Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Whitby—a source of inspiration

It was 1989 when I first went to Whitby. When at school loads of the other kids used to boast about going there on holiday, but for some reason my parents drove straight past on the way to Scotland. So when, as an adult, with a young family of my own, we found ourselves house-sitting for my in-laws who lived further down the coast, we decided to pay it a visit.

Recovering (as were we all) from the 80s' recession, there were surprisingly few empty shops, I remember, compared with similar towns in West Yorkshire, whose high streets were punctuated with To Let signs and Closing Down Sale notices.

Yes, Whitby, with its harbour crowded with trawlers and other fishing boats, and its trademark smell of fish mingled with the sea air, was a town where I felt I could be at home, and many times during the winter Saturdays we would set off on the one hundred mile trip and spend the day wandering along the streets, walking along the cliff top to look down on the harbour and the famous piers in the shape of pincers. (Petrol was much cheaper back then.)

A few weeks ago I found a 23-year-old video that my wife took of me running two-at-a-time up the 199 steps. I had no idea she had done that, so imagine my surprise at finding it after all that time.

We also spent many hours in the Whitby Bookshop on Church Street, in the old part of the town. That's where, 20 years ago, we took our children to meet the author Robin Jarvis, who was amazing to talk to, and we'll never forget it.

And late afternoon we would drive down to Robin Hood's Bay, where the shops would still be open, and especially the second-hand bookshops, of which, in those days, there were many. Yes, the narrow streets and passageways, with light spilling out from the cottages and shop windows. Atmospheric or what? It's no wonder these appear as the streets of my fictional village Wyke Bay.

And, of course, we have ties with the books written by Leo Walmsley, who lived there. The republished Walmsley books actually begin their new leases of life in this very room.

So thinking about the connections we have with Whitby and surrounding district, I suppose it's not surprising that I set one of my books in the area.

As mentioned in a previous post, we were there in late February to get some more footage for the Flither Lass video trailer. By that time, all of the research was completed, but it was still useful for gathering sources of extra information regarding things in the story, to include on the website, such as the ganseys—the woollen pullovers, each with its distinctive pattern that would identify the village that a fisherman came from. We found the source of further practical information in a wool and crafts' emporium called Bobbins, on Chapel Street, just along from Whitby Bookshop.

The day before returning home, having walked the 8 miles to Whitby along the old cinder track, we thought we had earned these freshly-baked scones at Marie Antoinette's—and guess where that is? Correct, Church Street!

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