|Yvonne Lyon, author of The Hungry Sails in Distant Echoes|
Today I'm featuring the first guest-post from contributors to Distant Echoes, published by Corazon Books. All the contributors have won or been shortlisted for the Historical Novel Society's story awards and the anthology covers a really diverse range of historical periods and topics. Readers are often fascinated by how ideas come to writers, so I thought I would ask Yvonne what triggered her very moving tale, The Hungry Sails, set on the Scilly Isles in the mid-nineteenth century. Welcome, Yvonne!
A big thank you to Lorna for allowing me to tell you about my story, The Hungry Sails, which is set on Samson, now an uninhabited island, one of the Isles of Scilly which lie sixty miles off the coast of Cornwall.
My interest in Scilly is long-lived. In the 1990s I had several holidays there, camping with a friend and her family on St Agnes. One year I took a boat trip over to Samson and wandered around the small hilly island, coming across fallen stones from ruined houses. It was a haunting experience and I never forgot it.
Circumstances change, people move on. I didn’t go back to the islands until June 2016 when I decided to holiday on St Mary’s. The memory of the unspoilt beauty of the islands had never left me. I’d promised myself, one day I’ll return.
After a week of boat-trips to the off-islands, sunbathing, walking cliff paths in stunning weather, the day before my departure to the mainland I visited the Islands’ Museum. I stood before a display board about Samson with its photos of now ruined houses and knew I’d found something to write about.
All week I’d been looking for a subject, as a break from novel writing. Perhaps, I thought, other visitors I talked to on boat-trips would spark an idea for me. Briefly, I considered writing a piece about a racist visitor and his conversation with another man about Brexit. (It was early June, just before the EU referendum.) Thankfully the world has been spared that!
In 1822 seven families farmed the land and made a living but by the mid-nineteenth century their descendants were starving. The reports about the last two families from 1855 made a huge impression on me. I learnt that the self-styled Lord Proprietor of the Isles of Scilly, Augustus Smith, wanted them gone so he could graze deer there. The families were to be re-housed on St. Mary’s. They couldn’t stay. They were deprived, living in poverty. But how did they feel about quitting a place where their families had lived for generations? That was the germ of the idea.
Back home I was unsuccessful in finding any library books about Samson but there was enough information on-line for me to use. I’d taken notes at the museum and seen a large stoneware jug there called a Bellermine, a name I’d never come across before. It crept into the story as a way of cheering up a small boy.
The names of characters are actual Samson names though unfortunately I know nothing about the real people. I think of my story as paying homage to their endurance and love for their home.
On a final note of irony, once the Webbers and Woodcocks had left, Augustus Smith built a deer park on the island but the animals did not like the environment and escaped from their stone-walled enclosure, some attempting to wade across to Tresco at low tide.
Yvonne Lyon is from Lancashire and now lives in Oxford where she studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University. She dips in and out of periods depending on what catches her eye for a story so The Hungry Sails, set in 1855, feels modern compared to her current book, The Burning Road. The period is the late Iron Age and characters believe in the old gods, Epona and Lugh. Her first novel was Edgeburn, a YA timeslip story set in present-day Lancashire and late Anglo Saxon times.
Learn more about the Scilly Isles here.