Our roots are something we can’t escape no matter how far we roam. Roots are the things that anchor us in the soil of the place we think of as home and the place we return to at some time in our lives.
While I feel at home in Pembrokeshire, where I’ve lived for the past twenty-six years near the village where The Silence of the Stones is based, my roots will always anchor me firmly in Northamptonshire, where I was born and lived until 1992. My family’s roots go back for many generations in the villages to the north and south of Northampton. Their names are dear to me – Warkton, Isham, Walgrave, Yardley Hastings, Brafield-on-the-Green, Adstone, Maidford, Woodend – and of course, the market town of Kettering where I was born and went to school.
Many of my novels have grown from these roots though the branches have taken me back in time and across the globe to the Australias and to the trenches of Gallipoli. My characters have also grown from these roots and many are inspired by the people I’ve discovered while researching my family history and therefore their stories. In fact, now I think of it, only Where Hope Dares has nothing of my roots in it, only my love of my planet and my fears for its future.
Walt, in Touching the Wire, lived his post-war life in Kettering in the back-street terraced house where I spent the first year of my life. This house also features in The Dandelion Clock, the story of my grandparents’ trials during World War One, and Bill, who hailed originally from Warkton, was a bootlast maker, part of the traditional shoe-manufacturing industry of Kettering.
The village of Yardley Hastings was where my maternal grandmother was born, and it’s her errant relations that drove my historical series For Their Country’s Good, a fact-based tale of convicts transported to the colonies for shooting and killing a gamekeeper. The uncovering, bit by astonishing bit, of the facts behind this half-believed family story was a revelation of epic proportions.
It wasn’t until I researched another family story, this time my paternal grandmother’s family, that I discovered some of the facts behind my great-grandfather marrying sisters. Not a big deal, you’d think, until you realise that he did it sixteen years before it was legalised in 1907 due to maiden aunts often taking over the raising of their dead sister’s children and marriage being preferable to avoid the temptations of the flesh that ensued.
It’s amazing, sometimes, how the facts I uncover support the story I have in my mind. I’ve no idea how much of Kindred and Affinity, due out in 2019, is true, but it must have been a desperate decision to take bearing mind that her family were Baptists and Methodists at a time when faith was more strictly adhered to than might be the case nowadays. As one gentleman put it in a contemporary letter to a lady considering such a union ‘It is against the laws of Kindred and Affinity in the Book of Common Prayer, and God will surely damn you to eternal hell.’ Strong words to ignore at your soul’s peril.
Again, the strengthening of my roots, as they dug deeply during the research and writing of these stories, has anchored me more firmly, and I’m glad to have these tales to leave to my children and grandchildren, whose roots and homes are still in Northampton, to secure them and give them a ‘place’ to which to return from wherever life takes them.
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Coming 2019 Kindred and Affinity