As some of you may know, my first YA book, City of Halves, is out in August. You can read the first chapter here. I hope that if you read it, you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Then I wrote another book, a love song to the American West and those who braved the pioneer trails. Two English girls, one hundred and fifty years apart. Add a young Civil War veteran scouting for the railroads, a rancher’s son with a blighted past, a Native American family, the massacre of the plains buffalo and the horse of a lifetime, and what do you get?
The Crows is set in the dramatic landscape of Montana, shifting between 1866 and the present day, as two teenage girls cut the binds of family and society to discover who they really are, and where they belong. A sweeping tale of love, legacy and wilderness, it tells of the dawn of a new state, the death of the Native American way of life, and the birth of a legend.
Barry Cunningham, who will be publishing it, described it as ‘quite extraordinary’. I am delighted and overwhelmed by the reaction to Nate, Emily, Hope and Cal.
The story was initially sparked by a book called Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, introducing me more than a decade ago to the history of the Native American Indians. And by a gorgeous girl on a long Miami Beach afternoon who laughed and told me the tattoo on the inside of her wrist was the state outline of Montana, ‘The most beautiful place in the world. Home.’
I was there working at an art show; she was a model in Miami for work but her family were ‘frontierpeople’, as far back as ‘the territories’. Ranchers. Her voice had a very particular lilt. As a short, pale and sturdy English girl from farming stock, unsteady in Miami’s glamour (Sean Combs was sitting in the shallow end of the pool on an iron chair, in black tie with his trousers rolled up) I was in thrall. I fell in love with America, and Montana Girl. I worked there for some time afterwards and adored it: the sense of potential spinning across a continent, yet also that sense that no one is ever that far from the edge of disaster. And she inspired me to read about the pioneers of the Old West, along with their native counterparts. I read about settler marriages. And divorces. The beautiful alpine wilderness of Montana, and in particular the Glacier National Park and St Mary Lake. I read about the railroads. The American Civil War. The terrible subjugation of the Native American people as the US government fought a hypocritical war to free the Southern slaves. But the story that stuck in my marrow was the near-extinction of the plains bison. Twenty five million deaths in under two decades. It lies at the heart of this book.
I didn’t know what the story would be, I just sort of knew I wanted to do it one day. Then in February this year I visited an Amish store in Ohio. I was lecturing in Cleveland and we were taking a day out to visit a wonderful obstetrician serving the Amish community (whose teenage son had built, no joke, a full size trebuchet on their farm out of telegraph poles, dead deer and flaming oil drums a speciality) and eat a truly excellent Amish hot dog. My host Jim went to the restroom so I loitered, looking at the frying pans, washtubs, wood-fired stoves and gasoline powered refrigerators. There were also cute but complicated oil lanterns, ingenious wooden spoons, spatulas with hook handles for pulling out hot tins and a wall of pretty cookie cutters in the shape of every state. I picked up Montana immediately. An automatic reaction. Two dollars, I thought, who cares. Then I hesitated. Why should I clutter my already crammed kitchen drawer with it? Because of a lovely girl with a now outdated tattoo? Because since then I’ve read dozens of academic articles and books on people who abandoned everything they knew to make a new life on the edge of a new world? The horror of exterminating a species? I put it back. Yet as I looked at it, I saw my characters. Nate, Emily, Hope, Cal. I knew what they looked like and who they were and the story that had been nothing more than a few strands of daydream was almost written for me. My host returned. I grabbed Montana and paid. We walked into the car park and the cool sunshine of a new American Spring. In the car, I watched as we passed horse-drawn carriages, rolling hills, homesteads and barns, people still living in another century. I came home and wrote the book. Still haven’t made the biscuits.
The Crows will be out next year with Chicken House.
p.s. Huge thanks to my sister Sally, Lucy (@lucyfishwife), Brigid (@beecee) and Essie Fox (@essiefox) for endless encouragement during what was a short, but fairly ‘intense’ writing window.
- Speakers Guide For the Blind and Deaf
- Crow Mountain Cover