Today I’m honoured to host a stop on the blog tour for the first book in Sarah Rees Brennan’s new series, Unspoken. Sarah has written me a fantastic post about the creation of her fictional town, Sorry-in-the-Vale.
“My aunt lives in a town in the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds, for those not in the cotswoldian know, is a range of hills over several counties in England. There is a famous nature trail called the Cotswold Way.
It’s a beautiful there: golden stone, old buildings, some thatched cottages, some manor houses, churches with horseshoe-shaped entryways, graveyards full of leaning, crumbling stones.
Kind of picturesque, is what I’m trying to get across.
So I was visiting my aunt, and I had wandered off to read my book. I was sitting outside a pub by a river, and I went inside to acquire another beverage and asked the bartender what people did around here for fun.
The bartender, who I swear to God was fourteen, the Cotswolds is a LAWLESS PLACE, said: ‘The pub does this duck race.’
Those duck races have now been immortalised in my prose. You’re welcome, duck races. Fame at last.
It got me thinking, about sleepy English towns, about beauty all around, about secrets running deep. I decided a town in the Cotswolds should be the setting for a place where secrets were kept, still waters ran deep, and when the truth came out there would be murder.
But I didn’t want to steal a town: I figured that what with what I was planning to do with it, the inhabitants would probably sue.
I went to stay in Broadway on a research trip, taking walks through lavender fields to follies. I sat in the gardens at Stanway House and accidentally sat much too close to one of the largest vertical fountains in the world. (Why did nobody tell meeeee, that’s what I want to know. And then I remember, probably because they thought it would be hilarious.)
I went from town to town. Evesham had a haunted river, Stanway had a manor that looked like the manor house of Sorry-in-the-Vale, Aurimere House, in my head, and Broadway had a High Street that looked right, all pretty shop-fronts and frothing flowers over gold stones.
A manor house was very important. Because those manors still exist: those families still exist. But people being the ‘lords of the manor,’ the town bowing down to one family… that doesn’t really happen anymore. Or does it? Are there towns where the old ways persist? What do the lords of the manor do, when times change? A Gothic manor, with an old powerful family, a coat of arms, a crypt: who could resist Secretpalooza Manor? (Note: that is not the house’s name.)
Other Cotswolds towns had names that inspired the name Sorry-in-the-Vale: Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water –- names that sound like stories.
Because I wanted to tell a story. Sorry-in-the-Vale’s name means something: you’ll have to read the book to find out what. (My amazing bookselling abilities, let me show you them. Can you HANDLE the SUSPENSE?)
So I built a town out of bits and pieces of other towns, the bits and pieces that inspired me. And I used English history that inspired me, too: the War of the Roses, when two families fought for the throne of England in the 1400s, plays a significant part in Sorry-in-the-Vale’s history.
I made up a creepy skipping song, my commitment to the cause cannot be doubted!
“Forest deep, silent bells
There’s a secret no one tells
Valley quiet, water still
Lynburns watching on the hill
Apples red, corn gold
Almost everyone grows old.”
And I thought about, besides stone and songs and secrets, what a small town is to the people who live there. It all depends on the people you are.
So Kami Glass, a girl who’s lived her whole life in Sorry-in-the-Vale, who’s happy there… but also confined there: she has dreams of bigger things and wider horizons. Only she’s about to find out she doesn’t know some very important things about her town, and once she has one secret, she’ll want them all.
And Jared Lynburn, a boy transplanted from San Francisco to Aurimere House, the sinister but gorgeous manor on the hill above Sorry-in-the-Vale. He doesn’t know a thing about the town, about his own heritage, but he’ll find out.
There’s also Jared’s cousin Ash, who may know far too much, Kami’s best friend Angela, a rich outsider whose parents just wanted a cute country home, and their new friend Holly Prescott, whose family were ruined by the Lynburns twenty years ago.
I wanted the town to be another character, to inform the characters.
I wanted to create a town vivid enough to make people envision the sign: Welcome to Sorry-in-the-Vale. It’s a magical place. (Try not to get murdered.)”
A massive thank you to S&S for offering me a place on the blog tour and to Sarah for writing a fantastic post.