When Virginia Moffatt contacted me to ask if I’d think about reading and reviewing her new novel Echo Hall, she really didn’t need to ask me twice. Published on 30th November by Unbound Digital, this book was one I’d already spotted and added to my “must read” list. The book’s description drew me in immediately:
In the early nineties, newlywed Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall to find an unhappy house full of mysteries that its occupants won’t discuss. When her husband, Adam, is called up to the Gulf War, her shaky marriage is tested to the core.
During World War 2 Elsie Flint is living at Echo Hall with her unsympathetic inlaws. While her husband, Jack is away with the RAF, his cousin Daniel is her only support. But Daniel is hiding a secret that will threaten their friendship forever.
At the end of the Edwardian era, Rachel and Leah Walters meet Jacob Flint, an encounter leading to conflict that will haunt the family throughout World War 1 and beyond.
As Ruth discovers the secrets of Echo Hall, will she be able to bring peace to the Flint family, and in doing so, discover what she really wants and needs?
I hope to bring you that review in February, but today I’m delighted to welcome author Virginia Moffatt to Being Anne, with an excellent guest post on writing fictional landscapes…
Fictional landscapes matter for good storytelling. They are essential for world building, allowing the reader to react to characters living in believable situations. They are particularly relevant for Gothic novels, where the environment is also used to create atmosphere and reflect the mood of the story’s participants (pathetic fallacy). So, when I began writing my own Gothic novel, Echo Hall, I knew I would have to pay particular attention to the surroundings.
I began with the house. In fact, the first time I put any part of the story into words, way back in 2004, I wrote a prologue with two people arriving there at different times, Ruth in 1990 and Elsie in 1939. I somehow managed to lose that description, and by the time I started writing properly three years later, had completely reworked the structure. Elsie’s first impressions were ditched, but Ruth’s remained and are pretty much in the story as I first remember writing them. By now I was thinking of the estate Echo Hall was situated in. I placed it on a hilltop, surrounded by fir trees. I added an imposing entrance, a winding drive, damp ferns clinging to the rockface in the road below. And fog, plenty of fog, reflecting the confusion Ruth often feels.
As the story developed so too, did the locations. I began googling images Welsh border villages, and making mental notes of places I passed when driving through Herefordshire. My village of Whetstone is drawn from an amalgamation of those images, though its tiny post office is based on one that used to exist in Pont-Rhyd-y-Groes where my friend Ann used to live. At this stage, I imagined that the book was set somewhere near the Black Mountains. So during a weekend staying at Llanthony Priory, I left my husband, Chris, in a pub in Hay and took a trip along the Golden Valley. My town of Sandstown, owes much to Hereford. Arthur’s Stone, a key location in the novel, is based on a real place just outside the village of Bredwardine, My version of the landmark is much taller, so people can walk inside and take shelter from the weather, but the view down the hill with a row of fir trees, behind which Echo Hall lies, is pretty similar.
The Flint Quarry is essential to the plot of the novel. When I discovered that slate mining wasn’t really prevalent in South Wales, I had to move Echo Hall north of Shrewsbury. This meant revising the description of the hills, as further up the border, they are less soft and rolling. Fortunately, my mother lived in Church Stretton, which is surrounded by the right sort of hill. Walking in the Long Mynd was perfect fodder for working out what my fictional hillsides might look like. While the muddy paths of Rectory Woods made their way into my descriptions of the woods that lead to Arthur’s Stone, and tobogganing on snowy day helped me form a picture of Echo Hall in winter.
Sadly, there are very few working quarries in Wales, but memories of a visit to Llechwedd Slate Mine in the early 90’s was enough for me to picture the inner cavern of the Flint Quarry. Luckily I discovered one just above Llangollen. Not only was the town museum hugely informative about the slate industry, but I was able to drive up the twisty turny road, to find the entrance high in the hills above. It was enough to help me describe the way in to the Flint Quarry, while the book on slate mining I purchased had photographs that helped me visualise Bryngraean and the working mine.
Finally, while holidaying in Pembrokeshire we stumbled across a country house called Scolton Manor. The outside wasn’t right, but the interior had many of the features I had already installed: dark wooden panes on the walls, an oak staircase, a green baize servant’s door. Better still there were fully fitted kitchens, and the rooms were laid out for the end of the Victorian era which was close enough to the time I was writing about to help with my descriptions. All of that experience made its way into the book, coming in particularly handy when I decided to add a prologue in which Echo Hall appears as tourist attraction.
I’ve really enjoyed creating the landscape of Echo Hall and creating name places that reflect the stony world of the Flint family (‘Sandstown’ sounding like sandstone, Whetstone & Bryngraean , which means Quarry Hill in Welsh). I hope that that readers will enjoy the results.
Virginia, thank you – for someone like me who is always fascinated by locations, that was just the perfect guest post. I very much look forward to reading Echo Hall.
About the author
Virginia Moffatt was born in London, one of eight children, several of whom are writers. Her eldest brother writes about theology and politics, one sister is a poet, a second a translator and her twin sister is a successful author.
Virginia has always been a writer but began to take it seriously only in 2004, when she first had the idea for Echo Hall. In 2009, she set up her blog, A Room of My Own, where she publishes flash fiction, short essays and reflections about writing and reading.
Virginia also writes on political and faith issues. She has recently edited a collection of essays, Reclaiming the Common Good: How Christians can help rebuild a broken world, published by Darton, Longman and Todd in 2017. She has also written a Lent course, Nothing More and Nothing Less, based around the film I, Daniel Blake, also published by Darton, Longman and Todd.
After working in social care for 30 years, Virginia left local government to work for the Christian think–tank Ekklesia in 2014. She currently works for a multi-academy trust as a procurement and contracts manager.
Virginia is married to Chris Cole, director of Drone Wars UK. They have three children and they live in Oxford.