This Blog Post is a celebration of my award-winning publisher Choc Lit’s sixth birthday, which just happens to be today. Yes, for six years they’ve been giving us a fabulous selection of romantic fiction – and one of the loveliest things about the Choc Lit books is that there is a book for every taste. If you like timeslip, you can get a timeslip. If you like paranormal, you can get a paranormal. If you fancy a mystery or a romantic suspense or an historical or something altogether more contemporary, you can get that too. So, to celebrate the ‘6’ thing, a few of us Chocliteers decided to blog today about the number six and talk about six things we thought might be interesting.
And I decided to write about six places I have, indeed, written about.
Whitby is on the North Yorkshire coast, and it is perhaps most famous for being a setting in Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula. Whitby is also the setting for my Choc Lit debut Some Veil Did Fall, and the book starts during Goth Weekend, with journalist Becky down there freelancing and writing articles. At Whitby, she bumps into Jon, a photographer and tries on a Victorian dress – after which, all sorts of strange things begin to happen to her. I attended my very first Goth Weekend just after Veil was published, along with fellow Chocliteer Jane Lovering and we got dressed up in a very Gothy style and did a book signing in the beautiful little independent Whitby bookshop. And hey, we even sold some books! It was truly an amazing day.
I live about 45 minutes from Hadrian’s Wall, and it is a place we visit quite frequently. One of my favourite parts of the wall is Coventina’s Well, which was a sacred well near the Mithraic Temple at Carrawburgh, situated in a quiet field half way between Chesters and Houseteads. Coventina’s Well was excavated in the nineteenth century and a huge amount of Pagan artefacts were found there, thrown into the seven feet deep shaft for a reason nobody knows. There’s not much left of the Well now except a deep puddle, but it is the most fantastic place to stand quietly and absorb the very spiritual atmosphere of the place. You have a triangle with that at one point, the now vanished Shrine to the Water Nymphs at another and the Temple of Mithras at the third. How could it be anything but special? My book The Memory of Snow is set there – a ghostly timeslip story that might go some way to describing why those artefacts were thrown into the Well…
You can maybe tell I’m from the north east of England by the sort of places I choose to set my stories in. Refuge, my vampire novel, is largely set on Lindisfarne – or Holy Island as it is known. Lindisfarne is cut off from the mainland most of the time, but when the tide goes out you can cross the causeway and visit it. It’s a wonderful place and quite a cradle of Christianity, being the place that the Lindisfarne Gospels originate from and the place where Saint Cuthbert was Bishop. My overactive imagination began to think of the following paradox – what if you were trapped somewhere so Holy with something that was pure evil? And that, dear Reader, is how Refuge started.
Belsay Hall is a stately home in the care of English Heritage, a few miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne. There are some beautiful gardens carved out of a quarry -and you can walk from a Grecian style Georgian house to a medieval castle, via a Victorian tea room if you so wish. As the house and castle are spacious and empty, Belsay have hosted some stunning art installations and exhibitions as it’s actually the perfect place to show them off. I shall never forget seeing Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy shirt there, or hearing the story of Kitty, the daughter of the house whose coming out ball in the early 20th century was so famed in the area, that one exhibition celebrated it by having a ‘ghost’ Kitty stare out at you from a mirror. The ghost Kitty silently brushed her hair and contemplated her future, while a pile of china teacups spilled out of another room and a large, white tree grew out of her bed. A few years ago Belsay exhibited Lucky Spot, a horse made of thousands of crystals, suspended from the ceiling and designed by Stella McCartney, and Belsay and English Heritage subsequently ran a national creative writing competition for stories about Spot. I discovered the competition on the Sunday, wrote and submitted the story on the Monday (one day before the closing date) and found out on the Friday I had won it. It was an incredible feeling and one of the best things about winning was meeting competition judge and Skellig author David Almond and having him tell me how much he loved my story. To hear that from him was one of the best validations for my writing ever!
Ahhh Edinburgh. One of my favourite cities and a special place to me, because I graduated at Edinburgh, at the beautiful Usher Hall last year. Standing on that stage in my robes, clutching my First Class Degree from the Open University will always be in my top ten experiences. I set another vampire story there not long after I wrote the Belsay story, and that was published in a short story anthology called Fangtales. In my head, I could track my character’s progress through the streets and experience the shivers of my heroine as she found herself in a graveyard with a couple of the Undead – and it is still an ambition of mine to do a proper ghost tour of Edinburgh’s cemeteries. They have some awe-inspiring tombstones up there!
Yes, it’s not ‘north’ is it? But as we approach the Summer Solstice, I thought I would add it in here because I set part of a short story at Stonehenge, and that story was published in an anthology called Voices of Angels. My heroine had never been to the Summer Solstice ceremony, and it was one of the first things she did when she managed to escape her miserable relationship. I also studied Stonehenge and several other sacred spaces for one of my degree courses and wrote a very long essay on it which scored a very good mark -so I like Stonehenge very much. I like the mystery and the whole idea of the place and as one of my works in progress is a sort of sequel to Memory of Snow and involves a Druid Priestess and another standing stone circle – this time on Hadrian’s Wall, and it is real and does exist actually – it’s definitely worth including Stonehenge here in my Choc Lit Six of the Best. Happy Birthday Choc Lit!