OK, I admit it, Lockdown has been good for writing but what it’s been rubbish for is research. I can’t tell you how fed up I am at trying to get squashed images on Google Maps to show me the terrain, the buildings or routes for my heroine to travel. So as soon as I felt justifiably able, I was off, dear reader!
Scooting across the country to Norfolk from the Peak District felt unbelievably naughty and I kept checking the rear view mirror to see if I was being followed by a blue flashing light but once I arrived at the hotel in Norwich, I realised there were others who were also there for work and I began to feel better.
I used a pin eight years ago to find an area where Hannah, a friend of Lily’s in ‘Lily’s War’ might work as a Land Army girl. It seemed to matter little where it was as it was only a passing mention, but a village called Salhouse, just outside Norwich, seemed to fit the bill.
DUH! It never occurred to me that I might actually get a publisher who might want further books and as I decided to be exceptionally clever and build stories that linked with each other, I made life even more complicated. Now Hannah has a book of her own, due out September as an e book and early next year in paperback. In between, ‘Bobby’s War’, the, ahem, winner of the Romantic Saga of the Year Award, came from a family who had a fictitious farm in Salhouse and hey presto, this random village of Salhouse has rocketed in importance in my life. It’s been a nagging source of worry that I haven’t been able to get there because of Covid and it was just days before the final draft was due in that I finally took a deep breath and packed my bag.
I had just two days to run through an impossibly long list of queries and I started with the city centre. Wandering around the city to check vital things like whether there were steps up to the Samson and Hercules dance venue, how long it would take to cycle/walk/take a cart from the city centre to a German POW camp at Mousehold Heath ( no plot spoilers now!) and how many hills there were on the way, took me rapidly through my checklist. I walked into Norwich Station to enquire about trains to Manchester. “It depends on the time,” she helpfully replied. “1942” I told her. Her face was a picture.
And then it was onto Salhouse. It’s a lovely village, near to Salhouse Broad but in Lockdown, not many people were around so I shamelessly loitered until someone decided to walk their dog, sit on a bench in the sunshine or post a letter. I have to say I accosted them all and, after a moment’s suspicion about this strange woman, they were just lovely!
One even said she would take me there and then to meet a 95-year-old who would actually know whether buses ran from the village on Sundays in 1942- just the sort of person- and information- you can spend ages trying to find normally. A socially-distanced chat in masks resulted in lots of scribbled notes and then onto the church where two brothers were emerging from the service, they were equally as helpful, sending me information in the post two days later.
By the afternoon, I was desperate for a cup of tea so meandered down to the Broad, which is much closer than I thought. Like a mirage, a little tea wagon appeared on the hillside. The ‘Hungry Otter’ owners were equally fascinated to hear my story and by the time I got home, they had posted a query on Instagram to see if anyone could help.
I’m humbled by the interest people take when you tell them you’re writing a book and it’s a bit like having a dog, everyone’s willing to stop and chat to you. I had an excellent couple of days, even if I spent my evenings with a tray in my room because the restaurant in the hotel was closed and I was so glad I went. I mean, who knew that the Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist was only designated a cathedral in 1974. Certainly, no website offered that information to me. There are so many things you can only discover by actually going to a place and as a journalist, I panic if I can’t check the facts. After all, my whole career has threatened me with jail if I got something wrong.
Now, all I’ve got to do is find a way of getting to the Isle of Man to start book 4.