I love history. Not the facts – the dates – the politics, but the feeling of history, of those who’ve lived before me.
I feel it in my unchanged local churchyard, along ancient footpaths, and particularly in old gardens. It’s a kind of presence. In these places it’s easy to conjure characters and give them life, imagine their lives, their loves and how they felt; and for me, characters evolve and don’t really come to life until they’ve spoken for a while – began to tell their story.
I remember many years ago I used to walk a very unpromising footpath on the outskirts of a large town. I got that feeling of presence there despite its route; and then when the last cornfield was developed, they were obliged to do an archaeological dig and found the remains of an iron age settlement. It’s what made me want to write, to explore the thought that I’m treading in other people’s footsteps.
Although I’ll never write anything that involves mobile phones, as well as the eighteen-century, I have written about the fifties and the sixties. A Child of Avalon, is just released, and I’m desperate to get back to writing Florence – a bit later but phones were like bricks then and few and far between. I don’t think that will hamper me.
Working with a poor memory
I’ve got a terrible memory. Always bad, it’s got worse as I’ve got older so I do my research broadly to start with and then as I go. Its amazing what you learn. Reading the statistics of recorded hangings in Exeter, I was quite moved to understand why so many women were hung for the murder of their – as they put it, new-born child. There also seemed to be an importance attached to the gender of the child, as though the crime of murdering a male child was more heinous that a female. A different world, I had to conclude.
I didn’t start writing until I drew my pension – less guilt, and that’s what it always been, a guilty secret. I tell myself I must stop at five books, a decade is long enough, but I probably won’t.