Like many readers, I love reading between the lines of a book and guessing at the untold bits of the story so I suppose it is only natural for me to invest a lot of time in creating a setting for my own novels and a back story for all of my characters. This spade work is done ‘before the lines’. I start creating my characters and setting before I write their story and some of this background is just for me to know whereas a lot of it is revealed through my characters’ actions.
‘Roses Choice’, my new novel, is set in a Northumbrian mining village during the 1940s and 50s. It is a heart-wrenching saga of love, family and secrets told by its feisty heroine, Rose Kelly. The inspiration for setting this saga during World War two and afterwards came from tales of colliery life in the forties that I loved listening to from my grandparents.
The first thing I did was to sketch a map of my fictional village. It was five colliery rows, miners’ allotments, a pithead, a few shops, a school, a working men’s institute and a chapel and it was set right in the middle of the Northumbrian countryside. After sketching it, I described it to myself in words. It is typical of the little mining villages scattered through the Northumbrian countryside.
Linwood nestles in a dale surrounded by farmland that stretches all the way to the sandy beaches of Northumberland and, on the horizon, you can see the North Sea blend into wide skies. A patchwork carpet of allotments sits behind the five rows of colliery houses that lead up to the pit head. Rolling fells rise behind the pit wheel giving it a backdrop of dark green.
The railway line that transports the coal is flanked on either side by hedges that flower throughout summer and give up a harvest of blackberries, sloe berries and rosehips in autumn.The tiny hive of industry that is Linwood Colliery has been carved from a once tranquil beauty spot because, hidden far below the fields and fells lie great riches. Seam after seam of black gold runs under land and sea waiting to be mined.
With this picture firmly in my mind, I was ready to fill the rows of Linwood Colliery with my characters and make the colliery rows come alive.
The first character I wanted to create was Rose who was born to Ginnie and John Kelly but, first of all, I had to imagine her birth. Was she wanted? Was she one of many? What were her parents like? So my prologue was another starting point. Rose was born to parents who wanted a lot for her.
NEWCASTLE EVENING CHRONICLE
Born at home on August 15th 1934
to John and Virginia Kelly of 1, First Row, Linwood Colliery
a daughter, Rose Virginia.
Mother and baby well
John Kelly cut the birth announcement out of last night’s evening paper and tucked it inside the family bible beside the certificate of his marriage to Ginnie. He put the bible back into the drawer of the dresser before placing the rest of the newspaper and a few sticks of wood by the hearth ready to lay a fresh fire in the morning.
Dry crumpled paper in the grate, then sticks crossing each other and a shovel of coal would get their range going in no time tomorrow morning before he set off to the pit. He was on the early shift but he wanted to get the fire going for when Ginnie and their firstborn came downstairs. Even though it was mid-August, the fire would blaze to heat the oven and boil water. Ginnie loved her early morning tea.
Quietly climbing the stairs, avoiding the creak on the third step from the top, John found Ginnie lying on her side with her hand resting on the baby’s crib by the bed. He’d sanded and painted the crib as Ginnie knit an intricate white shawl during their last weeks of waiting.
His wife looked beautiful with her dark curls tumbling to her shoulders and she didn’t even stir as he tucked her hand under the blankets and stood over his daughter’s crib.
Ever so gently, he picked the baby up and cradled her in his arms drinking in her warm, sweet smell. He traced the back of his finger around the curve of her cheek. Her skin, so soft, reminded him of the petals of the roses that grew in his allotment and they had the same cream tint with a blush of pink. That rosebud mouth, now there was an exquisite shade that he would find hard to recreate on his paint palette. He would never capture such beauty with a pencil or a brush.
He took her over to the open window to catch the last of the day’s light and some cool air. The clock on the nightstand broke the silence as it marked time ticking by and, as John watched Rose breathe, he marvelled at this little being. Would he ever tire of watching those changing expressions?
Tears blurred his vision as a surge of love and protectiveness coursed through his body. Rose Kelly was his flesh and blood and he wanted her to flourish in his care, to grow rich roots of confidence and courage. He placed his little finger in the centre of her open palm and, even in sleep, she gripped it. He hoped she would always grasp opportunities. He would be a happy man if his daughter was given the chance to see the world in all its wondrous colours beyond these dark colliery rows.
Yes, there is a lot of thinking going on before writing a single line of chapter 1 but I love the part of getting to know my characters and their setting before I start.
ROSE’S CHOICE – a heart- wrenching wartime saga of family, live and secrets.
Rationing, bombing, disease and pit disasters are part of Rose Kelly’s Workd War 2 childhood. When the spirited coalminer’s daughter discovers a family secret , she makes a choice that overshadows her teenage years. Rose tried to make the most of post war opportunities but family tragedy pulls her back to the rows She relinquishes a bright future for domestic duties because her family comes first. Will family ties get in the way of her dreams?