The Reader’s Gazetter Special: Alpennia

We’ve visited Alpennia before in this series, but I have a particular treat for you today. As part of the publicity around the release of her new Alpennia novel Floodtide, author Heather Rose Jones has written a guest post exploring why she chose to set her stories in a fictional location, and what she had to consider once she’d made that choice.

It’s worth noting that, while Floodtide is a standalone and you don’t need to have read any of the previous books in the series to enjoy it, Heather is Bella Books’ featured author until the end of the month, so this is an excellent opportunity to pick up all the other Alpennia books at 30% off.

BEL-Floodtide

I’ve heard the question often enough: If you’re setting your story in actual history rather than a pure secondary world, why invent a country to set it in? Why not use a real location? What is the appeal of Ruritania?

Some of the reasons are practical. If your characters are major figures in their setting, maybe you don’t want to insert them into events and relationships that actually existed. Maybe no historic figures did the things or were the sorts of people you need. In my case, I started out thinking I was going to set my story in France, but I needed some specific legal and social structures to make my plot work, and those were impossible in a French setting. In order to give my imagination the space to work, I needed to remove the constraints of an existing historic society. Plot trumped history and so Alpennia was born. (The fantasy elements came later.)

Part of the appeal can be a type of laziness. Some authors are happy to break history and deal with the consequences when a subset of readers protest, “That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!” Others may prefer the softer path–the ability to say, “That’s just how things are in this country.” Ruritania isn’t an excuse to create a society that isn’t internally consistent. There are limits to how lazy you can be and still write a good story. But the limits are more elastic, more forgiving.

An excellent reason to use an invented country is to be sensitive to the real-world cultures that inspired you. This is a sensitive topic, because borrowing elements you find inspiring can merge into appropriating the heritage of actual people while erasing their ancestors from the story. I’ve tried to make it clear that Alpennia is its own place, not an existing culture dressed up in a costume, but the approach has its own risks.

Sometimes inventing a country is a case of wanting to create a setting that could have existed but never did. To design realistic people and events that by chance never happened. Or ones that you suspect did happen but have been written out of history. The heart of my books is a focus on queer women. We know from the bits and scraps that were recorded (and for whom those records survived) that women have loved each other across the ages, but only certain types of stories have come down to us. Often the ones that ended badly. I don’t claim that Alpennia was some sort of queer paradise, but by creating my own society, I can integrate my queer characters without the charge “that’s unhistorical because these people aren’t in the history books.”

Once you’ve decided to invent your own country, the question becomes “how?”

I wanted a place that made sense within its context–that could have evolved naturally out of real historic settings and forces. The geography might be inserted sideways into the existing map of Europe, but the culture, the history, the economy needed to be unexceptional.

The original idea of setting the story in France had already shaped parts of the culture, so it made sense to place it on the border of that country. There were still plenty of small semi-independent duchies and principalities scattered through western Europe in the 18th century. For its simple existence, Alpennia makes as much sense as the Duchy of Savoy, straddling the modern border of France and Italy. In fact, the two are technically neighbors, though by the time of my stories, Savoy was part of the Kingdom of Sardinia. But I digress…

Sitting on the intersection of France, Italy, and Switzerland, the recorded history of Alpennia would of course have begun as part of the Roman Empire. There are references to Roman ruins in Daughter of Mystery, and fans of Roman archaeology will be entertained by the discovery of an ancient Roman monument that plays a key role in Floodtide.

As a consequence, Alpennia will have a Romance language, but likely with a Germanic substrate entering during the Migration Era. When I needed to build a “look and feel” for Alpennian names and vocabulary, I wanted something that was recognizably central European but not quite like any existing Romance language. I settled on using the (fairly fragmentary) written records of the Langobardic language as inspiration for the appearance of the language and developed a set of sound-change rules to use in transforming Latin vocabulary and names into early modern Alpennian. Hey, I have a PhD in historical linguistics, don’t think I was going to gloss over this part!

