Veronica Henry on her new book based in Somerset, ‘A Home from Home’
PUBLISHED: 16:17 19 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:31 24 September 2019
Late summer cider orchards in Somerset form the backdrop to author Veronica Henry's new book, as she tells Catherine Courtenay
It's a wet and windy day when we meet to talk about Veronica's new book, which is set in Somerset. The expanse of Woolacombe Sands is laid before us as we take shelter with a coffee in her local café, a tiny retreat up in the dunes, overlooking the sea. The setting is far removed from the subject of her latest book, which takes readers to the heart of Somerset, and submerses them in the heady atmosphere of late summer cider orchards.
Veronica, who moved to North Devon 16 years ago, is an award-winning author with 20 novels to her name, and for each one the setting has been key.
"Where would my readers want to go?" she will ask herself.
In A Home from Home she takes them to Dragonfly Farm, near the fictional Somerset town of Nettleford, where one of book's characters, Tabatha Melchior, is at work in her uncle's orchard, dreaming of plans to create a sparkling cider. It's an idyllic scene, but one which is about to be upskittled by some bad news. And so begins a twisting, turning tale, with Veronica's favourite themes of family, tragedy, revelation and love.
"I wanted to shine a light on Somerset. I'm intrigued by it. It's a slightly neglected county, but it's mystical, lush, arty and creative - and foodie," she says.
For inspiration, and after hearing him give a talk, she sought out cider maker Julian Temperley of the Somerset Cider Company.
"I emailed them, sent a copy of a book so they knew I wasn't mad, then they invited me, and I went along with my agent. They showed us around, gave us lunch - and cider. It was so unspoilt, a brilliant place. It was autumn and I loved the goldenness of it."
She also visited a Devon farm, South Yeo Farm West near Northlew, to do a cider making course. It's important to understand, she says, not just the process of making it, but also, "What it feels like, what it smells like."
She immerses herself in place and character. A Night on the Orient Express was written after travelling on the famous train; it went on to win the 2014 Romantic Novel of the Year (RNA) award.
Experiencing the atmosphere of a location is a bit like being a medium, or a conduit, she feels. "It's like people are coming through and want to tell you their stories."
One of the characters in A Home From Home, in a nod to her own career of 10 years, is a scriptwriter.
Her first job was at the BBC as production secretary for The Archers. It was a fertile place to learn the art of storytelling and editing - and multitasking. As she progressed she worked on Crossroads, then Boon, Heartbeat and Holby City.
She explains the process of scriptwriting - which seems to be an impossible task. Different writers work on various story lines, which are then layered together. They will often be written out of synch with the story timeline; then you have to add in the actors' availability and the need to weave in the expert, specialist writers - for Holby City medical experts draft characters' words, which then have to be incorporated into the main scripts. Then there's the problem with continuity - filming TV out of synch in particular can cause problems. So, for example, "actors would come and ask when they could book in to have a haircut," she says. "Your mind gets trained to work backwards and forwards and out of order. But it was brilliant fun and you were working with great writers and actors," she says. "The Archers is designed to keep people listening; in terms of commercial story telling it was the best training I could have."
What many of these programmes have in common is a warmth, and sense of nostalgia and community - all values which shape her own novels. People from the past have their impact too, just as in real life. "It's about people's energy and what subsequent generations take from them. It's about what you leave behind, what people remember about you. I think it's Maya Angelou who said, people won't remember what you said, they will remember how you made them feel."
Her career she says, "Sort of happened. I never had a plan, I just went with the flow." Although she had always loved books and enjoyed reading since childhood. "I was so lucky to be in a show that fed that and to work with a great boss who was very good at picking up people."
She is still an avid reader - everything from Jilly Cooper to PG Wodehouse and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. People "who use words well and paint a picture with words", she says.
"It always comes back to character; creating characters that people care about. People who are not perfect, but they bring a book to life."
A Home from Home is published by Orion Books and it out now, price £7.99