Best-selling author Val Wood on why she's trailblazing on the Yorkshire coast

Best-selling author Val Wood tells Jo Haywood why she's trailblazing on the Yorkshire coast

To find out more about The Harbour Girl Trail, visit valwoodtrails.co.uk. For all the latest news on Val Wood – including when her new book is set to hit the shops – visit valeriewood.co.uk.

The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012  issue of Yorkshire Life 

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You don’t usually need a map to read a romantic novel. A hankie? Yes. Cup of milky tea? Almost definitely. But an A to Z? Hardly ever.

Which is why award-winning Yorkshire author Val Wood is proving to be something of a trailblazer by offering the first in what looks likely to be a series of walking trails based on her popular historical romances.

The Harbour Girl Trail around Scarborough and Hull is based on her 17th novel and is a direct result of her fans’ formidable powers of persuasion.

‘For quite a long time people have been asking me to include a map in my books so they can see where the characters live and where the key locations are,’ explained Val. ‘I thought it was a wonderful idea but knew it would take a lot of time; something I’m always very short of.’

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But the requests kept coming. Readers knew she based her locations on real places and they wanted to walk in her characters’ footsteps.

And now they can, thanks to the hard work of local historians who have helped Val put together a website packed with useful information. Fans – either of her work or coastal history – can now download maps, read extracts, view original 19th century images and pick the brains of people in the know.

‘I find it very flattering that people care so much,’ said Val. ‘I know my characters aren’t real, but they are alive to me – it’s wonderful to think so many of my readers feel the same.

‘I have one lady who comes to all my talks. She told me she feels she knows all my characters and when they’re walking down the street, she’s walking with them. When I’m writing about a place, I literally do walk along with my characters, timing how long it takes to get from one place to another, and it’s satisfying to know it’s worth the effort.’

Val has written widely about Yorkshire, from Hull to York and the Wolds, and her two new books (one at the publisher; one due out next year) are set in Holderness and Brough respectively. But it seems to be Scarborough that fires her imagination most.

‘I like local history and find Scarborough particularly fascinating in that respect,’ she said. ‘I spent a lot of time there when I was younger as my grandmother lived there and we stayed with her every year. I just love the place. I know some people think there’s too much entertainment on the south side, but I think there’s still a real magic about it.’

The sea is usually a major character in her work – it plays a pivotal role in The Harbour Girl – but Val is actually from land-locked West Yorkshire, hailing from a family of Castleford miners. Her family moved east to Hull when she was a teenager and she has remained in the area, bar a few years in York, ever since.

And it is the rich history as well as the colourful characters of her much loved native county that constantly feeds her already fertile imagination.‘I’ve always been the one wondering ‘what if’ and ‘just suppose’,’ she said.

‘An idea will develop in my mind, then a character starts to form, then two, three or four more. I know who they are and where I want them to end up, but that’s about it. I’m not fond of too much planning.

‘Sometimes my characters take me by surprise though and refuse to go down the route I’ve chosen for them, but then I have to assert my authority as author. I’m writing the story and they’ll go where they’re told.’

Now her readers are going where they’re told too, albeit with the friendliest of intentions. But will there be more walking trails in the wake of what looks likely to be a popular first foray?

‘It’s certainly a possibility,’ said Val. ‘Even if people aren’t interested in my books, I think they’ll still enjoy finding a host of hidden historical gems in places they thought they knew everything about.’

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