Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Come into the House
12th July sees the publication of Come into the House, a new anthology from Corazon Books, showcasing the winners and short-listed entries from a competition they ran in partnership with The Historic Houses Association (HHA), to write a short story either inspired by or set in a historic house.
One of those stories is my tale, "The Yorkshire Defiance," inspired by Shibden Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire. Outside the local area, Shibden is best known for being home to lesbian diarist and landowner Anne Lister in the 19th century.
Read my blog on Anne Lister and Charlotte Bronte's "Shirley"
But there is much more to the Hall than Anne Lister. When I went to Shibden Hall to write my entry for the competition - "in situ" - I drew inspiration from 18th-century family portraits in the Great Hall, and from earlier members of the Lister family.
One such character was Martha Lister, who grew up at the Hall along with her sisters, attending the local dame school, and benefiting from the instruction of a dancing master and a pastry master! In or around the 1720s-30s, she eloped with one William Fawcett, who subsequently abandoned her, forcing her to return to Shibden Hall with baby William in tow. In the 18th century, I should imagine this would effectively mark the end of any social life Martha might have had. She became the central inspiration for my story.
I was also intrigued by the career of her three brothers, Thomas, William and Jeremy. (A lot of Williams in the early 18th century!) They bought shares in a ship called The Yorkshire Defiance, which traded with the American colonies. Sadly, the brothers were not good businessmen. They bought a load of deer skins, which arrived in Britain in a ruined and unsaleable condition. Thomas bought and sold 15 slaves, although his brothers couldn't understand why. William then moved to Virginia, and later Carolina, where he married and acquired property. But his life ended when he was lost at sea in 1743.
All in all, the Listers of this period seemed a rather tragic family, and I couldn't help sympathising with them. Nor could I help making a link between the failure of the ship, The Yorkshire Defiance, and the failure of another Yorkshire Defiance in the form of Martha's elopement.
Do visit Corazon Books' website and have a read of the anthology. It will be an interesting read, and will bring a whole collection of historic houses to life, the way the Shibden Hall came alive for me.