Published by Sandstone Press
ebook and paperback: 21 July 2016
‘It’s not what you know…’
by Rosy Thornton
‘Write about what you know’ is advice commonly offered to novelists and short story writers, and it is certainly easier – as well as saving time on research – to portray convincingly a setting with which we are familiar. But if it’s quite a good idea to write about what you know, it’s certainly a very bad one to write about who you know.
Not that any self-respecting author would ever do such a thing. It’s true the characters we depict are not plucked from thin air; I’m sure at as some subliminal level they draw on observation of all the various people we have come across throughout our lives. But it would be foolish beyond belief to take acquaintances, entire from top to toe, and shoehorn them into a story – not to mention lazy, and possibly a violation of human rights! This is fiction, remember? ‘Any resemblance,’ as the old disclaimer goes, ‘to persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.’
That reality, however, does not deter people from looking for themselves in our books. Which means it may not have been entirely advisable to move into a small, Suffolk village – of two hundred-and-odd inhabitants, a place where everyone knows everyone, and his dog – and less than five years later to set a collection of stories there. But that’s what I’ve done in the case of my new book, Sandlands.
Nor is this my first offence in this respect. I have form. Having been a Fellow of two successive Cambridge colleges over twenty years, in 2008 I set a novel (Hearts and Minds) in a fictional women’s college there. Not only that, but the book was a campus satire, thick with internecine squabbles and the sharpening of knives. A former colleague who had moved away – a literature don who should have known better – read the book and wrote to me, saying, ‘I don’t remember us being so riven.’ (We weren’t. I made it up!)
Back then, I lived to tell the tale – but will it be different this time? Will the real-life village rector fancy that she sees herself in the heavily pregnant incumbent depicted in my book? Will I be excommunicated? And then there’s the invented landlord of the village pub, the lugubrious Raymond, who pulls a gloomy pint in several of the stories. Truth is, he’s just a grumpy publican, straight from central casting. But what if the real licensee should read the book and think that Raymond’s based on him? If I got us barred from our local I’d never hear the last of it, at home.
I’ll let you into a secret, though, which lessens my disquiet. As a writer, I’ve learned a thing or two about human vanity. And natural narcissism being what it is, my observation is this: when people imagine they’re in your book, they see themselves as the heroine or hero. It never enters their minds that they’re the baddies!
My thanks to Sandstone Press for including me on the blog tour. I’m currently reading Sandlands (which I am very much enjoying by the way), and will post a review separately.
About the book:
A collection of linked short stories, all set in and around the small village of Blaxhall in the sandlings of coastal Suffolk, which is the reason for the title, ‘Sandlands’. The collection is inspired by the landscape of the area and its flora and fauna, as well as by its folklore and historical and cultural heritage. Six of the twelve stories focus around a particular bird, animal, wildflower or insect characteristic of the locality, from barn owl to butterfly. The book might be described as a collection of ghost stories; in fact, while one or two stories involve a more or less supernatural element, each of them deals in various ways with the tug of the past upon the present, and explores how past and present can intersect in unexpected ways. The stories uncover what is real and enduring beneath the surface of things.
About the author:
Rosy Thornton is a Fellow and Tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and a lecturer in Law at the University of Cambridge, with specialisms in housing law, charitable trusts and feminist legal studies. She has published five novels, including Ninepins (Sandstone Press, 2012) and this is her first short story collection. She divides her time between Cambridge and the Suffolk sandlings.