Travel to Vita and the Birds locations with Polly Crosby
Vita and the Birds in Suffolk
Polly Crosby has written a gothic story about a two women – Ladu Vita Goldsborough and artist Dodie Blakeney- who form a bond and both their lives will never be the same again. Years later, someone finds a bundle of letters and the secret that the two women held for all that time.
I grew up on the Suffolk coast, in a village called Walberswick, a place with a rich bohemian history. Artists have flocked there for centuries to paint the vast skies over the sea and the marshes and reeds. Even now, it is a favourite retreat of actors and writers.
When I first had the idea for Vita & the Birds, I knew I wanted to write about an artist, and Walberswick came to mind immediately for my setting. Vita and the Birds is based on a fictionalised version of my childhood village. It is never named, but in my heart, I was retracing familiar paths as I wrote the words.
In the 1950s, my granny bought a tiny fisherman’s hut in the village at auction. It wasn’t until she moved in and received an envelope of money through the letterbox that she realised she’d also bought the cottage next door! The house is still in our family, and I feel so privileged to still maintain that link with such an inspiring, creative place.
The novel is split between two timelines, 1938 and 1997. In the nineties strand, Eve Blakeney, my protagonist, spends teenage summers with her family in her grandma’s old art studio on the beach. Eve is a teenager of the nineties, like I was, and she enjoys the same sort of free-range summers that I did, sitting around campfires with friends, eating samphire picked from the local marshes, and gazing out over the moonlit sea.
The story centres around a derelict mansion known as the Cathedral of the Marshes, a once grand glasshouse nestled in a field of reeds. Those of you who know the area will have heard this name before. It is the local name for the majestic Holy Trinity church at nearby Blythburgh. So named because of its grand imposing architecture, and also for its beautiful location upon a hill above the stunning reeds and water meadows of the Blyth Estuary.
The church is also known as being the location of a sighting of Black Shuck, an ethereal ghostly dog who is said to foretell the death of anyone who sees it. And indeed, in the church there are scorched black claw marks on the inside of one of the church doors, purported to have been made one stormy day in 1577. I hope you’ll forgive my magpie tendencies, borrowing this wonderful local name for my own Suffolk building.
When I first began to imagine my fictionalised Cathedral of the Marshes, I was drawn as inspiration to the derelict Winter Gardens in Great Yarmouth, a stunning, if sad glass building on the Golden Mile. I would stand outside the boarded-up walls, gazing at the glittering glass tower rising up into the sky, and wondering just what was inside. There is something magical about a tumbledown house made of glass, and something frightening too – the thought of standing inside beneath all those fragile panes, not sure if one might come crashing down on your head.
Since writing my novel, I am pleased to say that this incredibly special building in Yarmouth has been approved for a restoration grant, and I cannot wait to see it restored to its former glory.
When writing Vita & the Birds, I had many influences, but none more so than the whole stretch of the Suffolk coast. To go there is to experience the landscape with all your senses, the briny smell of seaweed, the whip of wind on your skin, the salt taste of sea on your tongue. And, of course, that incredible clarity of light that has drawn artists back again and again for centuries. And which, when I was searching for an idea for a novel, drew me back in the same way, inspiring me to begin Vita and the Birds.
Thank you so much Polly for your fantastic trail!
BookTrail Boarding Pass: Vita and the Birds