Above, Sam looks for treasure along the beach at Compton Bay, Isle of Wight. In the background are the Tennyson Trail cliffs at Freshwater. Tennyson’s monument is at the top of the cliffs on the left.
I mostly write from my own experience or knowledge, but when I wrote Lily: A Short Story, I did have to do a little bit of research into past events and places on the Isle of Wight, which I now consider my second home as we’ve been there so often. It’s an island off the south coast of England, and a place we hope to retire to in the future.
The story begins with Lily and her sisters running along what is now Tennyson Down. It’s a favourite place of mine to walk. I love the high cliffs with the sea crashing along Freshwater Bay below, the keen breeze, and the reward of a seat by Lord Tennyson’s monument just before you walk back to the Albion Hotel for lunch. Looking back at the poet’s life, I found out that he lived at Farringford House just a short walk away, and that he would stride along High Down (now Tennyson Down) whatever the weather. When we went on one of our many visits to the island, we could see across Afton Down from Farringford House to where the famous Isle of Wight festival was held in 1970. Walking along the Military Road, we had an uninterrupted view over the notorious Desolation Hill on our right, which I just had to incorporate into the opening chapter of ‘The Donor’.
Each year when we visit the modern-day Isle of Wight festival we walk up from the centre of Newport to the festival site at Seaclose Park. When researching the area for my book ‘Revenge’ I finally discovered that the bridge in the centre of Newport where all roads converge is called ‘Coppins Bridge’. We’d walked over that bridge for at least 10 years and I never knew its name!
Back to Lily: A Short Story, and my research into the Freshwater area where Lily lived. We walked up Hooke Hill past the church and along by the river and disused railway line. I noticed a tiny picturesque cottage which I decided would be just right for Lily and Artie’s first home after their marriage. As I was looking at the outside of it the owner came out and told us that it was previously a two-roomed Victorian cottage for the station master, his wife and their 11 children (it has since been extended slightly)! We were invited in for a cup of tea, and marvelled at how such a large family could have existed in what was originally a very small dwelling. I suppose the children would have mostly played outside, as all children should.
We walked along the disused railway line, now a pleasant country walk. The railway had appeared in 1870, coinciding with Lily’s birth. I found the junior school hidden away in a side road off the High Street where Lily and her sisters Daisy and Violet would attend, and talked to locals who remembered how it used to be in days gone by. Many buildings in Freshwater were still standing from Victorian times, including the Red Lion public house. This pub features quite a bit in the story. Of course we had to go inside and have a drink, just to get the feel of the place!
So you see, all places in Lily: A Short Story are real, although sometimes the names have been changed. Even the little grocer’s shop, Orchard’s, was there in Victorian times and is still there today. Freshwater Bay is one of my favourite places on this earth.
Have you found some useful research tools apart from Google? Do leave a comment if there’s a favourite site you can recommend.