with old people there – one was a hundred years old – who had experienced that village throughout the twentieth century. I interviewed a number of these very interesting people and duly created a transcribed archive.
One of the youngest of these people – a lovely lady in her mid seventies - had been the daughter of a shopkeeper – marginally less poor than her neighbours.
I asked her about holidays.
‘Oh!’ she said ‘I never had a holiday until I was forty.’ She paused. ‘Except for when I was twenty one, when I went to Nice in the South of France. Thomas Cook. Twenty six pounds seventeen and six. I went by train. On my own. Two women joined me on the train. One got on near Birmingham. She was a bookmaker’s wife. The other got on the train in London. She was very beautiful, what they called a model and was going to meet her man friend down there. We stayed in different kinds of hotel but we met every morning to swim and drink hot chocolate. I stayed in an auberge and the waiter introduced me to Sauternes. I have drunk that ever since. Right up till now.’
‘Why France?’ I asked.
‘There was this woman who came to live in the village. She was different, She even wore trousers. She was married to a man who had been injured in the great war. Shell shock, you know! Anyway in the Great War she’d gone to France, rented a house behind the lines so she could be near him. She loved France. Told me all about it. She had maps. So when my father drew an insurance when I was twenty one and asked me where I wanted to go, I said France.’ She showed me a treasured pale green fabric belt that she had worn on that holiday.
(NB in the novel this woman is transformed into Jenefer Loumis. And the young girl traveller becomes Finnuola – called Finn. See below.)
It seemed incredible: a naïve young village girl aged 21-going-on-12 making that journey one her own around 1933. I checked the Thomas Cook archive in London and found she was not alone in travelling alone in Europe in the 1930s. Then, researching the historical background, I became interested in the fact that her unique personal adventure took place in the year that Hitler came to power in Germany.
Fiction emerging from Fact:
After a year or so all these fragments came together like iron filings under a magnet and this novel – this fiction – came to life as A Dark Light Shining. By this time the character Finnuola is her own self, not the lady from the shop. And she is surrounded by characters also purely invented by me, driven into life by the narrative. So there is the point where the story becomes its own self quite apart from the research which inspired it.
From the beginning: In the village
‘ … Inside the house, Jenefer had Michael’s money neatly stacked. ‘Thank you Michael. Hubert could not have done without you. He feels comfortable with you.’
Michael shrugged. ‘He’s a queer old coot, but he’s no harm.’
Jenefer smiled at him. ‘Finn was telling me you have twin sisters. i’d love to see them. My father was a twin. Strange phenomenon, twins.’
He looked around the warm cluttered kirched which smelled of herbs and smokey geraniums. ‘They want nothing here, Mrs Loumis. You’ll forgive me.’
She smiled straight into his eyes. ‘Well, Michael, if those twins fall sick or they need anything, you bring them to me.’
He put his cap back on his head. ‘Well, thank you for the pay. If you want anything else done, you know where to find us.’ He turned on his heel and left.
Jenefer turned her smile on Finn. ‘I think I’ve made progress with that young man Finn.’
Finn leaned against the dresser. ‘You turn your charm on the lot of us Jenefer We’re all sows ears turning into silk purses aren’t we?’
From near the end: In France
(After swimming with Finn, Kate, the ‘model’ has met Denis Constandine -a leading British Fascist - in her swish hotel bedroom…’
…He wrinkled his nose I thought you’d want to get rid of the nasty salt water and that awful smell of Fleury’s chocolate’ He looked at the bed. ‘And a little rest before your evening’s activities.’
She took her silk wrap from the wardrobe. ‘I’m not waiting around here for you. I’m going dancing tonight. At the Blue Cat.’
‘Ah with your little friend Finn? Not indulging in private enterprise I hope. You know our little arrangement. An exclusive contract.’ He watched her as she peeled off her clothes, rubbed her fingers together and licked them, tasting the sea on her lips. She looked at him directly. ‘There’s nothing in our agreement that says I can’t enjoy my holiday.’
(Later… Kate and Finn are in the Blue Cat, where the floor is made of glass.)
‘You might not be able to swim, Finn, but you certainly can dance,‘ said Kate as Finn was handed back off the dancefloer to the table by an engineer from Coventry. ‘Where did you learn to dance like that? Are there lots of dancehalls in tht queer little place you come from?’
Finn shook her head, ‘I have a friend. We dance to her pramophine, with her husband. It’s much easier here with that orchestra. At least you don’t have to wind them up all the time.’ She laughed, And the floor! They won’t believe me when I tell them about the floor!’
The dance florr was not large but was made entirely of glass, Dancing was like gliding on ice.
Research point: There was such a place and the floor was made of glass…
Marathon Author’s Note: I had forgotten that in the background I have Jonty Clelland, pacifist and activist from Riches of The Earth and Land of Your Possession, alongside his gifted wife Susanah.
I hope you enjoy it!
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Riches of the Earth
Under a Brighter Sky
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