A sense of place

In the next in our series of the Prime Writers’ inspiring locations, Kerry Hadley-Pryce takes us to the Black Country.

The original title for my novel was Viewfinder. I wrote it as part of an MA in Creative Writing with MMU and had to fit in deadlines around a full-time job and family. It was stressful, I’m not going to lie, and I spent a lot of time walking around my home area. Walking and thinking and plotting.

Black Country canal and factories

I’m a Black Country girl. Born and bred. I left once, but soon came back. I remember writing my first short story, The Dark Night, aged seven, about a night-time car journey home through the Black Country landscape. It was a murder story. Everyone died. As a kid, it seemed to me that I could blink and see different aspects of the place at any time: factory chimneys and corrugated roofs next to rolling hills next to high-rise blocks next to urban farmland next to the tangle of canals. I make it sound like it’s romantic, like the Yorkshire Dales, somewhere like that. It isn’t.  At all.  At school, most of us had asthma, doubtless caused by the poor industrial air, but in school holidays, we’d go blackberrying over Pony Bank and there’d be actual ponies there. Who they belonged to, I still don’t know, but we used to have a go at riding them, saddleless, with the sound of the factory bull-horn in the background. If anyone minded us doing it, they never said.

And that’s the other thing about the Black Country: the people. We are a particular type. We’ve got this melancholy pride about the place that we’ll never properly admit to, but call any one of us Black Country folk a ‘Brummie’, and see what happens. All of this, it seems to me, this combination of a brooding, wheezing, semi-industrial backdrop and the people who live there, remains a major influence on my writing. I don’t know for sure precisely what it is. Maybe it’s the little alleyways or the crooked terraced houses built onBlack Country narrowboat open-cast mining. Maybe it’s the ugliness and the grime, the Brutalist nature of the architecture that continues to present inspiration and be a spur to my imagination. There’s something overwhelming about concrete, isn’t there? Something threatening. There’s something forensic about those flickering fluorescent lights that line the stairwells of council flats. Something disturbing about sounds that you might hear, but can’t quite distinguish. Something odd about that Black Country intonation – have a listen to the dialect and you’ll hear it. And the canals…what better place for secrets and grudges to hide?

When I was walking and thinking and plotting, maybe it was all this that influenced what I wrote. The characters evolved from the setting rather than fixed themselves to it. They are crooked, disturbing, odd characters, and they have secrets and grudges. And they tell lies, these characters. Maybe I’m just too much a part of the place to see it. Whatever it was, it was the right place to set my novel, which had to be called The Black Country, really.

Kerry Hadley

Kerry Hadley-Pryce

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