The six girls in our debut novel Eight of Cups came from far and wide. Their birthplaces shaped them, their University days in Edinburgh matured them, and their eventual homes both nurtured and challenged them.
But how to describe a place? And how to reflect how it might have been at the time of the action in the novel?
Dundee was described in the 1960s as the home of Jute, Jam and Journalism. Where Saturday denner (lunch) was a Wallace’s pie. And Saturday afternoon saw the women meet ‘in the town’ and the men at the match. Patricia’s Irish heritage, Catholic schooling and role as the eldest of four children were all seminal influences. She enjoyed, as many of us did, a regular trip to Greens’ Playhouse cafe on a Saturday evening.
There she would meet up with Diane from Forfar. Diane’s life was lived on a very local basis in the Angus county town. In the tattie holidays the local children still helped harvest the potatoes. Shopping was done in the small local shops. A trip to C&A in Dundee was a big treat. And an evening spent in the aforementioned Greens’ cafe was indeed an event. Diane could afford to do that only because she had a job.
Nancy had to help out in her parents’ emporium in Skipton. There were also to be found Timothy Whites, Irvings the Chemist, Freeman Hardy Willis and Yorkshire Penny Bank. She found the small town life stifling and so parochial. With her parents being well known in the market town, it would mean that there was continual pressure to ‘behave herself’.
Carys living in Tregaron in Wales would also have been in the spotlight as the headmaster’s daughter, and a high achiever. Life revolved around the chapel, the school, the playing fields and the music teacher’s house. When she left for Edinburgh, she suffered no homesickness and never looked back.
Unlike Lesley from Cardiff, who was missing everyone and everything, which at that time might have included trolleybuses, The Empire Pool on Wood Street and the Plaza Cinema. It would be a long time before she ever felt really at home anywhere again.
Aberdeen with its relatively well off middle classes and somewhat remote location, lacked the social sophistication which Alix craved. Conforming was all important to her mother. Living dangerously was more Alix’s style. The Beach Ballroom might have offered a bit of excitement in her gymslip days. But not for long, and never again.
As for Edinburgh – you could be anyone you wanted to there. You could leave behind others’ expectations, small town constraints, boring routines and find the real you.
We were prompted to write this piece after reading the ‘Sharing Places’ features on the blog of author Valerie Holmes, who whilst researching social history for her stories has visited some fascinating places that have triggered plots, created characters or inspired a mood or a desire in her to return to the keyboard and write. http://valerieholmesauthor.wordpress.com/blog/
Valerie has very kindly agreed to be the first guest author on ‘Mirren Jones’ Diary’. We look forward to interviewing her in the very near future and finding out about her books, her writing processes and her work as a creative writing tutor.