The Dark Horizon
I’ve always believed that a story set in a particular period of time should grow out of the history of that period, and that the history shouldn’t be used as a mere backcloth for a story that could have happened at any time, in any place. For this reason, my research into my chosen period is of paramount importance when it comes to constructing my plot.
Having set three novels in Wyoming, and two in India – The Road Back, which was set in the Indian province of Ladakh, and an as yet unnamed novel in the pipeline, which is set in Cochin – plus two books set in Italy, I decided that the time had come to root myself firmly in England, and to approach a period in which I’d always been interested, but had never yet set a novel – the two decades between the wars.
The Dark Horizon, the first in the Linford series, is set between the end of 1919 and 1933, and takes place in several different locations.
Some of the research was easily done as I’d located the Linfords in places relatively close to my current home, which is South Oxfordshire, and also in or near Hampstead, the area in London where I was born. Robert and Lily lived at the top of Hampstead, near the Heath; Joseph and Maud lived in Primrose Hill; Thomas and Alice were in Kentish Town, which is home to a library in which I worked one summer many years ago; Charles lived slightly further away in Knightsbridge, bringing with it the glamour of Harrods, which employed me a long time ago while I was waiting for my US visa.
I wanted the Linford family to have a weekend retreat, and as the Cotswolds could be reached at the weekend by those who lived in London, Chorton House came into being. Despite much driving in the area, punctuated by pub lunches, I was unable to find the house that matched the house of my imagination, and had to settle for building Chorton House out of my head.
I realised that the Linfords would have to drive around or be driven, especially when they went to Chorton House for the weekend, and I spent two very pleasant afternoons in The British Motor Museum in Banbury, tracing the history of the car.
However, The Dark Horizon isn’t limited solely to London and the Cotswolds, and wanting to know more about all my locations than my many research books could tell me, I made the ultimate sacrifice of going to New York for three weeks in order to research Lower East Side, Manhattan.
By the beginning of the 1920s, immigrants were pouring into Lower East Side, which had become known as the Garment District. Tenement apartments had become sweatshops, in which families worked alongside each other, finishing the bundles of clothes that had been passed to them by local factories, work for which the families were paid a pittance.
The situation was to change in the late 1920s and early 1930s as a result of the Immigration Act 1924, which restricted immigration to the US. The Act put in place measures that were designed to exclude most of the Italian, Eastern European – hence Jewish – and other Southern Europeans, and the Garment District was to take on a very different complexion.
During my time in New York, I thoroughly immersed myself in the history of my chosen period, and gained a real feeling for the life of immigrants in the 1920s. For this, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Museum of the City of New York and to The Tenement Museum, in particular.