There is also our first Christmas in Northumberland. Daughter was eight and this before people went away for Christmas and self catering was low season rates. We had booked a fortnight in Haltwhistle. On Christmas Eve we went to the old fashioned traditional carol service in the church with the primary school children playing a major role. It was a lovely simple service. When we came out of the church it was a crystal clear night. It was so cold there was a halo around the moon – the first time we’ve ever seen one. It was magical.
We opened our presents on Christmas morning and then put a packet of biscuits and a bottle of water in a pocket and went for a walk. It was such a beautiful morning that it seemed a shame to head back to the cottage to cook Christmas Lunch. Instead we feasted on the biscuits and water sitting on a seat overlooking the South Tyne river. The Matheson turkey roast was cooked up when we eventually got back. Daughter still talks about her Christmas lunch that day and still remembers it as one of the best she’s ever had!
@Grey-Wolf – thanks for sharing the insight from that interview with Paula Hawkins.
Selling 18 million copies of TGOTT certainly allows her to write how she wants, and brutally clipped brevity is sound advice for us would-be writers who might be tempted to wax a little too lyrically sometimes…
I’m not sure so-called critical reviews can be trusted. I hope you manage to read Into the Water, and I look forward to reading your own thoughts on the novel and on the author’s style.
@ESW – thanks for sharing such lyrical memories of rural Northumberland. What great detail and how evocative of a different time. The natural beauty of the area may not have changed, but human treatment of it certainly has. Couldn’t agree more about needing to walk in a place to truly understand it, by the way. And how many calories in a batter pudding, do you reckon…..?
Hope you manage to read Into the Water, and look forward to hearing if you think the author has captured any of your own memories of this area.
There’s an extensive interview with author Paula Hawkins in this month’s “Writing Magazine”, where she attributes part of her success to her background as a financial journalist where she learned to brutally self edit to clipped brevity so no flowery words are wasted. Girl on the Train sold 18 million copies worldwide and has been made into a Hollywood film starring Emily Blunt.
Her latest book “Into the Water” as reviewed on this thread is a departure from her previous and has met with some critical disappointment compared to her first runaway success. Is she bothered ? In a word, no. The book is still selling in the thousands, Labelled as “dark feminist pulp fiction” by The New Statesman, Hawkins insists on a writing style of “do want you want” – formulas and reader expectations are there to be broken, rules exist to be bent, her characters fall into neither category of hero or villain, as in life, most people are a combination of both, likewise their dialogue is not to be trusted whether this arises from faulty memory or self deception, reading between the lines of what people say about themselves and others is the only way of approaching the truth, which she gathered during her time as a journalist.
Her characters are usually damaged, defence mechanismed and difficult, unreliable and unpleasant with secrets to keep. First person narration is therefore never to be taken as gospel.
The holiday made such an impression I can still see it in my minds eye… We both agreed it was one of the best holidays we’d had.
We first discovered Northumberland when at Durham University and it was the start of a love affair that has lasted over fifty years. Since then, we have had many holidays in Northumberland and have walked all of the South Tyne and North Tyne valleys at different times. You need to walk an area to get a feel for it and understand it.
I’ll always remember our first proper holiday in 1974. This was before Kielder Reservoir was built. Researching places to stay in the North Tyne, we found the Blackcock Inn in Falstone. We hadn’t a clue where this was but the OS map marked it as a tiny settlement off the only road up the valley and on the edge of Kielder Forest. We just had to go…
We started with a week in Haltwhistle, spending most of our time walking the Roman Wall. It was a heat wave, and so hot that we were taking salt tablets. The front of my legs got burnt and the backs of Michael’s calves which meant that whichever way we walked one of us was always suffering.
The South Tyne Railway was still operating and the last train from Haltwhistle left at 8.20 for Alston. We used to catch this to the first stop at Featherstone Park where it was a short walk to the Wallace Arms, which served very good real ale. We had time for a couple of pints before heading back to the station for the train back to Haltwhistle. Dusk was falling and the oil lamps were lit on the station. It was magic.
Trips on the railway up to Alston and back were always fun as the driver made unscheduled stops for isolated farms and also picked up and delivered goods for them too. The railway survived the Beeching cuts as it was a life line up the valley, especially in winter when roads were regularly closed by snow. An all weather road was eventually built and the railway closed. The first winter that road closed with snow…
At the end of the week we caught the train to Hexham and then caught the ‘big’ bus up the North Tyne Valley to Bellingham. We stood in the square to wait for the minibus run by the local garage which served the tiny settlements up the valley as far as Kielder. News of our arrival had spread around Falstone and all the ladies were out to see who was on the bus and to welcome us. Within minutes news of arrival had spread and everyone knew who we were, our names and all about us.
The Blackcock Inn in those days didn’t get many visitors and was a time warp. There were butterflies roosting on the walls of the staircase up to our room. The double bed was huge and very ancient but was comfortable. We shared a bathroom with the Sandersons who ran the pub. It had a massive iron bath on feet.
The village was still a working village with everyone employed by the Forestry Commission. In those days, large numbers of people worked in the forest and walking the roads through the forest, we always saw men working. The pub was the local meeting place, especially on a Thursday night when Jock cooked chicken and chips for everyone. We ate our meals in the dining room with its bare stone walls. The first night was local lamb served with a huge and very light batter pudding. It was some of the best lamb we’ve ever eaten. And the batter pudding went well with it too!
We always sat in the public bar after our meal. The local beer was Lorimer’s keg which Michael didn’t like so he was drinking pints of Guinness. I was was drinking cider. We had seen many of the locals when walking in the forest and the Northumbrians are a friendly lot. We were soon regarded as part of the scene.
The work building Kielder dam had yet to start, although work was beginning on the new access road up the valley and felling trees which would be flooded by the new lake. The valley really was remote with isolated farms and little traffic. Many were being given up as uneconomic. I remember coming across Wainhope, a small area of rough grazing with a few sheep surrounded by the trees of Kielder Forest. It was empty but there was still a calendar on the wall and rosettes won at the Falstone show. There was Plashett an old coal mining settlement on the closed North Tyne railway which still had a struggling post office and a few houses still lived in. In a few years that would be covered by the waters of the lake. We feel privileged to have known the valley before it was flooded and changed forever.
Welcome to the second adventure for the Silver Travel Book Club.
Based in the imaginary town of Beckford, in rural Northumberland, Paula describes her new book as “a psychological suspense novel centred on the fractured relationship between two sisters, Nel and Jules. When Nel dies unexpectedly, Jules finds herself trying to figure out not just what has happened to her elder sister, but what has happened between the two of them to leave them so estranged. This is a book of many mysteries. It is about searching for answers, for meaning.”
“Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .”
Into The Water is a very different read to the Silver Travel Book Club’s first Book of the Month – Rosanna Ley’s The Little Theatre by the Sea – in terms of genre, complexity and location!
Where have you been in rural Northumberland, and what have you enjoyed most there? We walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall a few years ago – the start from Newcastle in the east, through Haddon-on-the-Wall, East Wallhouses, Chesters, Housesteads and into the Northumberland National Park, were definitely some of the most memorable days.
The two best entries on this forum thread will each win a copy of the book, and we can read “Into The Water” together to see if Jules uncovers the mystery of what happened to her sister….and if she can conquer her fear of The Drowning Pool.