Writing has long grown its roots in the history and culture of Dorset. Everyone knows that it was the birthplace of Thomas Hardy, who was born in 1840 sixteen miles south and a tad west of my home. Closer still is William Barnes, the poet son of a farmer, born just four miles due west of where I write.
But what interests me is not so much those that were, by accident of birth, thrust into Dorset. Rather it is those who came here for inspiration and the sheer joy of it. From Jane Austin to Enid Blyton, some of my most favourite authors were influenced by, and drawn to, this curious county. I think it is something about the peacefulness and tranquillity within the beautiful countryside that allows the mind to drift and release itself from the shackles and constraints of life. But I add to this the incredible elemental landscape that contains the Jurassic coast but spills backwards through the county, adding folds of hills and valleys that look like they belong in a story.
Take the authors mentioned above. What could be more conflicting than the Famous Five cycling through gorgeous Dorset countryside to solve a crime of gigantic proportions, bringing to account a gang of desperate thieves or kidnappers? Well, in a strange way, Jane Austin matched that conflict. The society she painted in Persuasion was, like all her books, so refined, so polite, yet set against an unmentioned background of the Napoleonic wars, where civility did not exist, and the grinding poverty of the masses, so close yet so far.
It is through this combination of serenity and beauty on the one hand with Yorkshire Moors elements on the other that my own creativity as a writer flourishes. I don’t know if Emily Bronte ever visited Dorset, think it unlikely, but she should have done for she would have found the same conflict she depicts in Wuthering Heights but with a calming, warming climate that would probably have prolonged her life.
One thing that continues to intrigue me about writing is the way you can draw upon your surroundings and use the world around you as your source of inspiration. Whether it is the seasons that change or the rolling hills that develop a new landscape opening up as you walk upon it. Then there are the beaches, riddled with crags and cliffs, and the double-barrelled villages, each one unique yet distinctly Dorset – I could go on and on. Living in Dorset gives me more material that I could ever hope to write in my lifetime, and I can see clearly why so many authors before me decided to make it their home.
However, it is not just the scenery. My day-to-day life in this county lights the fire in my novels and gives me reason to write. Simply managing to survive in life is not an easy endeavour. I learnt that after my engineering business very nearly went under after twenty years of working ungodly hours to keep it afloat. However, even this was a drop in the ocean in comparison to the energy-sapping task of caring for my severely autistic son, now fourteen and the bringer of joy to everyone who meets him. His constant need for attention, both day and night, has been exhausting to both my wife and I. However, it is through the medium of writing that I have been able to see it all from a different perspective: that no matter how difficult and tiring they are, these experiences enrich you as a person and ultimately make it all worth it. I look to conflict for creativity, to despair for hope and to hard times for love and companionship.
This is something that I continue to try to reinforce in my writing. It does not matter the circumstances; those who strive for something are living a life worth living. All the glory of life is in the trying. Whether it is George in ‘2024: A History of the Future’, who fights for the future of his country and the British peoples’ right to democracy and independence, or Ben in ’18 Acres of England’, who does all in his power to save an innocent girl from a life in jail. Neither of these people could be characterised as ‘heroes’ in the traditional sense, but what makes them heroes is their decision to put other people’s interests ahead of their own and to struggle on against the odds. Which brings me to my newest novel, ‘The Stuff of Heroes’, the first in a trilogy due to be released this autumn (as I said before, I’m never short on the material front!). This trilogy, ’The Semblance of Order’, deals with an epic struggle over decades, in which oppressor unites with oppressed in a totally unexpected way.
One thing is for sure, I am proud to be a Dorset writer, proud of its heritage and proud to be, in some way, a small part of it. And, I hope as a reader, you will become a part of it with me.