Alpennia sits on the edge of several large-scale cultural patterns. As a vast oversimplification, these patterns include falling on the Catholic side during the Reformation, an emphasis on “honor culture,” and tending to follow southern European marriage patterns.

Not having a direct sea port, I didn’t see Alpennia as participating strongly in colonial expansion (not for any virtuous reason, just lack of opportunity), and their water-based foreign trade is dependent on access to the Mediterranean through French ports. Alpennia’s major river, the Rotein, is a sort of shadow-twin of the Rhône (which might be guessed from its name) and the positioning of the capital of Rotenek is implied to be at the farthest upriver that commercial barge traffic can reliably go. When I first started plot-noodling the seasonal spring floods that give Floodtide its name, I envisioned the snow-melt of a fan of Alpine tributaries hitting the flatter country around Rotenek in potentially disastrous ways. News images of urban flooding in Europe in the last couple decades have been very inspiring for what the results might look like.

The most fun part of developing the physical environment of Alpennia is how the architecture of human spaces reflects the layered history of the country. The heart of the “upper town” (both upper in elevation and as the heart of upper class culture) is the plaza between the palace and the cathedral. But Floodtide centers more around the marketplace between the church of Saint Nikule (the patron of sailors and merchants) and the old river landing–a relic of a time when the shipping trade was no longer in the hands of the merchant families living along the Vezenaf (whose houses are now the most prestigious in the city) but before it moved to the south side of the river where land was less dear. The simple existence of the Nikuleplaiz summarizes the merchant history of the city. I created the remnants of an old public market building there, now only a covered arcade where the charmwives sell hope and magic, and a secular bell tower that chimes for fogs and floods.

I like to find inspiration in the quirks of real spaces that break the illusion of cleanly planned buildings in the past. The charity housing built into the spaces between the buttresses of Saint Nikule’s church are inspired by actual medieval structures of that type still standing around a church in Deventer in the Netherlands, where I was visiting a friend several years ago. I love details that imagination alone couldn’t create–details that reflect the messy and contradictory relationship of people to their surroundings.

We currently have a wealth of resources for envisioning environments of the past, from easy online access to art, texts, and publications, to reconstructed virtual environments. I find these things invaluable in fleshing out the Alpennian landscape, but my heart always goes back to the time I’ve spent traveling and living in older European cities. That sense of place and presence made a big impact on me when I was a ten-year-old California girl traveling to Europe for the first time–the year that inspired my ongoing love of history. Alpennia is my chance to share that love without laying claim to a heritage that doesn’t belong to me.


Floodtide

The streets are a perilous place for a young laundry maid dismissed without a character for indecent acts. Roz knew the end of the path for a country girl alone in the city of Rotenek. A desperate escape in the night brings her to the doorstep of Dominique the dressmaker and the hope of a second chance beyond what she could have imagined. Roz’s apprenticeship with the needle, under the patronage of the royal thaumaturgist, wasn’t supposed to include learning magic, but Celeste, the dressmaker’s daughter, draws Roz into the mysterious world of the charm-wives. When floodwaters and fever sweep through the lower city, Celeste’s magical charms could bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor of Rotenek, but only if Roz can claim the help of some unlikely allies.

Set in the magical early 19th century world of Alpennia, Floodtide tells an independent tale that interweaves with the adventures.

A stand-alone book in the Alpennia series (Alpennia #4)


Heather Rose Jones is the author of the Alpennia historic fantasy series: an alternate-Regency-era Ruritanian adventure revolving around women’s lives woven through with magic, alchemy, and intrigue. Her short fiction has appeared in The Chronicles of the Holy Grail, Sword and Sorceress, Lace and Blade, and at Podcastle.org. Heather blogs about research into lesbian-relevant motifs in history and literature at the Lesbian Historic Motif Project and has a podcast covering the field of lesbian historical fiction which has recently expanded into publishing audio fiction. She reviews books at The Lesbian Review as well as on her blog. She works as an industrial failure investigator in biotech pharmaceuticals.

