August 1883. The future for Ling Southcott, a quarryman’s daughter, seems to be already mapped. Marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Barney, a cluster of children, a life contained to the hamlet of Foggintor Quarry. For Ling, with her sharp, enquiring mind and love of books, it is an accepted, if unwelcome fate.
But then the new Princetown Railway opens across Dartmoor, connecting her remote hamlet to the neighbouring town of Tavistock, and even Plymouth.
SUDDENLY THE WORLD IS AT HER FINGERTIPS
Then Ling is rescued from a fatal blow. Her rescuer is handsome young medical student Elliott Franfield.
Elliott, man of education, is so different from her unambitious Barney. Almost against her will, Ling feels her eyes open to what life could have in store.
WILL LING CHANGE HER DESTINY? OR WILL SHE LET OPPORTUNITY SLIP THROUGH HER FINGERS?
(This book was originally published as A Dream Rides By.)
Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, saga author Tania Crosse, to talk to me about her books and how she goes about building a story, with special reference to her book, The Quarry Girl. I’m going to hand over to Tania and her guest post now.
How I Build a Story by award winning author Tania Crosse
As an author, I’m often asked where I get my ideas from. Well, I suppose it comes down to being blessed with a naturally fertile imagination. A book always starts with inspiration of some sort, of course, but then the process of building the story kicks in. Being a writer of historical fiction/sagas, I like to put my characters in a specific historical situation and see how they cope with the difficulties that the era presents.
I’m particularly known for my Devonshire series, which covers from the Victorian period up to 1950s and is set on the western side of Dartmoor and the surrounding area. It’s a region I know well, and its fascinating history has provided me with a wealth of inspiration. Drive across Dartmoor today, and most visitors will appreciate the savage beauty of the windswept uplands and magnificent granite outcrops or tors. They will stop to take photographs of the few wild ponies that survive, smile at the scattering of hardy sheep and perhaps be wary of a herd of cows. All very picturesque on a summer’s day in the comfort of a modern car. But just think what it would have been like to scrape a living from the moor in the past and survive the depths of winter with no mod cons!
Dartmoor was far more intensely farmed in the past, but she also has a hidden history of industry. Particularly during the Nineteenth Century, the moor was dotted with mines and quarries, some larger concerns than others. There was even a gunpowder factory, and railways appeared. Not forgetting, of course, the infamous Dartmoor Prison. All fantastic inspiration for a novel.
Take, for instance, the gunpowder factory. What explosive situations that could lead to, if you’ll excuse the pun! I married that with the history of the prison in Victorian times for what has recently been republished as The Gunpowder Girl. (Also released in audio on 1st March.) However, to illustrate how I build a story, I’m going to use A Dream Rides By, recently re-released as The Quarry Girl.
Foggintor Quarry, a couple of miles west of Princetown, is a massive, mysterious and magical place. It’s also high up on the moor and utterly exposed to all the weather can throw at it. The workers didn’t travel in from cosy towns. They lived with their families in a little community at this remote spot in a square of one up, one down cottages, the ruins of which can be seen today. From one corner projects a small square, the remaining foundations of what was the chapel-cum-school.
Now, sagas are meant to be tough and gritty, so that box is already ticked. A strong, spirited, intelligent heroine is also a prerequisite, so she’s going to be the school assistant. The heroine always needs a foil of some sort, usually of a contrasting personality. This can often be a friend or an older person, but in this case, I decided to make this character her younger sister. Blighted by measles as a toddler, she is left hard of hearing and a little on the vulnerable side, shall we say, far too trusting and needing her elder sister’s protection.
Naturally, they live with their quarryman father and their mother. At a time when the only form of transport for the poor is shanks’s pony, they’re unlikely to have much contact with the outside world. As a consequence, the heroine is promised to her childhood sweetheart, also a young quarryman, of course. He is kind and hard-working, but unambitious. And herein lies the greatest element of any story but particularly of saga, inner conflict.
Though she loves him dearly, the heroine’s enquiring mind and knowledge gained through reading lead her to yearn to experience the outside world. Not necessarily to travel far, but at least to share an interest beyond the world of quarrying stone, an interest that’s beyond her intended’s intellectual sphere. So how will that come about?
Well, in 1883, the Princetown Steam Railway opened, passing by the end of the quarry. Constructed mainly to serve the prison and the local quarries, it was also to provide a passenger service. I saw this as the heroine’s path to the outside world. At the official opening of the railway, I invent a dramatic incident whereby she meets a young doctor, and he is to provide her inner conflict. I won’t give away any of the story, but you can see how she is going to be torn between her solid childhood sweetheart and the higher intellectual plane of this new acquaintance.
