While rambling in West Yorkshire, 2005
Every year when the weather turns springy, when the shrubs start to green and the air smells like mown grass, I want to write about England. Well, not the real England, let’s be fair. My own imaginary corner of it, which is fairly idealized and perpetually Victorian and entirely populated with Trollopian and Gaskellian characters.
Little Wescott, Somerset.
I’m not sure why this happens in the spring. Maybe because it’s the only time of year that I’ve actually been to the UK, so all my memories and fantasies have snagged on it. I don’t know. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit three times, and all of them were in that narrow window of early fullness: weeks of May and June.
Three of my four novels have been set in England; one of them inexpressibly bad, one of them underdeveloped, and one of them nearly publishable (if only it was more romantic according to one agent; if only it were set in America according to another). The almost-publishable one is my favorite, though the plot is less clever and the premise less marketable.
I don’t really care.
I like Little Wescott. I like the people who live there. They’ve been with me for years, and I still like to think about them in odd moments, puzzle out their motivations and wonder about their relationships. They are dolls for grown ups. Or action figures or LEGOs or whatever you used to stand in for stories when you were small. I know all of their quirks and preferences. I know who marries whom. I know who dies young. I know the name of the local pub owner and where the principle roads lie. It’s my Mitford, my March family, my Avonlea.
It all began innocently enough. As a game, actually, a very Victorian sort of dungeons and dragons I developed with two of my sisters-in-law that year Grace lived in my parents’ basement and Carlie was just three miles away.
What a fun summer—piling into the van to go to the beach, talking the whole way about how Alexander’s character fit and what the Moore family was like. We started with a set of three sisters, but of course then we had to paint in the whole village, sketch out maps, arrange personality conflicts. Back when “hanging out” was as likely to end in collaborative writing as movie watching.
I guess it’s still true. We just don’t see each other as much. And then we all had kids.
But I haven’t lost track of the Wescotians. I kept playing with them in my spare time, and then I wrote a book about them, and then I extensively rewrote it three times… and dang it if I don’t still like them.
I like them so much that every year when the weather gets nice enough for me to go rambling around outside I start thinking about their problems and ambitions all over again, and I think that after all there were three sisters and I only wrote one book.
Maybe it’s time Lydia and Ellen got their own books.
A long road, yes, but such a nice one. We’ll see.