Website: http://alpennia.com

Twitter: @heatherosejones

Facebook: Heather-Rose-Jones-490950014312292/

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The Reader’s Gazetteer

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The Reader’s Gazetteer: M

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M is another of those built-up letters. Hardy gives us Marygreen, Melchester and Mellstock. Wikipedia tells me that there was a Maltovia in one of the Biggles books, but if I read it (and I read a lot of Biggles, back in the day) then I don’t remember it. Helena Fairfax gives us Montverrier, and a dedicated exploration of the Ruritania series takes us to Mittenheim. (Well, it doesn’t really; a Grand Duke comes from there, but we never really learn much about it.)

Then there’s Maycomb. Google supplies a wealth of maps (extrapolating them from To Kill A Mockingbird seems to be a popular school activity) but I’m going to quote this lovely train journey from Go Set A Watchman:

The countryside and the train had subsided to a gentle roll, and she could see nothing but pastureland and black cows from window to horizon. She wondered why she had never thought her country beautiful.

The station at Montgomery nestled in an elbow of the Alabama, and when she got off the train to stretch her legs, the returning familiar with its drabness, lights, and curious odors rose to meet her…

For no reason an ancient fear gnawed her. She had not been in this station for twenty years, but when she was a child and went to the capital with Atticus, she was terrified lest the swaying train plunge down the riverbank and drown them all. But when she boarded again for home, she forgot.

The train clacketed through pine forests and honked derisively at a gaily painted bell-funneled museum piece sidetracked in a clearing. It bore the sign of a lumber concern, and the Crescent Limited could have swallowed it whole with room to spare. Greenville, Evergreen, Maycomb Junction.

Although even this train doesn’t quite get us there, and the journey is completed by car:

No trains went there – Maycomb Junction, a courtesy title, was located in Abbott County, twenty miles away. Bus service was erratic and seemed to go nowhere, but the Federal Government had forced a highway or two through the swamps, thus giving the citizens an opportunity for free egress.

To reach Middlemarch these days you’d take a train out of London Euston and you’d be there in about an hour. But at the time that the action is set, the railway has not quite made it. In fact, we see it being built.

It’s not connections or landscape that make Middlemarch a place we can believe in. It’s the people. It’s the systems. It’s the systems in which the people live and move, and the people who make up the systems. There’s the class system, the minute gradations of commerce, the churches and the hospitals, the vain attempt to move up a rung, or at least keep oneself from moving down one, to escape it entirely, and the pettiness of the whole thing…

I know how to get to Middlemarch because I believe the introduction when it tells me it’s basically Coventry with the serial numbers filed off. (Which makes me wonder whether anyone’s written anything set in post-war Middlemarch. Or anything about the Middlemarch bicycle industry…) But I believe in Middlemarch because I believe in the people who live in it and around it.

 

Books mentioned in this post

Middlemarch, George Eliot

In the Mouth of the Wolf, Helena Fairfax

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

The Heart of Princess Osra, Anthony Hope

Biggles Goes To War, Capt. W. E. Johns

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee

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The Reader’s Gazetteer: L

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L takes us back to Britain and back to the ecclesiastical shenanigans novel in Catherine Fox’s Lindchester series.

Lindchester is explicitly in the same universe as Barchester, and it has a rather more explicit location:

The diocese of Lindchester is not large, squashed as it is between Lichfield to the south and Chester to the north; so don’t worry, we will not be travelling far.

This locates it, unusually for an ecclesiastical shenanigans novel, in the northern province. The Archbishop of Canterbury surely has quite enough to deal with in Barchester, Christminster, Starbridge and Torminster. It’s only fair that the Archbishop of York gets to fret about Lindchester’s problems.

Transport links? If you were starting in London, you’d get a train out of Euston. Euston is horrible. Maybe don’t start in London. Change at Crewe.

