Friday, 30 July 2010

Devil Water - the Inspiration

When a writer does talks people often ask why they started writing. It's a question I very often put to myself on a bad day but since I am incapable of doing anything else -


The reason I wanted to be a  historical novelist and to write about the area I come from began when I was twelve and I read Devil Water by Anya Seton. I don't remember having been excited by history before and the first half of this book is pure history in the hands of a master novelist. It's the story of the Jacobite rebellions and the Earls of Derwentwater, in particular, James, the third earl, who came home to his lands from France when the political scene allowed and his brother, Charles and the story is set in Northumberland, amidst some of the most beautiful ground in Britain.

Devil Water is a real burn which flows under Lord's Bridge and below the ruins of Dilston Castle, the home of the Radcliffe family. There is a village called Radcliffe over towards the coast and the family were so well loved by the people around them that when James lost his life in the Jacobite cause that night the northern lights were so bright that the local people saw it as a sign and since then in the area  they are called Lord Derwentwater's Lights.
The Lord Crewe Arms

James set to to built a great house for his family. It was never finished but you can go and see  the tower house which was part of the west wing and the chapel - last time I was there several years ago I had the joy of being given the enormous keys which opened the chapel which added a certain amount of fun to the venture.

The site is very old,  a house was built there in the 12th century. The book is about the folk in the north who favoured the Stuart cause and how hopelessly they followed their leaders. It is thought that the people of Newcastle are called Geordies now because they followed the Hanover cause and would not join the Jacobites, nor let them inside the city.

I won't spoil the story, if you haven't read it, by telling you the outcome. It's enough to say that Anya Seton wrote a great many very good books but apparently she was inspired when she went to see the ruins of Dilston Castle and passed over the bridge above The Devil Water. And that inspired me to write about the north east because I love it so much and her writing shows that she loved Northumberland.  This is the reason why Donna Leon's books about Venice are good -  because of the sense of place, and Ian Rankin's  novels about Edinburgh and dozens of other writers who care about the places where they write.

Charles Radcliffe escaped his captors and was hidden in the priest's hole by his mistress, Dorothy Forster at the Lord Crewe Arms in Blachland. Charles Radcliffe used to ride over there when he was young to visit the pub and the girls and his friends.
The Northumberland moors in July

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