2020 was famously an ‘unprecedented year’. Now, in Catherine’s Fox’s ‘Tales from Lindford’, readers can relive this extraordinary year – at a safe and non-contagious distance – through the eyes and experiences of the people of Lindchester in this heartfelt novel, which was originally written as a series of blogs in real time in the midst of the pandemic. Bestselling author Katie Fforde praised ‘Tales from Lindford’ as ‘lyrical, compelling and full of insight’ while former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams commented that ‘Catherine Fox writes with immense compassion, unsentimental faith and an impressively undisciplined humour’.
Catherine Fox’s popular series The Lindchester Chronicles have been described as ‘the 21st century’s answer to Trollope’s Barchester’ and the first novel in the series, ‘Acts and Omissions’, was chosen as one of The Guardian’s books of 2014. The third book in the series left the people of Lindchester at the end of 2016 and was intended as the final book in the series – but 2020 gave Catherine an irresistible opportunity to return to Lindford, as she writes, ‘come with me, one more time, dear reader’. Fans of The Lindchester Chronicles will delight in the opportunity to revisit old friends and find out how the last 4 years have treated them, while newcomers to the series are in for a treat (with the opening dramatis personae providing a handy guide as to how the lead characters relate to each other).
January 2020 opens quietly enough in Lindford, amidst vague concerns about the Australian bush fires and a general feeling of exhaustion about Brexit. But soon, as Catherine writes, ‘quietly, with barely a jingle of harness, another horseman of the apocalypse sets out to ride in a distant province of China.’ As the months unfold and the coronavirus threat becomes increasingly close, real and deadly, Fox traces the impact on Lindfordshire’s bishops, priests, nurses, musicians, hairdressers, university lecturers, runners and schoolchildren as daily life as they know it is brought to a standstill, to be replaced by face masks, hand sanitizer, working from home, Zoom meetings, shielding, isolating, home schooling, furlough, bubbles, quarantine and lockdown. From the diary of 11 year old Jess to the increasingly incoherent ramblings of Fr Dominic’s elderly mother, we walk alongside the characters as they experience frustration, fear, anger, grief, hopelessness, loneliness and boredom. Yet, amidst the challenges brought by this extraordinary year and its ‘emotional concussion’, the community pulls together to support one another as best they can. Some households are full to bursting while other people spending lockdown alone, and the pandemic stretches some relationships to breaking point while breathing new life into others. And even coronavirus cannot stop some of the natural rhythms of life – the yearning for a baby, the growing up of a teenager, and the rediscovery of love when it was least expected.
When and where do you prefer to write?
I tend to be at my most productive in the morning, but when I’m blogging in weekly instalments (as I have been doing for my Lindchester novels), I end up writing in every spare moment right up to the wire, so that I can post the next chapter at 8pm on Sundays. My study desk now has university work connotations (email, online teaching, and marking), so I need to escape to a space that feels more creative. I wrote most of Tales from Lindford sitting in a small armchair in my kitchen. That’s unusual for me, and a result of lockdown. I wrote chunks of my previous Lindchester books on trains, cafes, in airports, hotels—you name it.
Do you need peace and quiet when you are writing?
Once I’ve got started, I can write in busy noisy spaces. I disappear into the world of the novel and screen out everything else. If I’m at home, I never work with music playing, as I’d find that distracting, oddly enough. A single sound can be a problem, but lots of different sounds together become white noise. I do need inner peace and quiet. I can get very distracted by dread, grief, and anxiety. That said, writing Tales from Lindford turned out to be a way of processing the dread, grief, and anxiety of Covid-19.
If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
I’m really interested in the curious borderlands between fiction and nonfiction. I have some brilliant colleagues in the Manchester Writing School (at Manchester Metropolitan University) working on Place Writing and Creative Nonfiction, so I’d want to collaborate with some of them on place and fictional place.
Say someone asks if they can use your name in a book. Would you rather be the ‘good one’ or the ‘bad one’?
I would demand that they make me racy and flamboyant, lounging in a silk kimono with a negroni, and leave the reader to decide whether that would be good or bad.
Who would you like/have liked to interview?
Where can I find you when you are reading?
Usually in my kitchen armchair, or on a train (in happier times).
Where can I find you when you are not writing/reading?
Ideally, I’d be found in the big shared office of the Manchester Writing School, with my colleagues who are writers and academics and nutters of various kinds. I miss them so much. Or else you’ll find me in church, or rummaging in a charity shop, meeting friends in a coffee shop, visiting family, playing with my granddaughters, or wandering lonely as a cloud in the countryside around Sheffield.
What goes through your mind when you hold your new book in your hands for the first time?
Ta dah! Then I arrange my author copies artistically and pretend it’s a tiny bookshop.
How do you come up with a title for your book?
I ransack hymns and prayer books. Love for the Lost was adapted from a 17th century Quaker tract title. Acts and Omissions, by contrast, was a phrase that sprang out of the contract I signed when I began working for Manchester Met. Tales from Lindford dates from when I was imagining the book would be a series of short stories, not a novel. And then I forgot to change it.
How do you pick a cover for your book?
Authors seldom get to pick their covers. They have a contractual right to be consulted, which turns out to mean the publisher contacts you to say ‘Here’s the jacket design for your new book. We are all really thrilled with it.’ The author bursts into tears and says they hate it, and then the publisher replies ‘Oh no! that’s a shame, because we’re all really thrilled, and that’s what you’re getting.’ FORTUNATELY I’ve not had this experience with SPCK. We worked together to come up with ideas, and this led us to the amazing watercolours of Ian Scott Massie. His work is on the covers of all my SPCK titles, and a couple of short stories commissioned by the Church Times. I love them so much that I’ve bought some of the original artwork.
Thank you, Catherine Fox and Rhoda Hardie PR
About the Author
Catherine Fox is Academic Director of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her debut novel ‘Angels and Men’ was a Sunday Times Pick of the Year and the first book in the Lindchester Chronicles, ‘Acts and Omissions’, was chosen as a Guardian Book of 2014. Catherine is married to the Bishop of Sheffield and is a judo black belt.