Things aren’t always what they seem…
As well as my published novels, over the years I’ve had over fifty articles and short stories published in magazines. One thing that’s very important to me when I’m writing is location. I’ve rarely set a story in a place I haven’t visited personally, and certainly never a novel. To write convincingly I think I need to look at the sky first, feel the wind in my hair, and generally get the smell of a place before I start.
However, not all the places mentioned in The Paradise Trees can be found on a map. York and Bedford are of course real and are home to a couple of friends as well as some of my family. I’ve stayed in York and Ilkley many times, visited other towns and villages, hiked over the moors. But the trio of ‘Yorkshire villages’ in my book – Lower, Middle and Upper Banford, are entirely fictional.
And yet they do exist. The main action in The Paradise Trees takes place in and around Lower Banford, so I needed to make the village believable.
Problem 1 – the only village I really know in the sense of having lived there is on a west coast island. Whiting Bay on the Isle of Arran, to be exact. (I spent many happy teenage summers both holidaying and summer-jobbing there.)
Problem 2 – an island location really didn’t fit the plot of my book. I needed a more central place, somewhere the family in the story could drive back and forwards to without putting themselves at the mercy of ferry boats which in turn are at the mercy of the Scottish weather. (See above photo. We did get off the island that day, but it was a close thing!) It also had to be a place where an international business conference could be held without straining coincidence too far.
So I took Whiting Bay plus two neighbouring villages, turned them into Lower, Middle and Upper Banford and put them ‘somewhere in Yorkshire’, about an hour’s bus trip from York. This meant that I knew the exact feeling in my village; I knew the way the local people interacted. I knew the area, and I knew what it would be like to go there from a bigger place to stay for the summer, like Alicia and Jenny did in The Paradise Trees.
With the village settled, I turned to the woods which play such a big part in my plot.
I was a city child; I don’t remember ever playing in woodland. But here in Switzerland there’s a lovely little wood just five minutes from my front door and it’s exactly the right size. If you stood at one end and yelled for all you were worth, your eight-year-old daughter playing out of sight amongst the trees would hear you. Just what I needed for Jenny and her mum. Nothing easier for me than to stand in the middle of my wood and listen, and smell, and feel the magic that Jenny would feel.
So there you have it. The Paradise Trees is set in a Yorkshire village originating on a west coast island, with a Swiss wood at the bottom of the garden.
Location is everything – or so they say.