My debut novel The Companion is a mystery set in Yorkshire in the 1930s and the present day. Billy Shaw has grown up at Potter’s Pleasure Palace, a cotton mill turned entertainment emporium, which has a dancehall, a roller rink and boating on the pond. His mother and sisters work in the tearooms and Billy dreams of becoming Mr Potter’s assistant and of one day owning a Palace of his own. But at the age of almost-12 he is sent to be the companion to another boy, Jasper, who lives with his mother and uncle, the writers Edie and Charles Harper, in an isolated house on the moors. Four years after Billy’s arrival Edie and Charles are found dead. It is ruled a joint suicide.
Billy’s story is interwoven with that of Anna Sallis, who in the present day is the newly appointed archivist at the museum now housed in the old mill. Sorting through the collections she finds inconsistencies in the accepted story of what happened to the Harpers. With the help of her neighbour, Frank Chambers, a retired farmer with his own connection to the mill, she begins to untangle fact from fiction and pieces together the truth.
The story was partly inspired by Gibson Mill in Hardcastle Crags, near Hebden Bridge, which like Ackerdean Mill in The Companion was transformed into an entertainment centre in the early 1900s. On a quiet day there, sitting by the millpond, time seems to stand still. It is easy to imagine you’ve just seen a pair of 1930s dancers waltzing past the mill’s top floor windows, or heard the splash of oars on the pond. It was there, thinking about all the lives that had passed through, that I first heard Billy’s voice and began to write down his story. The trigger for the plot came from my online perusals through the personal columns in editions of The Times from the 1930s. When I spotted an advert asking for a Child Companion for a young boy who lived in a house on the moors, I knew that this was where Billy’s journey would take him.