Home from home
Having just returned to Dorset after another trip up to the north-west of England, the impression I have of having two homes is stronger than ever. My latest novel, Blessed are the Meek, a historical piece set in the middle of the nineteenth century in Hyde, demanded a good deal of local research. I undertook much of that in the early part of last year (2018), visiting Tameside Local Studies Centre, the People's History Museum in Manchester, a working cotton mill and various specific locations where I planned to place the action. The book was published in February of 2019 and since then I have revisited Hyde and other nearby towns to promote and sell the book. As the year comes to a close, and as this most recent trip was the last one for the moment, I can confirm that I have driven up and down the M5/M6 five times, in addition to three other occasions in 2018.
Writing the novel was a labour of love and promoting it has extended the pleasure. I grew up in Hyde and lived there until I was eighteen. My parents and in-laws lived there for most of their lives. I have followed the fortunes of Hyde United FC throughout my life but most of the time that has meant checking the newspapers or these days the internet. I tried, and succeeded, to tie in my visits up north with a home fixture at Ewen Fields. The voices echoing around the ground remain very familiar but of course the town is very different in many ways to the place I knew as a teenager. It was still a mill town in those days, albeit one in gradual decline. Today it is a classic post-industrial town with all the predictable hardships: a struggling high street, deprivation worsened by austerity policies, etc. Nevertheless I love going back.
I have run a book stall on the market and at a village summer fete, I have spoken at several local libraries and a community centre, to the Hyde Rotary Club, to a Ladies Probus group, and to the Hyde Historical Society. The many people I have met (who says writing is a solitary occupation?) have to a man (and woman) been warm, friendly, open-minded, interested and interesting. Many are enterprising, dynamic, and full of positivity. All are proud of the area’s past and present and seem determined to encourage others to feel the same. I have felt energised by every experience.
This reconnection with my home town explains the feeling I have of belonging to two places. I have lived in Dorset for almost thirty years. My daughters grew up in the county and it is their home, and mine too. As for the novel, the story of a mill-worker named James Shore who I thought was a distant relative of mine (but it turns out he isn’t), I sense that I have exhausted the local market but I might be wrong. Promotional talks are lined up for venues closer to my Wessex home but there is no doubt that I will call in on Hyde again next year.