Alas, all good things must come to an end. This summer. This blog series. But we’ll be back on Monday with a new book club selection. Until then, enjoy this lovely piece by author Hannah Richell. And don’t forget to enter all four of the novels we’ve featured this week by leaving a comment on Tuesday’s post.
At first glance, The House of Tides seems a million miles away from my own personal story. It’s a saga about how life can pivot on a moment, about how small decisions and events within a family can snowball into catastrophe. It is, thank goodness, pure fiction – a tale drawn from some mysterious place in my mind. At the time of writing, it felt like I was taking a great leap out into the unknown; but hindsight is a wonderful thing. What I see clearly now, is that my story, while imagined, is pinned upon a scaffold of truth constructed from meaningful moments in my own life.
Buried at the very heart of the novel is the theme of motherhood. I began to write The House of Tides in the hazy post-natal weeks after my son was born. It was a time of great joy and love – but one of fear and vulnerability too. Holding my son, I saw how powerful the ties that bind a family could be … but I also saw their fragility. Motherhood was a fierce, all-consuming experience that cracked my heart wide open and I began to see how one unexpected moment could steal away everything I held dear. Considering that dark ‘what if?’ helped to shape the idea upon which the novel pivots.
However, becoming a parent didn’t just see me looking forwards. It proved to be a reflective time too. As I looked back at my own childhood, I began to see how particular times and places held great power in my memory. Dorset, situated on England’s west coast, was just such a place. As a location it has proved inspiring to many writers – Daphne du Maurier, Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen, to name just a few – but for me it will always be a place associated with the warmth and closeness of family. If I close my eyes, I can still see my grandparents’ romantic, creaking house hidden at the top of a muddy lane; not exactly Clifftops, the Tides’ grand family home, but certainly a place to fire a child’s imagination. Likewise the rocky coastline, the pebbled beaches, the kelp-strewn shoreline, the roar of the breakers, the sticky trickle of ice cream melting into the crease of my hand … these images rattle in my mind like precious treasures collected and stowed at the bottom of a child’s pocket. As I began to write the story of the Tides, I found myself weaving echoes of these memories into my writing.
Recently, I heard an author cite two pieces of writing advice. The first: write what you know. And the second: write what you don’t know. Her comments drew a bemused laugh from the audience, but I can see now what she meant. By grounding my story in truthful experiences and emotions from my own life, I was able to leap out more confidently into that dark unknown. It’s my dearest hope now that whatever unique life experiences a reader brings to The House of Tides, I hope they too will find ‘something true’ hidden at the heart of the story.
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There is Dora, the family’s youngest daughter, who lives in a ramshackle London warehouse with her artist boyfriend. She is doing a good job of skating across the surface of her life, but when she discovers she is pregnant, she finds herself staring back at the darkness of a long-held guilt. Dora’s mother, Helen, is a complicated woman whose relationship with her family has always been turbulent, while her father Richard has cobbled together a life that bears little resemblance to his boyhood dreams. And Cassie, Dora’s long-estranged sister, has cut off her family entirely, it seems.
When Dora arrives at Clifftops, her family’s rambling home on the Dorset coast, it seems that Helen might finally be ready to make amends for her own part in the tragedy. But what Dora soon discovers is that the path to redemption does not rest solely with her mother. Can family crimes this damaging ever really be forgiven?