Quarrying is a dangerous occupation, especially so in a time when there were no health and safety regulations. I discovered that there was a particular way in which quarrymen buried their dead, so it was a must to have a fatal accident at the quarry, but it had to involve the heroine in some way, and add to her anguish and, in this case, her feelings of guilt.
So, I think you can see how I’m building up the story from historical fact. Something else that is integral to life at such a remote location is the weather. I had always planned to use the 1891 Great Blizzard in which the Princetown train famously got stuck in snowdrifts on the moor for five days. What a gift for a writer over a hundred years later! I turned it into a major turning point in the heroine’s life.
I remember my original agent, the late Dorothy Lumley, saying to me that I should always have someone working against the heroine in addition to the historical circumstances. While trying to dream up another storyline to fill this gap, the answer suddenly came to me when I was considering how I could work in the Great Flood of 1890. I decided to bring in the younger sister here, and link her with the black sheep of the community, another young quarryman who nobody likes. By giving the sister a story of her own and weaving it around the main action, it opened up a whole new prospect for the entire book, making everything gel together. That is something I always strive to do, have one or more sub plots that spiral around the principal thread, which gives a strength and richness to the novel.
When searching for inspiration for the personal stories of the characters, I sometimes draw on my own life experiences, and in some cases, those of my parents. The principal story in my 1945 London-set novel, The Street of Broken Dreams that won Saga of the Year in the 2020 Awards of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, was actually adapted from a wartime experience of my mother’s. Fortunately, what happened to her was nothing like what happens to my heroine, but there again, I built up layer upon layer to achieve all the necessary ingredients of a multi-faceted saga.
Summer 1945. The nation rejoices as the Second World War comes to an end but Banbury Street matriarch, Eva Parker, foresees trouble ahead.
Whilst her daughter, Mildred, awaits the return of her fiancé from overseas duty, doubts begin to seep into her mind about how little she knows of the man she has promised to marry. Or are her affections being drawn elsewhere?
Meanwhile, new neighbour, dancer Cissie Cresswell, hides a terrible secret. The end of the conflict will bring her no release from the horrific night that destroyed her life. Can she ever find her way back?
Under Eva’s stalwart care, can the two young women unite to face the doubt and uncertainty of the future?
One thing I haven’t mentioned that you might find interesting is that I have a strange gift for seeing characters that appear to me in flash visions, usually quite unexpectedly. It first happened when I visited Morwellham Quay, the famous Victorian copper port in Devon that’s been a living history museum since 1970s. I saw a young cooper in Victorian workman’s clothes during a demonstration in the cooperage. I assumed he was a member of the costumed staff, but a second later, he’d disappeared and yet there was nowhere he could have disappeared to! This happened a few more times with other visions, and there I had the characters for a book on a plate. I built them up into a story in much the same way as I’ve described above, and it became my debut release, Morwellham’s Child, that’s soon to be re-released as The Harbour Master’s Daughter. The same sort of thing happened to me after a break from writing for personal reasons, when I really was going to call it a day. Winston Churchill no less spoke to me in a vision during a visit to Chartwell. It sparked such an interest in the Churchills’ private lives that it inspired what became Nobody’s Girl and its sequel, A Place to Call Home, and re-started my career.
Well, I hope the above has given you a little insight into how I build up my novels. I could go on about characterisation and all characters needing to be not black or white but somewhere in between, natural dialogue, avoiding long descriptions but picking out one or two relevant details to capture the essence of a scene, the list goes on. But I do hope I’ve managed to explain just some of the elements that go into the mix, and who knows, it might help you to build a story of your own!
Thank you for giving us that fascinating peak into how your sagas are built up, Tania. I am not sure I would be quite as calm as you about having such vivid visions!
If hearing Tania talk about her work has piqued your interest in any of her books, I have included all the relevant purchase links in her piece above and her author bio below, so you can just click through.
About the Author
Tania Crosse was born in London and lived in Banbury Street, Battersea, the setting of her two latest novels, The Candle Factory Girl and The Street of Broken Dreams. Later, the family moved to Surrey where her love of the countryside took root. She wanted to be an author since she was a child, but having graduated with a degree in French Literature, she did not have time to indulge her passion for writing until her own family had grown up. She eventually began penning historical novels set on her beloved Dartmoor. After completing her Devonshire series, which is currently being re-published by Joffe Books, she took her writing career in a new direction with four Twentieth Century sagas set in London and the south east, which were published by Aria Fiction. She was thrilled when the last of these, The Street of Broken Dreams, won Best Saga of the Year in the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2020 Awards. Tania and her husband have lived in a small village on the Hampshire/Berkshire border since 1976. They have three grown-up children, two grandchildren and a variety of grand-dogs! Tania’s interests, apart from reading and writing, of course, are dance, gardening and rambling, especially on Dartmoor, naturally!
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