I’ve been using ‘Lindchester’ as shorthand for the locale in which the action happens. This is not limited to the town of Lindchester itself; it encompasses the whole diocese: Lindchester, Lindford, Cardingforth… (In fact, the narrator is scrupulous about not depicting anything that happens beyond the diocesan boundaries.)

Recently, I’ve been mulling over a hypothesis about fictional places, about the difference between Barchester and Ruritania (I know we haven’t got to the latter yet). And I’m not convinced it’s entirely down to geography. It’s not the difference between a city and a state – in fact, so many modern Ruritanias are so tiny that they basically are cities. I think it’s more to do with the way that the characters – and particularly the protagonist – interacts with the place.

If you’re the protagonist, Ruritania is the place you visit. You might have a longstanding connection with the place, your visit may have a disproportionate effect on the place, and you might very well get more than you bargained for on that visit, but you’re essentially an outsider. Barchester is the place where you live, very probably the place where you were born. In Barchester, you’re a part of the system, the whole complicated interconnected web of human relationships. You may well be able to effect change, but the system is something that has shaped you. You can’t just pass through it.

That’s because the place itself exists within a larger system, whether that’s political, religious, social, or any combination. It’s a system that the author suspects that many of their readers know well, might themselves exist within. Lindchester is a diocese within the Church of England. It operates in a similar way to any other diocese in the Church of England. Happy endings are very much a possibility, but they have to be negotiated within the constraints of the real-life system. The author has control of the fates of the individual characters, but they don’t mess around with the way we all know things work. That would be cheating. That would be far less satisfying.

 

Books referred to in this post

Lindchester series (Acts and Omissions, Unseen Things Above, Realms of Glory), Catherine Fox

Barchester series, Anthony Trollope

 

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The Reader’s Gazetteer: K

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K is a much easier letter than J. People might get stuck on the th or the ee in my name (in any sensible language that would be an i or an í) but they always get the k right.

I wanted to say something about place names beginning with K having a sense of exoticism that proclaims to us that we’re abroad without subjecting us to the embarrassment of not knowing how to pronounce them. Then I remembered that I grew up between Knighton and Kingsland, with Kington not that far away. And indeed, there are some fictional British places beginning with K: Thomas Hardy has Kennetbridge (it’s about an hour from London Paddington) and Kingsbere (take the train from Waterloo and then the bus from Casterbridge) and Knollsea (train to Anglebury, and then there’s a bus).*

I suppose I must have been thinking of Sophy of Kravonia. It feels wrong to deal with that one before The Prisoner of Zenda, but hey, that’s the way the alphabet works. Kravonia also doesn’t quite meet my requirements in that I still have only the haziest idea of where it actually is:

Kravonia was a rich country, and its geographical position was important. The history of the world seems to show that the standard of civilization and morality demanded of a country depends largely on its richness and the importance of its geographical position.

The neighbour on the west had plenty of mountains, but wanted some fertile plains. The neighbour on the east had fertile plains adjacent to the Kravonian frontier, and would like to hold the mountain line as a protection to them. A far-seeing statesman would have discerned how important correct behavior was to the interests of Kravonia! The great neighbours began to move in the matter, but they moved slowly. They had to see that their own keen sense of morality was not opposed to the keen sense of morality of other great nations. The right to feel specially outraged is a matter for diplomatic negotiations, often, no doubt, of great delicacy.

The publication date of 1906 might provide a clue, but then again it might not. Any ideas?

I’ll look at the careful placing of Ruritania, Strelsau and Zenda later in the series. In the meantime, I do rather get the sense that Anthony Hope had been asked for another Zenda and was phoning it in. Or sending himself up. (Sophy, the Rudolf Rassendyll analogue, is a kitchen maid from Essex with a flair for languages, which I suppose makes her exactly as qualified to run a country as an idle younger son of the aristocracy. The prince is interested in one thing, and that one thing is big guns.) Never mind.

