JESSICA BLAIR – Speaking of inspiration and the adventure of writing

JESSICA BLAIR – Speaking of inspiration and the adventure of writing

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Jessica Blair (Bill Spence) has traveled far and wide, but stays particularly connected to the lands and people of Whitby. Here he speaks about the little moments he gets from the people around him that inspire big moments or sweeping ideas . . .


The Highland Clearances of the 19th century, particularly those in Shetland, and how they affected the lairds and the crofters fascinates me. Visiting Shetland, I saw  children playing happily on a beach. I put them in the context of the Clearances and posed the question, what if the boy was the laird’s son and the girl was the daughter of crofters and a very special attachment is formed as they grow up. I wanted the story to range widely and bring in my knowledge of Whitby, on the Yorkshire coast, a small but important port of the time. Talking to my characters and listening to what they had to say led me to Whitby, the Lake District, and Nova Scotia and took me through their tumultuous lives. Because the characters had shown me, in the broad outline, that they would be traveling many roads the title THE ROAD BENEATH ME seemed to be the right one.

Between novels I was looking for an idea when a friend suggested that I used the background of the Land Army again having used it before in WINGS OF SORROW (2008), a story set in the Second World War of which I have personal knowledge. I realised that if I did I could cover the two World Wars. Two characters who imposed themselves on my mind were loosely based on my wife’s convent school-days and they told me if I made them very close friends, one English and the other French, the scope of the story could be much wider. When they allowed me to hear what they had to say during a meeting one winter it gave me the title IN THE SILENCE OF THE SNOW something which I could connect again to the climax of the story.

These titles came early in my thoughts, something I like to happen. I find having an appropriate title at an early stage focuses my mind on the core of the novel.

The first blank page of a new novel is the start of an adventure in which I will enjoy meeting so many different people during the 100,000 words that lead me to the three letter word END.



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