I wrote a while ago about how I started creative writing with some stories for children, largely because we had a child of our own, and I could envisage her face and eyes as she was listening to the story, and the kinds of question she would ask, and try and build that into what I wrote as much as possible. There is a gentle progression with children’s stories which is very attractive, and in general kids seem to like things to add up, although they are happy to go along with all kinds of invention. Yet there is something about a children’s story which means that you must not go too fast, because they will sense the jump, and feel short-changed. At least, that’s how I found it was.
But none of that explains Kergohan. How I found Kergohan the place I have explained in a previous post, but why I should be looking for a Kergohan is another matter. It’s fair to say that there are things you find that you didn’t know you were looking for, but also true that some things have been with you a long time without you being aware of it. Perhaps those two ideas are different sides of the same coin. But what I did know was that I began to think back to my parents again, and to this background picture of a patient author sitting in the living-room with a clip-file on her lap and writing out in long-hand, preferably on recycled paper from my father’s old press-releases.
It was evident that I felt nostalgic for that atmosphere of fiction, and so I began to form the plan of writing a novel as a tribute to her and to all those years of her fiction, from when I was small boy until well after I was married. Any proper tribute would have to be a romantic novel, and almost certainly an historical romance. My mother was infatuated with the regency period, the elegance of it and the wit, but she also wrote novels set in the later eighteenth century, the Georgian era. I set about reading all of her books again and put that alongside reading all of Jane Austen again too, hardly a penance! It was great fun but it was not intended to land me in the middle of a plot, so I set out to think around and back again to come up with that.
The home counties and the regency spa town of Bath were very much my mother’s stamping ground, although on one occasion she ventured north to where she grew up, in the story about Luddites and mills with the title The Master of Liversedge. In other words, she followed that old adage of writing about what you know best and the places to which you have access. For me, that would mean the west country, but I was also by now relatively familiar with Brittany, because it was across the water from us in Devon, and an obvious choice for our holidays.
What I realised was that England was involved with the Bretons once more in the 1790s, as it had been off and on since the migration of Britons to the north-western region of France in the early centuries of the Christian era. So gradually it became clear to me that there was scope here for an adventure and romance, and that I could widen the story by having a hero who was half English and half Breton, the son of parents who had themselves met – romantically – in Canada during the earlier conflict between the French and the British. He would be caught between the two places, England and Brittany, and have to resolve issues in both while voyaging under cover to become involved in the rebellion in the west of France against the new, regicidal regime of the Republic.
And if that’s a mouthful of history, let me add that he left behind in Devon the young woman who was in love with him to encounter again in Brittany the woman he thought he had loved when she was a girl… and the boy who believes he is his son. They needed a place to live in, and that would be Kergohan.