Author Monica Cafferky on how Yorkshire inspired her debut novel: The Winter’s Sleep

PUBLISHED: 00:00 13 February 2020

Monica proudly holding a proof copy of her novel

Monica proudly holding a proof copy of her novel


Monica Cafferky reveals her love for God’s Own Country

Monica CafferkyMonica Cafferky

When I worked as a travel writer I visited exotic and far flung places like Hawaii, China and Bali. I'd pack my bag full of excitement, but after about three days I'd be looking forward to my flight back home.

All of these destinations were incredibly interesting, but I've always found the most beautiful scenery in Yorkshire: the view of the white horse at Sutton Bank, the sun setting over Fountains Abbey, the beach at Runswick Bay. Remember, there's no likelihood of being eaten alive by something tropical and scary at any of these Yorkshire highlights, which is always a bonus.

My love affair with Yorkshire started at a young age although before I go any further I need to make one important, and slightly embarrassing, confession. I was born on the other side in Widnes, Lancashire, but my family moved to Harrogate, North Yorkshire, when I was two. I have no other memories other than living in the county, so by default, I consider myself a bona fide Yorkshire woman.

As a child, growing up in Harrogate was idyllic. My parents owned a hotel on Valley Drive opposite the town's park, the Valley Gardens, so I spent most of my time playing in the park and the Pine Woods. The woods stretch for 100 acres and I spent hours at the weekends making dens amongst the trees.

Family day out at Fountains Abbey. Monica with her father Kevin, mother Therese and big sister JaneFamily day out at Fountains Abbey. Monica with her father Kevin, mother Therese and big sister Jane

If me and my three big sisters, Susan, Edwina and Jane, weren't in the Valley Gardens then we were playing rounders on the stray with the other children from our street. Or, if it was winter, we were sledging down the steep hill opposite Betty's Café on Parliament Street.

One winter, when I was six-years-old, a photographer from The Harrogate Advertiser took some photos of my sisters and I sledging and the snap made the front page. I remember my parents being thrilled and buying copies of the photograph for various relatives.

As well as being a sledging hotspot, the stray was home to the fair in the summer holidays. A long line of trucks would roll into town, sitting on the back of the huge vehicles packed away and concertinaed were waltzers and dodgems. By nightfall, the trucks had unfurled and transformed themselves into death-defying rides with flashing lights.

Who doesn't recall the thrill of being on the waltzers and hearing 'Do you want to go faster?' It was a rite of passage to brave that ride, and to go to the fair with your friends rather than taking a sedate afternoon walk around the site with your mum.

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By the age of 18, the pull of the Valley Gardens and the stray was forgotten. Instead, I spent my spare time, when I wasn't at Harrogate Grammar School, working as a chambermaid and waitress in local hotels. Come night, I blew my hard-earned wages in The Blues Bar, which 30 years on, is still open today and hosting live bands.

Like most teenagers I was keen to spread my wings and leave my hometown, but I still opted to go to university in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. I just couldn't see myself living in London, then, it was too big, too expensive and where was the beautiful scenery?

Huddersfield is situated in a valley and wherever you look there's green hills in the distance. Yes, there's an industrial landscape but travel a short distance out of the centre and you're in true rural, breath-taking countryside. Shows like Last Of The Summer Wine and Where The Heart Is weren't only successful because of the characters and plotlines. The rolling hills of Yorkshire played a big part in those high ratings.

When I moved to London in 2000, to work on Woman's Own for my big break, I sat and watched both of those programmes in my flat in Clapham and feel terribly homesick. The opening credits of Where The Heart Is would pan over the viaduct at Slaithwaite and the surrounding countryside and I'd yearn for the green hills, for proper fish and chips, the markets, the East Coast, the friendly chat of strangers on the bus.

After two years, I couldn't stand the metropolis anymore and I moved back to what I considered home, to Yorkshire, to Huddersfield. At the time, I know some people viewed the decision as career suicide, but I was slowly suffocating in the city.

It turns out, going freelance was a great decision. My earnings went up and my stress levels went down. I also travelled the world for work, but whatever country I visited my heart always belonged to Yorkshire.

When I finally began writing my debut novel The Winter's Sleep, a supernatural thriller, there was only one place I could set the book - God's Own Country. I was on a job for a newspaper visiting North Yorkshire, in 2007, when I first had the idea for the book.

I had a few hours to kill before my interview and I went for a walk on the cliff top near Whitby. I was soon out of breath, it's a steep climb, but the view was worth it.

The North Sea stretches out as far as the eye can see, and as I turned and looked at the ruins of the abbey a story started to take shape in my mind. The story of Brigid Raven, a woman from Leeds who escapes to the North Yorkshire coast and has to lose her identity to find her true self.

However, it took me another five years to finish The Winter's Sleep and another seven years to finally find a home for the book. During that time, I had numerous rejections from publishers and agents, some of whom felt the story was 'too Northern.'

I grew up in Yorkshire. I live in the North. My debut novel was always going to have a Northern voice, anything else just wouldn't have been authentic.

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