What do 1976, 1984 and 2018 have in common? Along with a few other occasions, these are years when the Haweswater reservoir in Cumbria has dried out so much that the ruins of a village are exposed.
Mardale Green was demolished in the 1930s to make way for the reservoir, which is the main source of water for Manchester. A dam was built, and the small lake that had graced the valley expanded. A whole community was lost – farms, homes, roads, a church and a pub.
The villagers were compensated, but all had to move out after the dam was built , to see their homes destroyed and then lost beneath the water. Even the dead were moved – graves in the churchyard were exhumed and reburied elsewhere.
When the reservoir dries out, the remains of walls are revealed, the outlines of cottages, dry stone walls marking old field boundaries, rusty iron gates. There’s even an intact stone bridge, that crossed the stream that ran through the valley, revealed when the water drops low enough.
I’m a long-time lover of the Lake District, and visited Haweswater in the spring of 2016, when the reservoir was full and the valley at its most beautiful. There was snow on the mountain tops and the previous year’s brown bracken on the slopes. Downstream of the dam the fields were lush and green, filled with the season’s new lambs.
|Hiking up the Old Corpse Road above Haweswater, the inspiration for my novel The Drowned Village|
We parked in the car park at the top end of the reservoir. There’s a faded information board there about the history of the valley, and as I was reading it my friend said to me, ‘Hey, Kath, you could write a novel about this!’
For the rest of the day that was all I could think about, and by the time we came down from the mountains I had the beginnings of a story idea in my head. What if, my novelist’s brain suggested, a secret was hidden in the village, lost when the valley was flooded, only to resurface in a drought year? Something important, something that would resolve an ancient mystery...
That idea eventually became my novel The Drowned Village, which was published by HarperCollins in September 2018. I seem to have predicted the summer’s drought – my friends are all now asking me for next week’s lottery numbers.
It’s not the only time life has imitated art, or at least, imitated the plot of my books. In my first book, The Emerald Comb, an ancient skeleton is revealed when a tree blows down in a storm. A year or so after publication, a friend sent me a link to an article about how a thousand-year old skeleton was revealed when a tree fell down in County Sligo, Ireland.
Hmm, what will come true next, I wonder? Let’s see, what’s in my next book...