We return to The House of the Four Winds to visit Kremisch and Krovolin. Kremisch is just this side of the border from Evallonia – which border isn’t specified, since John Buchan has gone to quite a lot of trouble to get us there without knowing, or really caring, where exactly we are. And, like many places in Buchan’s oeuvre, it has a really, really good pub:

The inn at Kremisch, the Stag with the Two Heads, has an upper room so bowed with age that it leans drunkenly over the village street. It is a bare place, which must be chilly in winter, for the old casement has many chinks in it, and the china stove does not look efficient, and the rough beechen table, marked by many beer mugs, and the seats of beechwood and hide are scarcely luxurious. But on this summer night to one who had been tramping all day on roads deep in white dust under a merciless sun it seemed a haven of ease. Jaikie had eaten an admirable supper on a corner of the table, a supper of cold ham, an omelet, hot toasted rye-cakes and a seductive cheese. He had drunk wine tapped from a barrel and cold as water from a mountain spring, and had concluded with coffee and cream in a blue cup as large as a basin. Now he could light his pipe and watch the green dusk deepen behind the onion spire of the village church.

Krovolin is the monarchist headquarters in Evallonia, and a good distance from the border:

The great forest of St Sylvester lies like a fur over the patch of country through which the little river Silf -the Amnis Silvestris of the Romans – winds to the Rave. At the eastern end, near the Silf’s junction with the main river, stands the considerable town of Krovolin; south of it stretch downs studded with the ugly headgear of oil wells; and west is the containing wall of the mountains. It is pierced by one grand highway, and seamed with lesser roads, many of them only grassy alleys among the beeches.

We spend quite a lot of the book getting there, and then get a somewhat fragmentary picture of the town, fitted in around the action:

The cars turned along the edge of the water over vile cobbles, and presently wove their way into a maze of ancient squalor. This was the Krovolin of the Middle Ages, narrow lanes with high houses on both sides, the tops of which bent forward to leave only a slender ribbon of sky.

There’s a Street of the White Peacock, and a hotel called the Three Kings of the East. Which, by the way, has a ‘pleasant restaurant’, but there’s no word on the menu. Maybe one would do better to stay in Kremisch after all. On the other hand, we haven’t got to Tarta yet…

 

Books mentioned in this post

The House of the Four Winds, John Buchan

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

The Hand of Ethelberta, Thomas Hardy

Sophy of Kravonia, Anthony Hope

 

*I should say that I’m relying on the Wikipedia page for Thomas Hardy’s Wessex and Traveline for this guidance. The author of this blog takes no responsibility etc etc. Besides, do you really want to end up in a Hardy novel?

 

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The Reader’s Gazetteer: J

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Well, I have to admit it: I’m stuck. I couldn’t think of a single fictional place beginning with J. Nor could my father, who has got enthusiastically into this excursion, as will be seen from his postcard.

And I think I can explain why they’re so difficult to find.

I’ve said before that the thing about fictional places is that you have to be able to believe in them. And it’s difficult to believe in a place if you’re not sure how you’re meant to pronounce it.

J – believe me, I know – is not an obvious letter. (The number of places in which I’ve been addressed tentatively as ‘Miss… er, Yo-veet?’…!) Is it the English dg sound? The French zh? The German y? Maybe even the Spanish hk? Or perhaps it’s more like Latin and you should treat it as another form of i. Well, you might be able to work it out from the location or the language, but you might equally well not, and it’s a bit distracting to spend the whole book wondering whether you’re pronouncing the site of the action correctly. I can see why authors don’t take the risk.

(In fairness, I should add that the ever-entertaining Smart Bitches, Trashy Books came up with a post that led me to a book set in somewhere called Jura, but I haven’t got round to following it up, so I don’t know whether it’s pronounced like the Hebridean island or the French mountain range or something else entirely.)

Next time: K. You know where you are with K. (Except in Swedish.)

