Walking in the footsteps of the Brontes

Mariajauthor/ September 9, 2019/ Author Journey/ 0 comments

You don’t have to know me for very long to find out Jane Eyre is my favourite book. I think I first read it when I was about 11 and instantly fell in love with it. I was gripped from the very first lines:

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. We had been wondering, indeed, in the leafless shrubbery an hour in the morning; but since dinner (Mrs. Reed, when she had no company, dined early) the cold winder wind had brought with it clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating, that further out-door exercise was now out of the question.

I was glad of it. I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons: dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes…”

I was immediately spellbound by this 10-year-old girl who disliked long walks in the cold. Delving deeper, there was the tragic tale of her early life, with her unfeeling aunt and the harsh way of life at Lowood school. Then Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall to teach Adele, a young French girl. She is the ward of the sharp and brooding Rochester, owner of Thornfield. This novel kept my attention to the very last page.

I think what gripped me most was the character of Jane herself. All that passion sealed behind her calm and ‘plain’ exterior, the fact that growing up, she’d hardly ever had a kind exchange, save her one friend and one kind teacher. Yet despite this, Jane has a resilience and steadfastness of conviction, especially in her Christian faith, that is truly inspirational.

So, when my husband and I were arranging a few days’ away in back in early June, Haworth soon came to mind! Set in the stunning Yorkshire Dales, this is right in the heart of ‘Bronte country’. Here is where the Bronte sisters grew up, along with their brother, Branwell.

To Haworth we went! It was a wonderful experience to walk in the footsteps of the Brontes. The first evening we returned from our holiday in Haworth, my husband and I settled down to watch To Walk Invisible. It won’t surprise you that this has become one of my favourite TV dramas, brilliantly capturing the turbulent journey the sisters had to publication. They did so anonymously at first, choosing the pen names of Curror Bell (Charlotte), Ellis Bell (Emily) and Acton Bell (Anne). They used pseudonyms firstly because of the hardships they would face as female authors.

Indeed, Charlotte at the age of 21, had sent a few poems to the poet Robert Southey, hoping to receive some feedback for her work. In his reply, Southey famously said:

“Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it even as an accomplishment and a recreation.”

I spent much of that holiday wondering not only about the difficulties in their journey to publication, but also about the harsh living conditions of this literary family and of the hardships they faced. I was especially struck how each Bronte sister had written honestly, not shying away from pain but instead somehow using it in their craft, to turn their dark circumstances into something inspirational and beautiful. The tragedies they faced included losing their two eldest siblings, Maria and Elizabeth, when they were both children, as well as watching their brother Branwell’s struggles with mental health and alcoholism.

Almost immediately, my holiday in Haworth started to inspire me. I found myself jotting down descriptions of the beautiful countryside (this was the view outside the window of the cottage!). It was then the idea of my last project began to form, which led to me participating in Camp NaNoWriMo in July.

For those who might not know, NaNoWriMo (or Nano for short) stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’ and is an online event which occurs three times in the year. The ‘main’ event happens in November, with all participants starting from scratch with a new project. If the participants write 1,667 words per day, they will have written a 50K novel by the end of the month.

‘Camp Nano’ then is a more flexible version of the main event happening in April and July. Authors can choose to continue existing projects rather than new ones and can choose individual goals, tracking their targets with either word count, page count, or even hours and minutes spent working.

I found out about NaNoWriMo last October through Twitter. November was my first time participating in the Nano event, where I wrote a 50K novel called Lottie’s Locket, a YA (Young Adult) fantasy/murder-mystery mash up. You can find out more about this project in this blog post here. I then edited this novel during Camp Nano in March – I really loved both experiences.

So, when hubby and I went to Haworth back in early June, the idea of doing something for Camp Nano was brewing in my head. I hadn’t really decided whether I would participate, or if I did, what the topic would be about. However, as soon as I was in Bronte country, I knew I wanted this to be the focus of my project.

For the two weeks or so after we returned from Haworth, I was prepping (I’m very much a plotter when it comes to writing) for Camp Nano. I’d probably class the project as ‘historical fantasy’. Here’s the blurb for a flavour of the project:

A 9-year-old called Gracie, while on holiday with her family in Haworth, Yorkshire (famous for where the Bronte sisters lived) uncovers an old box buried under a tree. Not long after, Gracie thinks she might have met Charlotte Bronte on the moors, aged 10. Has Gracie seen a ghost, or was it her imagination? Will she ever see the famous author again?

Maybe, as she grows up and reaches adulthood, Gracie may once again glimpse the girl she saw on the moors.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this project! Originally my Camp Nano goal was 30K words, but a few days into writing I upped it to 50K. The great thing about Camp Nano is that goals are flexible and can be changed until much later in the month. The jump in the word goal was slightly overwhelming, but I knew I could lower it again though if I needed to.

I’m pleased to say I didn’t need to lower my goal – as it’s only a first draft, the ending was quite abrupt and there’s some plot threads that need finishing and tying off, but I wrote 50K by the end of July! I really enjoyed getting into a completely different project. It was especially helpful for giving my brain a bit of a break from an editing issue in my 3rd historical fiction novel (following The Boy from the Snow and The Veiled Wolf), so it meant when I went back to it at the start of August, I had some fresh ideas of moving forward.

So that’s what my Bronte project over the summer involved. I hope this post has piqued your interest in the Brontes and that you might find these literary sisters as inspirational as I have. Maybe if you’ve never read a Bronte novel, this could inspire you to give it a chance. Funnily enough, I recommend Jane Eyre!

See you next time,

Maria 🙂

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