The view from the castle…


So I’m back to being a writer rather than a political campaigner. In fact, I was recently supposed to deliver leaflets for the Lib Dems in favour of voting reform, but I decided I don’t have time…what with being a writer and all…

In truth, I suppose what I’m spending my time doing right now is trying to be human. Or trying to be a human I like being, at least…And being a writer is a big part of that. It’s alarmingly fundamental to me, I find…Next month sees the release of Ghosts of Winter, my second novel. It’s a mostly contemporary novel, with some colourful glimpses into the past…And the “ghosts” of the title aren’t true ghosts. They’re the ghosts of history echoing into the present, and they’re the personal ghosts we all have to deal with in in our own lives.

I realise this is the second novel I’ve written with a similar theme. This time–in Ghosts of Winterit’s a fictional country house; in Truths it was the Shire Hall and County Gaol of Nottingham. A place, a historical building, leads me into a contemplation of the past, and also my present. In contemplating history, I find myself moved, and examining my own life…I feel my place in the continuum of humanity…

Just last week, it happened in a very real way. I experienced both of the sorts of “ghosts” I toy with in my novel. I took a wander to the grounds of Nottingham Castle, a place I haven’t been to for many years. And lest you should see the rather square manor house that stands on Castle Rock today and feel disappointed there are no turrets, let me assure you there is plenty of history there. And Robin Hood and the Sheriff are really nothing to do with it. A Norman fortification, where medieval lovers escaped through the caves, a Civil War Royalist stronghold, its mighty walls demolished in the 16th century to lessen its threat, the fine mansion of one of Charles II’s loyal supporters, gutted by Reform Bill rioters in 1832, and since 1872 an art gallery and museum: the castle is more than it seems.

Nottingham Castle

However, it was not the castle itself that really moved me. It was the view from the terrace, high above Nottingham. From there, I could see my city. My home. And the ghosts of my own past. I could see Wollaton Hall, the Elizabethan stately home my grandparents used to take me to. I could see the Trent Building at the University of Nottingham, built in 1928, where I studied for my degree. I could see the back of the County Gaol, now the Galleries of Justice museum where I worked, and from where I drew my inspiration for Truths. And I could see Nottingham. For better and worse. Ugly multi-storey car parks, next to the fine building of the Council House. Out towards the countryside, and looking closer, the modern tramlines…The backdrop of most of my life, laid out before me. And it felt like mine. In that moment I could take possession of myself and my life story, my own ghosts. It was like looking at the story of myself.

View from Nottingham Castle

At the same time, I was aware of the greater story I am the tiniest part of. I was aware of the layers of time, the generations of people who had seen the view as it changed and developed.  I saw the bedrock of the castle, with the medieval caves. I saw the tower of St Mary’s Church, from the fourteenth century. The white townhouses of Georgian Nottingham, the fine market town, giving way to the red brick of the Lace Market, with its tall factories. My eyes swept down to the old canal, the industrial warehouses flanking it, now modern pubs. A cluster of twentieth century houses where I know full well were once the crowded slums of Narrow Marsh. The serene Victorian villas of the Park, a private residential area which is as exclusive now as it was then. Suddenly, I could see it all, I could strip back the years of development and imagine what it used to be like. I could feel the pain of the slum dwellers and Reform Bill rioters, the pride of the Victorian middle classes, the passion of the medieval lovers. I could smell the smoke of industries long gone. This wasn’t stale history. This was vivid, colourful, still echoing into the present, into my own life. The “ghosts” were all around me, laid out in front of me. I wasn’t cut off, I wasn’t alone. Other lives had been lived here, others had loved and cried and laughed and sighed here.  I was part of that story. I don’t mind admitting that it moved me to tears.

It was hard to come down from that castle terrace. But the feeling lingers on. I’ve gained a greater understanding of my own novel, and what I was hoping to achieve with it. When Ghosts of Winter is released, I will be reading it more eagerly than anyone. Because now I really understand the feelings that compelled me to write it. And it’s all part of the journey of understanding myself…


4 responses »

  1. I love the many links that have helped me see Nottingham… but more importantly, through your words, I can also ‘feel’ your home… Amazing blog, Rebecca!!

    • Thank you very much, Cindy 🙂
      I put so many links in because I really want to share Nottingham! It’s such an important place to me…and so many people don’t know what the city has to offer, which is a shame.

  2. What a beautiful blog, Rebecca.

    One of the things I find so wonderful about living in England, and Nottingham in particular, is that modern life is part of its history, effortlessly. Everywhere you look is an amazing architectural structure, with some grand beautiful history behind it.

    There’s no question you do it justice, over and over again. And the ghosts on the journey to you? They’re just the ones to guide you along your path. 🙂

    • Thank you so much Vic.
      I was away from Nottingham for a while, and I appreciate it even more since I’ve been back here. I don’t mind saying I adore the place. It makes me very happy you like it too.
      I really hope I do it justice.
      And I’m learning to listen to those guides now…

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