Tomorrow my latest novel, Closer to Home, will be published. It’s been available to order for just over a week and I’ve been watching its Amazon sales rank with a slight sense of disbelief as the number keeps going down (that’s a good thing). It looks like people are buying it based on the blurb and possibly on their enjoyment of my previous books. Last October, I was extremely nervous about the release of Fracture, my second novel, because I was worried that the positive reactions to the first one had been a fluke. This year I’m nervous again but for different reasons.
I’ve been trying to write about my home town and my teenage years for a long time. I grew up in South Yorkshire and I was eighteen at the time of the Miners’ Strike. My grandfathers were both miners and I had at least two uncles who worked at the pit. My father started his working life as a miner before working on the railway. The pit was a huge part of the town and, obviously, an important source of employment for many of my male peers – just like their fathers and grandfathers before them.
The Miners’ Strike helped to shape my politics and my loyalties. It was devastating to many people that I knew and its aftermath wrecked the community where I had spent my childhood. I have always wanted to write about it but I could never find the right genre or the right angle.
A few years ago I took part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote a 50,000-word novel called Digging. It was set in two time periods – the early part of the twentieth century and the 1980s. It wasn’t great – it lacked coherence and I doubt it would have been of much interest to anybody but me and my family – but I felt like I had made a start.
The opening section of Closer to Home is based on a real experience and the girl trapped in the quarry tunnel could so easily have been me or one of my friends. It’s a memory that still gives me the shivers – crawling along on my knees and elbows through an unstable brick passage. As I wrote it I knew where I was going with my story. The girl dies and her death has consequences for a generation. Which made me think of the strike. I needed to include it; in fact I needed it to be a big part of the story because it too had consequences for a generation.
Closer to Home is a much more personal book than my previous two. Yes, the diary in Forgotten was based on my own experiences and yes, the journey in Fracture was one that I had made but this book has elements of my past, of a time when I was working out how the world worked and how I might fit into that world. It’s not about me or my childhood but some of the memories that I used are very important ones.