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Grandmothers’ houses: a rich treasure trove for the author

I’m delighted that QuoScript is now my publisher. Seven of the DI Yates psychological crime series are now available from QuoScript as both paperbacks and e-books. QuoScript will be the original publisher of the latest in the series, De Vries, this spring; and Almost Love, the second Yates novel, will appear in the autumn, a little after the others because I want to rewrite parts of it.

All the Yates novels are set in South Lincolnshire, where I grew up, most of them in and around the ancient market town of Spalding. They take place in the present but are rooted in the Spalding of the past: I’m interested in how often the present collides with the past.  I didn’t altogether appreciate Spalding when I was a child, but now I think it is a magical place and I’m lucky to know it so well.  I’ll write about Spalding and some of the characters in the novels in other blog-posts.  For now I’d like to share more with you about the settings of two of the novels, In the Family, the first one, and Sausage Hall, the third.

Both my grandmothers lived in extraordinary houses.  My paternal great-grandparents moved from Castleford, in West Yorkshire, to start a general shop in Westlode Street, in Spalding, in the late nineteenth century.    The shop occupied what would have been the front room of the house, so the sitting-room was upstairs.  It was a shrine to late-Victorian taste: china dogs, small tables littered with many knick-knacks and a large glass case containing a stuffed-bird arrangement.  When I knew it, it was exactly as it had been when created by my great-grandmother in her youth three-quarters of a century before.  Little from the twentieth century had been allowed to intrude.  The main events of In the Family, the first DI Yates novel, take place in this house.

The house that my maternal grandmother lived in during my childhood was even more extraordinary.  She had been in domestic service since she was fourteen and trained as both a nursery nurse and a housekeeper. In her heyday she was successively nursery nurse to the children of a well-known diplomat in London and housekeeper to Samuel Frear, the last of the great Lincolnshire sheep farmers.  Her last job before she retired was companion to a very old lady who lived in a substantial house on the main Spalding to Boston Road, in a village called Sutterton.  The old lady was the widow of a gentleman farmer much older than she.  The house was packed with quaint furnishings, but the most astonishing thing about it (though as a child I just accepted it as normal) was that the walls were hung with sepia photographs of the husband when he’d been on safari in Africa as a young man.  They must have been taken in the 1870s or 1880s; in many of them, he was accompanied by black women wearing very little except strings of beads.  Sausage Hall is set in this house. It is about a murder that occurs in the present but is strongly influenced by what happened in the house in its pro-colonial past.

The owner of Sausage Hall, Kevan de Vries, is both flawed and harshly used by fate.  Some of the many problems that beset his life are of his own making; some either caused by bad luck or the malevolent behaviour of others.  In him I’ve tried to create a character with whom the reader sympathises but does not altogether approve. Sausage Hall is not only about de Vries, however: He is one of several characters who are key as the novel unfolds, but he rarely occupies centre stage.  Many readers of Sausage Hall said they found him fascinating and were enthusiastic about meeting him again. De Vries, which will appear seven years after Sausage Hall was first published, continues his story.  I hope you will like it.

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