I write historical fiction and, as much as I enjoy reading about lives of kings, queens and other well-known people, I prefer to write about ordinary folk having to cope with life as it was then - whenever it was. I do not write about the starving and the downtrodden because I find it difficult to feel what abject poverty does to people. My forebears were all working-class but what I call aspirational. And that's where I feel most at home.
However, The Lark Ascending is not autobiographical. My characters are not based on people I know but much of the feel and tone of it comes from my family: more specifically my mother's family. My novel is set in Leeds and opens in 1919 and Alice Fields my main character She works in a shop but wants more from her life. Her father had a greengrocery in Burley, a working-class area of Leeds. My grandparents lived in Leicester. My grandfather once owned a shop - a drapers. It didn't prosper but that's another story.
My grandmother, Laura, felt somewhat superior because their house was on a the corner because of the shop and therefore bigger than its neighbours. They had three children, of whom, my mum was the youngest. They had two bedrooms and a box room, a kitchen and a scullery. And a back yard with their own privvy but no bathroom.
|Laura and Fred Smith|
|Barbara (my mum), Nina and Eric|
So some of this finds its way into The Lark Ascending. Alice Fields is ordinary but she learns that education is the way forward and I like to think that her daughter, Stella, only a small child in the novel, will go on to have the education my mother did. My grandmother lived to 103 and I like to think that Alice will too. However I can't think my grandma would be impressed by the socialist slant to the novel!
Finally, both my grandfathers (Fred and Frank) were in the trenches of the First World War and both returned unscathed physically (although Fred was a gunner which destroyed his hearing.) But now I realise that their future lives were blighted by the experience. They both play their part in the character of Walter. He is not one of my main players but he is central to the plot.
I will write about other things that influenced the plot of The Lark in due course. Whether it ever sees the light of day remains to be seen. Fingers and toes crossed.