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Creating Cliffington…

‘There’s a moment on the turn of the tide when the world stands still, when we hold our breath waiting to see which way the water will flow, as though that might change our lives…’

Cliffington, on the remote North Sea coast, looks like a rural idyll but is not immune to the events of the world. Distant wars bring distress and destruction. A story of trial and obsession, of love and hope, Cliffington reveals the strength and frailties of the people and tests their community to the edge of failure. While always, close at hand, the sea rolls on relentless.

Author, Stephen Morley had this to say about writing his latest book.

The idea for Cliffington started years ago on a holiday I spent in Northumberland.  I was struck by the remoteness and rugged beauty of the place.  Despite that remoteness, the land was full of life and industry with farming and forestry inland, but it was the coast that caught my imagination.  I walked many miles across the hills and along the cliffs, where I recorded the raucous sound of gannets and gulls.  The air was full of birds while the grey sea rolled and pounded along the cliffs and beaches.  There was a long history evident in the many ancient buildings and castles, old walls and ancient ways across the landscape.  The whole atmosphere was emotive and powerful.  I thought it would make a good setting for a story.  Cliffington is not based on any one place but is an amalgam of many places.  The moors are more Yorkshire than Northumberland, but fitted in with the bleak but bountiful terrain.  The idea for the quicksands in the bay came from another part of the east coast while the castles are intentionally fictional.

Music plays an important part in the story.  I first heard the Northumbrian smallpipes some years back.  Kathyryn Tickell is perhaps the most famous exponent of this unique instrument and it was listening to her work that led me to include the sound of the smallpipes as a backdrop to the novel.  Indeed, I usually have instrumental music playing when I write and I often had Kathyrn Tickell playing while writing Cliffington.  Her music was definitely part of the inspiration.

War crept into the story and became a significant part of the book.  I wanted to show a complete contrast to the world I had created in Cliffington.  The various wars and the desert became a way to illuminate the virtues and failings of our society.  We take so much for granted and rarely realise how fortunate we are to live in a land of peace and plenty.  Even the extreme poor of England are rich compared to millions of our fellows in the lands where we make war.  It seemed an instructive comparison.

People have often asked me who I base characters upon.  The truth is they are never based on anyone I know.  Each character serves a purpose, so they start with an idea, often very simple: hero, villain, etc.  From that, they progress in order to create the action in the story, because it is the characters’ actions and words that make the book.  I find that after a while, the fiction simply takes over, characters evolve on the page, sometimes though necessity; a physical or emotional characteristic is needed to make a scene work or as I visualise and live the part they play in my mind they just start to behave and speak of their own volition.  Some characters start very flat, they have a purpose but little form, and they attain their real personality over time.  Others seem to leap out and just be themselves from the outset.  In Cliffington, Cassandra, was always herself from the moment I thought of her whereas Louis evolved into a much more complex and difficult person.

Cliffington was always going to be a big book.  In fact, it has something over 400,000 words – a bit shorter than ‘Gone with the Wind’, but not much – Cliffington runs to something around 800 pages as a printed book.  I admit to liking long books, I always have, so I decided to try my hand.  My previous book, Moses Trod, was a little over half the length of Cliffington and was still a long book, so Cliffington is a very long book.  It is a risk from a traditional publishing point of view, as long books obviously cost more to produce, but in electronic publishing, it is not significant.  I was bemused that during the two and a bit years it took to write Cliffington, long books suddenly came back into favour in the market, it was not an intentional coincidence.  I like a broad canvas, but I also like detail.  I have written a deal of poetry over the years and I love the brevity and immediacy of that art form.  All the time I was writing Cliffington, I kept poetry in mind.  Within the story there is a reference to the economy of poetry and I have endeavoured to stick to my resolve of making every word count, the same as I do when I write poetry.  Cliffington is a long book but it has a lot to say.