Dinghy used by refugees landing in Symi harbour
Wrengill quarry - central location in
If Dreams Should Die
JILL CLOUGH LIVE BLOG: SEPTEMBER 15, 2023
I GUESS MOST OF US LOOK FORWARD to holidays where we can find time to read all those books on our list (I’ve brought Demon Copperhead with me, the amazing Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Barbara Kingsolver); but for years, ‘books on the beach’ have meant, for me, writing fiction as well as reading it.
In November 2009 I sat at little beach bars on a Thai island, writing for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing month). I was staying with one of my daughters …
The allure of the beach itself, the snorkelling in a transparent sea, skilled and ferocious Thai massages and barbecued fish for supper, were tempered by the enchantment of writing at speed: 1,500 words a day to reach the 50,000-word quota. My novel, never yet published, is called Babysnatch and tells the story of a boy and girl who abduct the boy’s baby brother to rescue him from their mother’s drug habit and exploitation by her pimp. They head for the island of Skye, where he thinks he has a grandmother. They are pursued by the mother and her pimp, the girl’s parents and the police. A friend who read it often asks me why it isn’t in print as she really enjoyed it but I’d begun a PhD in Creative Writing and wasn’t sure about using many points of view. It’s a story I still like and mean to revisit. (I’ve been on many Scottish islands since, invariably writing fiction as well as buying yarn and whisky, discovering Harris gin…)
2010 saw me back in Thailand, visiting the daughter who was working there at the time. This year, my beaches were overwritten by Morph, my PhD novel (published 2018). That was the year we went on a jungle trek into a cavern that regularly flooded. We waded and swam with flashlights on our heads.
After that, my holidays on the tiny Greek island, Symi, meant work on another novel – still unfinished! I’d begun it years before: a life of Christ told through the eyes of a 14 year old girl. I felt, and still feel, that the situation in some Middle East countries for girls and women hasn’t changed. The research fascinated me. I went twice to Israel/Palestine. The poverty gap was stark, the Palestinians welcoming, the archaeology riveting. In 2015 the island received Syrian refugees while we were there. We gave them bottles of water as they waited for ferries to take them to the mainland, and I fretted about refugees worldwide. Back home, we became involved in fundraising, and friends drove lorries across Europe full of supplies.
I started Anna and the Snake Queen on Symi and used it as the backdrop for abuse of many kinds: domestic, racial, ruin of the natural world, and found myself in the parallel world of magic realism. The novel came out in 2020 in the midst of lockdown, when nobody could travel except in imagination.
To write If Dreams Should Die, I returned to magic realism in my own immediate landscape, full of holidaymakers all year round. I wanted to write about how to belong (still bothered about refugees), this time thinking too about children in care. This was published in 2022, much of it set in Longsleddale. I wrote in Spain, in a small town south of Malaga, where I’m staying again and working on the sequel to Anna and the Snake Queen. This one’s called Anna and the Shrivelling.
My most recent completed novel, finished earlier this year, is When the Killing Comes Home, and it’s set entirely in West Cumbria. Yet I puzzled over it last year, on Scottish islands and Spanish beaches, in lofty air-conditioned apartments and quiet beach cafes. When the story-telling seizes you, it’s irresistible.
Underground cave, jungle trek in Thailand
Inspiration for the bridge to Pelm, Anna and the Snake Queen