The White Cuckoo is set in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside in a village called Lyverton.
Where is Lyverton? The truth is, Lyverton does not exist as a place. It is a hybrid of these Northamptonshire villages: Broughton, Barton Seagrave, Warkton and Twywell. When you read The White Cuckoo you may recognise elements of all or some of these villages.
The nearest town to Lyverton is a medium-sized fictitious market town called Fawsden. Where on earth did I get that name from? Well, my husband, Bob, used to be responsible for street naming and numbering at the local Council before he took early retirement, and had a knack of coming up with good ideas for street names. He named Stratfield Way in Kettering after our much-loved black Labrador, whose pedigree name was Stratfield Saye Dipper. If you live in Stratfield Way, now you know that your street was named after our dead dog! RIP Ben (1884-1998).
I tasked Bob with coming up with the names for a small market town and another village smaller and more exclusive than Lyverton. He came up with Fawsden and Little Somerton, which I think you will agree are good names for fictitious places.
The development site in Fawsden was meant to be based on the East Kettering Urban Extension. In 2009 when I began writing the novel, commencement of work on the site was imminent. Hmmm … here we are in 2012 and not one single spadeful of earth has yet been disturbed, so whether or not the ‘ancient trees, bushes and lush fields’ will ever ‘abruptly give way to crude, Mondrian-like slabs of brown and grey, splattered with green and yellow dots of construction machinery and a couple of cranes’ remains to be seen – when and if the East Kettering Urban Extension of 5,500 houses commences!
So, just after I began to start typing the novel, I had the main characters, a town, two villages, the main plot and a couple of sub-plots. For other characters, it is very, very tempting for a writer to base a character on someone you know. However, in The White Cuckoo people can rest assured that none of the characters are based on real people, although I do confess to eavesdropping conversations and making notes of mannerisms to capture the essence of dialogue and gestures, etc. In the day job I take minutes at various meetings which provides me with a rich market place from which to select valuable character traits and physical characteristics. Even studying the back of someone’s head can provide a sentence or two on the way their hair falls, or they use their hands to make a point. We had a visitor to a meeting a couple of years ago who gave a presentation. I was absolutely mesmerised by the way he subconsciously jingled his loose change in his trouser pockets whilst talking to a colleague, and then, as he gave his presentation to the meeting he kept patting and caressing imaginary objects in front of him.
I’m not sure if other writers engage in this type of observation: it would be great to have a discussion on how we build our various characters!