Audla English’s ‘The Last Village’ is set in Old Marsden in the North East of England. Using the dual timeline approach she weaves a story about the former mining villages past with reflections from the present. The award-winning novel makes the level and type of change between 1945 and today very clear.
What was the inspiration behind The Last Village?
I was hugely inspired by my late Gran as well as the coastal setting of South Tyneside in the North East of England. The novel is a dual-time line historical fiction which details the life of Lily, a young woman growing up with her friends in 1945 whereas the other side of the story, in 2017, is about Anna and her own discovery of her grandmother’s past life- it is a novel which spans and binds the generations through family and friendship.
The novel is also written as a dedication to the now sadly demolished Old Marsden Village which was built by the Whitburn Coal Company in the 1870’s. The unrecognisable former site of the village is now an open and sparse area of grassy land which lies next to the iconic Souter Lighthouse (the lighthouse featured on the book cover) and the land is protected by the National Trust. It has always fascinated me that an entire community once existed on this little piece of land.
The dual timeline approach is very interesting. What was the reasoning behind this?
I wanted to build on the close relationship between the grandmother, Lily, and the granddaughter, Anna, and the differences in the societal obstacles that must be navigated by both as they search for love and belonging. Although both women are from completely different generations, they both share very similar values and needs.
The contrast between 1945 and 2017 is great. What do you consider to be the biggest change?
The biggest change is definitely linked to the shift and subsequent decline of the mining and shipbuilding industries and the impact this had on not only the ‘Old’ Marsden Village but also the surrounding areas of the North East. A once thriving area slowly became a mere shadow of what it was, thankfully, the 2017 descriptions detail just how fabulous an area the North East has become once again.
How did you go about researching the history that is embedded in The Last Village?
Although a work of fiction, this area and its history are in my blood, I was born and raised here. I carried out a lot of research with relatives and people who also grew up in the area.
Linked to the previous one: Are there any archives, books or websites that you would recommend to people interested in this aspect of history?
The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, in South Shields has an impressive local history section and also Souter Lighthouse, a National Trust attraction, has photos of the former mining village and overlooks ‘The Leas’ which is the site of the former village.
Are you considering similar work for other industries in the region? Shipbuilding springs to mind as another area that has seen great change.
It is funny you should mention shipbuilding. The main male character in the novel actually works as an engineer in a shipbuilding yard in South Shields and within the shipping industry. Without giving too much away, he travels the world with his company and his form of communication with the Grandmother, Lily, is through letters from various countries where he is posted.
What do you enjoy the most about writing?
I enjoy the escapism; with writing you can take your mind to any place you desire.
How did you get into writing?
I always wanted to write ‘The Last Village’ and it is a story I have had in the back of my mind and developed over the past decade. It was following the death of my own beloved Gran that I plucked up the courage to finally write it.
How do you go about planning your novels?
I plan in my head a lot at night and then write out structures of plots during the day and accompany that with actual writing. I tend to find that stories develop as I write so I try not to plan in too much detail.
One of the areas that my website is looking at currently is the way that history is interpreted and presented to the general public. How do you go about deciding how to portray your characters and the events in which they become involved?
Depending on the era, I try to keep my characters as truthful as possible to those that would have existed in the time period in question. In terms of the events they become involved in, it very much depends on the nature of the particular character and what was happening within the specific era.
Which authors have been most influential to your own writing to date?
Roald Dahl and Victoria Hislop.
Have you got any plans for future books that are in a historical setting?
Yes I have. My new novel will also be a dual-time line historical fiction which will also be set in the North East around the milling and ship merchants’ industries. The genre will also be romance, focussing around the life of the best friend of the Gran of the modern-day character. The modern-day character will unearth a decades long secret…
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Write from your heart and don’t try to please everyone.
Audla English grew up in the North East of England.
Born in Sunderland, a graduate of Newcastle University and living in South Tyneside, she is passionate about this wonderful region which acts as an inspiration to her writing.
Her award-winning debut novel ‘The Last Village’ is a dual time-line historical fiction and is written as a dedication to the now sadly demolished Old Marsden Village which was built by the Whitburn Coal Company in the 1870’s. The Marsden Rock coastal setting is also used to weave a family saga style narrative around a beautiful part of north east England.
The novel is a moving love story about the life of Lily, a young woman growing up with her friends in 1945 whereas the other side of the story, in 2017, is about Anna and her own discovery of her grandmother’s past life- it is a novel which spans and binds the generations through family and friendship.