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«Read Regional 2020

Clara Barley: The Moss House

Set over 200 years ago in Halifax, West Yorkshire, where I live and work, The Moss House is about the desire for love and to be loved. Also, the desire to learn and travel and expand your horizons and stand out from the crowd, at odds with the desire to have a home and security and blend in and be left alone. The novel is based on the true stories of Anne Lister and Ann Walker, two very different women, as they try to create a life together.

I wrote this because I wanted to know more about these women who lived two centuries ago in a very different world to ours and get closer to them. Their stories could be from any time and their experiences of love, life and loss, are as relatable today as back then. In the real world, Anne Lister’s five million-word diaries are not yet transcribed and are hard to read. It seems so far off that anyone will ever edit and write a full biography and I couldn’t wait that long. So I took what I knew of Anne Lister and the few facts about Ann Walker and just allowed myself to write, and couldn’t stop. Their words just flowed from me. You can’t help but imbue something of yourself in your writing and I wanted them to be relatable. It’s been interesting to merge their experiences with mine and let my imagination try and explain some of the things only briefly mentioned in other publications so far. I never thought the diary voice of Anne’s was her true voice, it was merely a record. Using her inner voice was much freer and brought me, and hopefully the readers, much closer than you get even from her diary entries.

Questions for Readers

Is it important how much of the novel is based on research and how much is created?

Does first-person narrative bring you closer to the two protagonists Anne Lister and Ann Walker?

Were there any aspects to the characters that you could relate to personally?

Do you think fictional accounts of true characters can make them more accessible than biographies?

Recommended Reading

Boudica by Manda Scott
Sea Biscuit by Laura Hillenbrand
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Anne Lister of Shibden Hall by Angela Clare
The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Yorkshire-based author Clara Barley works full-time in the heritage sector and is passionate about sharing stories. Clara has written both fiction and nonfiction about various historical characters and events for publications, exhibitions and performances. She has a degree and a master’s in history and her work won the Royal Historical Society’s national prize for public history in 2015. Clara has also given talks on historical women throughout the country and appeared on television and radio.

 

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