 

Books mentioned in this post

The English Bride (Royal Bride), Joan Wolf

 

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The Reader’s Gazetteer: I

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Ixania, in Eric Ambler’s The Dark Frontier, possibly shouldn’t be included in this gazetteer, because the name is stated to be fictitious. (So is that of the country’s capital, Zovgorod.) This annoys me irrationally. Maybe it still begins with I.

The Dark Frontier is a good deal of fun, however, at the same time sending up and gloriously indulging itself in the tropes of the Ruritanian thriller. The mild-mannered, idealistic, scientist (a stereotype in his own right) gets a knock on the head and becomes convinced that he’s Conway Carruthers, the hero of the pulp novel he was reading before the accident. And there’s a good train journey, all the way from Paris to Bâle and then east from there:

Carruthers watched the mountains of Switzerland and Austria pass in slow review. Then for some hours, they ran across wind-driven plains. On the second night, he again saw the lights of houses gleaming up high as they climbed into the mountain country of Transylvania. They stopped at stations of which he had never heard, but there were some familiar names – Budapest, Cluj, Sinaia, Ploesti…

[they change train at Bucharest]

… The train for Zovgorod proved to be composed mainly of empty cattle trucks with two very dirty coaches and a mail van hitched to the rear. They were not due in Zovgorod until 7 A. M. the following morning and Carruthers did not look forward to the two-hundred-and-fifty-mile journey ahead…

… Leaning on the window-rail he gazed out into the gathering darkness. Far away he could see a line of hills traced delicately against the strip of cold cerulean sky left by a dying sun. The clouds still hung, black and heavy, overhead. The sound of the train seemed to echo across the plain as if in a great waiting silence. He turned his head towards the freshening breeze.

So, whatever Ixania’s really called, we can at least make a guess at where it is.

I came across Annals of the Parish, by John Galt, via the delightful Clothes in Books blog a couple of months ago. It’s presented as a memoir by the parish minister, covering the years from 1760 to 1810. Most of the action takes place in the village of Dalmailing, so I’ll have to add that on to the D blog. The nearest town, however, is Irville, which, we learn over the course of the book, has at one time or another:

  • a dancing school
  • a chaise
  • links with shipping
  • and with coal
  • New Inns, plural
  • a market
  • a grocery shop

and generally seems to be where things happen. A footnote tells us that in the real world it’s Irvine. I’m counting it.

Books mentioned in this post

The Dark Frontier, Eric Ambler

Annals of the Parish, John Galt

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The Reader’s Gazetteer: H

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What did I say when I introduced this series?

Do I believe that I, a normal human being with no powers more sophisticated than being able to hold a map the right way up and knowing how to use the Deutsche Bahn app, could get to the place?

But when an author’s kind enough to not only give me a real life station, but a date and time of departure, too, who am I to quibble because I’m not magic enough to get onto the platform? Let’s talk about Hogsmeade. You (if you’re a witch or a wizard on the way to school at Hogwarts) get there by catching the 11am from platform nine-and-three-quarters at London King’s Cross on 1 September. (Any other means of getting there definitely fall outside the scope of this blog series.) And it takes all the rest of the day to get there. Which puts it somewhere in Scotland, although, as ‘the only entirely non-Muggle settlement in Britain’, it seems to have developed its own distinctive culture:

Hogsmeade looked like a Christmas card; the little thatched cottages and shops were all covered in a layer of crisp snow; there were holly wreaths on the doors and strings of enchanted candles hanging in the trees.

Harry shivered; unlike the other two, he didn’t have his cloak. They headed up the street, heads bowed against the wind, Ron and Hermione shouting through their scarves.

‘That’s the Post Office -‘

‘Zonko’s is up there -‘

‘We could go up to the Shrieking Shack -‘

‘Tell you what,’ said Ron, his teeth chattering, ‘shall we go for a Butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks?’

But there, alas, you and I cannot follow.

