Places in mind…

I have always loved the countryside and spent a lot of time playing outside, as a child. I grew up on farms and nurseries and so, the appeal of the countryside has remained with me – and, particularly, the region in which I grew up and live now; West Sussex.

Writing Under the Yew Tree gave me license to remember the landscapes of my childhood and investigate further the activities and dynamics of the villages and farming communities I grew up with and worked within during my career.  I certainly had some key places in mind, whilst writing and several of my readers of Under the Yew Tree claim to recognise some of my landscape descriptions.

The village of Watersham itself in the book is a combination of villages local to where I live, in which you can imagine life in the 1940s; children walking to primary school; local shops and places of interest including the baker, the grocer, a tearoom, the church hall; and boys getting up to no good in the woods on the outskirts of the village!

Many of the descriptions of Downland views are based on areas of the South Downs outside Chichester, Arundel and north of Worthing, in West Sussex.

Village life in those days was a much tighter, closer-knit, and self-sustainable existence and I must admit, an element of that still appeals to me…

Wherefore art thou, Inspiration?

The question every author is asked, about every book they write: What inspired you? Where did you get your inspiration…?

Having penned my first novel, I know this is not such an easy question to answer. Few real-life incidents warrant an entire story or novel; most are mundane eventualities best forgotten! But if you start collecting them; noting them down, taking a photograph, recording noises, voices, programmers… they grow in substance.

My first thought about writing a novel was as long ago as 2009 but I’m still not sure what or why it happened. I have no idea what triggered it, but I woke one morning with an entire outline of a story in my head. It was so vivid in my mind that I jumped out of bed and wrote down the chapter headings so I didn’t ‘lose the plot’ – literally!

Writing it down enabled me to keep the thoughts together until I was ready to write. Honestly, until the day I published, the actual bare bones of the story didn’t change. But there was a curious development.

I thought my story was about the French resistance – it followed the same plot, but in my mind, it was set in France, not England. I was thinking about the French Resistance, yet something didn’t feel right. Until it clicked and I realised the story was about the English resistance. Then I thought of my father, some of the stories he told me, plus others I had heard and the whole thing flowed…

I know my father was in the Home Guard during World War II, during which he carried out night patrols. But why did he have a machine gun under the bed?! Was it really that bad?! I started my research and discovered how close this country actually was to an invasion – with Churchill’s ‘hidden army’ – and that set my imagination on fire!

So, I put my mind to it and started putting meat on the bones of my story, which I steadily padded out over the years, whenever I read, heard or saw something that might fit. I researched areas that interested me; collecting ideas, notes, images. We know a great deal about the French Resistance; the Spanish and the Italian, but what would we have done here in Britain? How would we have coped and defended our little island?

I imagined landscapes and countryside that I knew so well from childhood and once I imagined I was in the locations, I could feel the presence through my senses; hear the sound of the twig snap; smell the damp earth in the yew forest; feel the cool spring air… the pieces of the jigsaw fitted together, and the story wrote itself, as they say!

So, Under the Yew Tree was born. But there is more to come! The research continues; my creative juices are flowing and Ash before Oak is in progress…