I recently wrote a post about Whitby and how, historically, it has inspired and attracted literary greats. I explained why I chose Whitby as the setting for my forthcoming novel, Black Eyed Boy. Now, I bring you authors who have felt the same need to set their stories in this wonderful Yorkshire seaside town. Below is an interview with the brilliant, talented writer Theresa Tomlinson.
What is it about Whitby that made you want to write about it?
Theresa: As a child I lived in Carlin How, just up the coast from Whitby. One of my earliest memories is of walking down Flowergate and suddenly looking up to see the abbey in the distance. It seemed to float magically in a sea of green, high on the other side of the harbour. I thought it was a castle from a fairytale. Stories of St Hilda and Caedmon were part of my childhood, then later as an adult I became fascinated by the Victorian/Edwardian photographs of the famous photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. They gave a wonderfully detailed picture of the harsh way of life for the fishing families, so that I felt that I could almost step into the photographs and experience life at that time.
What is your favourite spot in Whitby?
Theresa: This is a tricky one, because there are so many fabulous hidden away corners in the town. However, I think I have to settle for our allotment, which is situated at the back of the Abbey Visitor Centre and I believe it to be within the ancient monastic boundary. We have a fantastic view over the town and up the river, and in my imagination it has become the model for Fridgyth’s herb garden, from A SWARMING OF BEES. We try to grow herbs, marigolds and vegetables there, but the soil is very fertile and we also grow far too many weeds.
How did you get into writing?
Theresa: As a child, ‘Art’ was my favourite subject. I worked for a few years as a primary school teacher and then, when I stopped for a while to look after my children, I began to make them picture books. At first I just enjoyed drawing and painting, but as the children grew, the simple stories that I wrote grew longer and I eventually became completely hooked on putting a story together. I was spending so much time writing that I decided to try to get something published. We lived in Sheffield at that time and going to a weekly Writers Workshop helped enormously in terms of support and criticism.
Can you tell us a bit about your books?
Theresa: My first publications were for children 10/11 years and the ones that seemed to work best had historical themes. FLITHER PICKERS and THE HERRING GIRLS were both inspired by the Sutcliffe photographs. BENEATH BURNING MOUNTAIN was also set on the North Yorkshire Coast, though at an earlier date – it focused on the harsh lives of alum workers and their struggles with the press gang.
MEET ME BY THE STEELMEN and THE CELLAR LAD both had Sheffield settings and related to the early days of steel making. Other interests developed and THE FORESTWIFE TRILOGY- was aimed at Young Adults - 3 linked novels that give a more feminist version of the Robin Hood legends. THE MOONRIDERS and THE VOYAGE OF THE SNAKE LADY – also for Young Adults, took me to Turkey to research the links between the Amazon Women and the Trojan War. When my children left home, we moved to live permanently in Whitby and this enabled me to focus on the Anglo-Saxon history of the town.
The first novel set in this period was WOLF GIRL, a Young Adult mystery adventure. I had hoped to continue the theme, but found that publishers were wary of Anglo-Saxon settings. They seemed to consider the time period too difficult for modern readers to relate to. However, I’d become obsessively interested in the 7th century and couldn’t let it go. I also began to feel that as I got older, I wanted my main characters to grow older too. This need led me to self-publish two adult novels - A SWARMING OF BEES and THE TRIBUTE BRIDE using Acorn Independent Press.
I now have hopes that publishers are becoming more receptive to stories set in this exciting period of history. A&C Black have recently published my Primary age historical story BETTER THAN GOLD – and I’m delighted to hear that it will be sold in the Birmingham Museum shop, where the Staffordshire Hoard Exhibition is now on display.
What are you currently working on?
Theresa: I have three books on the go and I’m jumping from one to another. One is another children’s Anglo-Saxon story, there is also a sequel to A SWARMING OF BEES – and a fairly strong idea developing for another Victorian Whitby setting about jet workers. I think the children’s story is almost finished – then I must get back to my Anglo-Saxon herb-wife, Fridgyth.
What are you most proud of?
Theresa: This is almost impossible to answer. I’m proud of THE FLITHER PICKERS, because it was the first book that I ever had published. I’m proud of my two self-published books because it was a risky thing to do, though I’m glad to say that they have been a financial success. I’m proud that BETTER THAN GOLD has been judged to be good enough to be sold in Birmingham Museum Shop.
How much research do you need to do for your writing?
Theresa: I used to do years of research before I started writing - and then try to put everything I’d learned into the story - sometimes I got bogged down with facts. Now I research as I write and that way I discover what I need to know as the story develops. This seems to work much better.
Where can we buy your books?
Theresa: My most recent paperbacks are available at THE WHITBY BOOKSHOP – HOLMANS, THE GUISBOROUGH BOOKSHOP, SALTBURN BOOK CORNER and various other venues in Whitby and the surrounding area. Ebooks and paperbacks are available through Amazon and KOBO and many other internet outlets. Sadly many of my earlier books are now ‘out of print’ – but second hand copies are often available on the internet from second hand book dealers.
Can you describe Whitby in five words?
Theresa: Historic, mystical, exciting, rugged, eccentric!
Do you have a message for your readers?
Theresa: I’m glad to have the opportunity to say this. I seemed to come unstuck a few years ago when publishers told me that the Anglo-Saxon period was unpopular with readers. I now feel thoroughly vindicated in sticking with it and choosing to self-publish. My books continue to sell well. I am so very grateful for the loyalty of readers - both young and old - who have supported me and showed their enthusiasm for this fascinating period by buying my books and writing so many positive reviews.
Thank you very much, Theresa, I wish you every success with your future writing projects.