I could quibble because nothing goes north of Peterborough from platforms 9, 10, and 11, but that would just be petty. Besides, there are all sorts of strange things that go on at King’s Cross. It’s got a fully functional platform zero, for goodness’ sake. And here’s a picture of a Festiniog railway loco in the middle of the concourse.

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The whole question of the Hogwarts Express got me thinking about train journeys in other school stories: they’re quite often used, as in Harry Potter, as a liminal space, to introduce important characters and answer the protagonist’s questions about the world that they’re about to enter.

What I can’t decide is how the trains themselves work: would it be most usual to have a charter train, or to add a couple of reserved carriages onto a regular service, perhaps making an extra stop at a station nearer the school, or just to have the students travel by normal services? I’d assumed that the trains that take students to Malory Towers (leaving, one assumes, from Paddington) were chartered, but I don’t think there’s any evidence either way. (Incidentally, my father points out that, in any book where Darrell arrives by train, then so do most of the others, and if she’s driven down by Daddy then everyone else arrives by car too.) The Kingscote girls must be travelling (from Victoria) in reserved carriages on a standard service, because the Head is concerned about what other travellers might think about their behaviour.

I haven’t any other school stories in the house to check, so let’s return to the East Coast Mainline, and take a look at J. B. Priestley’s They Walk In The City. The city in which they walk is actually London, but a substantial portion of the narrative takes place in Haliford, which is a decaying mill town along the lines of Bradford or Huddersfield.

Haliford, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, is a textile town. A hundred years ago it was of no importance at all; merely a little market town, with a few small mills dotted about the hillsides. It grew steadily during the Fifties and Sixties; then came the Franco-Prussian War – a godsend – and Haliford made money… and after that, in spite of a slump or two towards the end of the century, the town grew and prospered, until at last there came the Great War – and what a godsend that was – and… the town, though a little lacking in brisk young manhood, reached its peak. It started slipping and sliding down the other side, towards nobody knows what, early in the Nineteen Twenties. The world seemed to take a sudden dislike to Haliford and its undeniably excellent products. Now, most of the mills have begun to look old. Some of them – grim black stone boxes though they are – have even begun to look pathetic. You feel – as they say round there – that they are ‘past it’. In the watery sunlight of the Pennines, their windows sometimes look like the eyes of a blind beggar. The tall chimneys that are still smoking do it now in a leisurely fashion, like retired men making a morning pipe last as long as possible. Many of the chimneys have stopped smoking, not having known the heat of a furnace for years. The air above Haliford ought to be clear by this time, but somehow the old haze still lingers, perhaps out of kindness to the bewildered townsfolk below, who would feel naked without it.

These days you’d probably be able to get a very good curry there.

Priestley obligingly tells us how to get to Haliford – at least, he tells us how to get to London from there, so it’s easy enough to reverse the process:

Both of them knew all about the ten o’clock train. It took Haliford men to the wool sales in London. It took them to buy wool in Australia and South America. It took them to sell Haliford fabrics all over the world, from Paris to Shanghai. Some of these fellows, with bags fantastically labelled, were already settling into their corners of first-class smokers, frowning over their pipes at copies of the Yorkshire Post and Manchester Guardian… In [Edward’s] right-hand waistcoat pocket was a ticket to King’s Cross, London, to say nothing of Beauty, Romance, Riches, Glory, Love… The station itself, with its glass-covered altitudes of quiet  and indifference, its sudden snortings and red glares, its high echoing voices, its fascinating suggestion of only being half in Haliford, the other half being anywhere you would like it to be, diminished and engulfed them both in a not unfriendly fashion…

‘It only stops at Doncaster, Grantham and Peterborough,’ said Herbert solemnly.

And it will not arrive at platform nine, ten or eleven, I can tell you that much.

Books mentioned in this post

Malory Towers series, Enid Blyton

Autumn Term, Antonia Forest

They Walk In The City, J. B. Priestley

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling

The Reader’s Gazetteer

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