On a Sunday afternoon nine years ago, my father-in-law, Bill, recounted a story to me - one that little could I imagine would inspire me to write a series of novels. At that time, Bill was a church warden and one day was approached by a couple trying to find a gravestone. It transpired they were looking for the parents of a man called Walter Greenway, who apparently came from the local area and had supposedly been an unofficial spy in WW1. Intrigued, Bill did some research and, sure enough, he unearthed the tale of a most fascinating character along with sketchy events of his life. I was absolutely hooked and began doing my own research. The more I did, the more I became immersed and wanted to tell Walter's story. Then, by chance, I came across the writings of Robert Holmes, who was Sheffield’s first probation officer, and had written several books about his time spent as a police court missionary. I was amazed and delighted when I found that one of his books was totally dedicated to detailing his actual encounter with Walter.
The mystery of both Walter and Robert Holmes consumed me and I found myself entangling facts with fiction. Suddenly my idea born - to create a police court missionary character and write entangled stories based on the experiences of people listed in his registers. And what better place to start than with Walter - this most intriguing man whose experiences stretched from Sheffield to the war zones of Mesopotamia and included many acts of heroism.
Although I now had a great base for my writing, I still wanted to introduce the idea of entanglement into my story-lines and therefore decided to explore some interesting facts and settings which I'd observed in the archives of Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital, whilst working there. c.1912 - An operating theatre in Sheffield's Firvale Hospital. The type of setting that I envisaged for chapter 3 and (right) the nurses's home, where probationers would have stayed during their training. Photos courtesy of Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation TrustSoon I had developed a complex and compelling plot centred around life's fate and now just needed to write it. With my background of working in theatre, I originally wrote a stage play, followed by a screenplay, both of which I hawked around different producers. With only limited success, the scripts ultimately sat in a drawer, with me tinkering occasionally until losing interest. Then, finally, a couple of years ago my zest for the concept returned and I decided to write the story as a novel.
Creating the character of Walter was always fun - without doubt he was a very complex and fascinating individual. Whilst writing about him I did make extensive inquiries and trawled through many city archives and magistrates records trying to find out more about his past. In particular, I was keen to establish his real identify, as Holmes had always used the false surname of Greenway to protect the true family name from scandal. However, my findings were always inconclusive. There is strong evidence to suggest that Walter actually came from Doncaster, a town near to Sheffield, but other facts remain somewhat of a mystery. As time progresses I’m sure I will pick up my investigations again, meantime, if there are any budding genealogists or historians out there looking for a challenge then please make contact!
As with Fate, I wanted to make Revenge more than just a casual mystery - instead, it had to be complex. I wanted time shifts and parallel plotlines, all within a setting ruled by class divides, bygone attitudes to sexuality, corruption and the perversity of power, whilst still maintaining hope for the future. The novel became a real mix of fact and fiction. Fact was the life of the ex-Crown Princess of Tuscany and her turbulent relationship with her father-in-law, whereas, fiction was inspired by my love of Alfred Hitchcock's work and the master's ability to create tension and mystery through a simple setting and building it to be quite complicated. There was also an appeal to create a thriller which replicates Hitchcock's reassurances that the criminal has to be apprehended as "a necessary gesture to morality."
Most authors will tell you that their character creations are actually a hybrid of different people. This is certainly true of Elliott, who is central to the entanglement novels. At his simplest, he is very much how I imagined him in the role of a police court missionary (or what is now known as a probation officer) - firm but fair. However, a character at the centre of an anthology of entangled mysteries needs complexity, a back story, even personal demons. Therefore, Elliott's character evolved from the characteristics and experiences of various people, although, for the most part, he is based on my father-in-law, Bill Elliott - hence the name. Bill, for many years, has made me smile with his forthright opinion on people, politics, religion, in fact most things in life! When asked who I would cast to play Elliott, my answer is simple - 'Find a mix of Brian Blessed, Martin Shaw, Denis Lawton and throw in a bit of Charles Dance'.
The main setting of Haddington Hall is actually fictional, although it is very much inspired by Renishaw Hall and Kedelston Hall in Derbyshire. I love visiting locations and playing out a scene in my head, particularly when I'm writing about events which supposedly happened. As was the case when I visited the Tachesburg Palace in Dresden, home of the Saxony royal family and scene of many blazing rows between Louise and King George.
The understated entrance to Renishaw Hall and the magnificence of Kedelston Hall,
both of which inspired the start of chapter 6.
The entrance to the grounds of Haddington Hall couldn’t be considered spectacular. In fact, to anyone unfamiliar with the area, it looked like nothing more than two small sandstone pillars which led into open pasture. However, rounding a corner, a quarter of a mile further on, the drive opened into an avenue lined with the most glorious oak trees and leading upwards towards the summit of a hill. Beyond, and down in a dip, was the Hall. From the summit of the hill, it was hard not to be impressed by the Hall’s splendour: its stone front with the sweeping semi-circular stairway designed to draw the eye up to the grand façade. And draw her eye it did, as the carriage passed through a charming archway, before skirting round a baroque fountain in the pebbled courtyard.
The carriage came to a halt in front of the great entrance. Louise stepped out. She came to Haddington as a new bride, the wife of Frederick, first born and heir to the Warsop family estate and fortune. Standing and looking at the splendour of the Georgian architecture, she sincerely hoped this would be a loving home, where she would be happy and able to raise a family. But little did she realise just how much her arrival was detested by her new father-in-law. Equally, little did her new father-in-law know just how spirited and determined Louise Corberwell was!
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