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Talking Location With… author Erica James – The Norfolk Broads

6th July 2019

#TalkingLocationWith… Erica James, author of Swallowtail Summer – THE NORFOLK BROADS

Early last summer when I had finished work on the manuscript for Coming Home to Island House and in need of a short break, I had the urge to go somewhere completely new, but which wasn’t too far away from where I live in Suffolk. I had always been curious about the Norfolk Broads, having seen photographs of idyllic waterways and picturesque windmills, (and which reminded me of visits to Holland during the years I lived in Belgium) so I decided the Broads would be my destination.

Erica James

Early morning on the river …

The moment I glimpsed the River Bure, as I drove across the bridge in Wroxham, I got the tingly feeling I always get when I sense a gift from heaven has just dropped into my lap.   This sounds odd, I know, but it’s happened to me so frequently I never ignore it.   I just knew that I had found the setting for my twenty-second novel.

I should say that I grew up on the south coast of England, a stone’s throw from the sea, and being near water has a restorative effect on me, it instantly makes me feel at home.  It was years before I realised that subconsciously I always included water in my books, whether it was the sea, a lake, a pond or a river.

Sunset over the river

Four weeks later I returned to the Broads for a week-long stay in Horning to find out more about an area of the country which I now knew was the UK’s largest wetland landscape, and which had been formed by years of digging for peat to use as fuel in the Middle Ages.  Rising water had then flooded in to create over one hundred and twenty-five miles of navigable waterways.

The thatched holiday cottage I rented was right on the river and could not have been more perfectly located.  With the river to the front of me and a dyke to the side, I felt as though I were on an island and a million miles away from the hurly-burly of everyday life.

The neighbourhood heron through the window …

I created a workspace in the dining area of the small cottage and from my laptop I could observe the wildlife – the herons, the greylag geese, ducks, moorhens and dragonflies.  And of course there was the river traffic to watch, which came in all shapes and sizes – enormous floating gin palaces, modest cruisers, elegant yachts, compact picnic-boats, traditional wherries, canoes, and not forgetting the Southern Comfort, a double-deck paddle boat.  It made for a distinctive and jolly sight when passing in the evening prettily lit up with brightly coloured lights and music playing for the passengers on board.

Taking occasional breaks from writing, and wrenching myself away from what was on my doorstep, I would venture out to discover more of what the Broads had to offer, imagining my characters doing the same, except in their case it would be to revisit their favourite places, such as Hoveton Hall Gardens and Ranworth Broad.  My other outings included a lovely afternoon sail on a wherry, which was very special, and a boat trip around Ranworth Broad in the hope I might catch a glimpse of a Swallowtail butterfly amongst the milk parsley in the reed beds.  Sadly it was not to be.

The view from one of the holiday cottages I rented …

I returned to the Broads several more times while working on Swallowtail Summer and always to Horning, which not only appears in the novel, but also inspired me to create the fictional village of Linston, and Linston End – Alastair and Orla’s beloved house – which is at the heart of the story.  It’s a story I very much hope readers – new and old – will enjoy.  And who knows, it might even encourage people to visit this unique part of the country.

Thank you so much to Erica for her reflective thoughts about the setting that is such a major par of Swallow Tail Summer. Do read our review of her novel here! “All in all, this is a great read, providing an uplifting and heartening exploration of love and friendship and gives the reader cause to ponder what ultimately makes life worth living.”


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  1. User: Anna Keylock

    Posted on: 09/07/2019 at 8:24 am

    I spent one lovely month near Wroxham when I was sixteen and I think it was there that really gave me my love of wildlife. I grew up in a tiny Sussex village right on the edge of the sea, just about where Romney Marsh begins and a short distancd from my home were three lakes where there were loads of different birds, including, for a few months one year, a flamingo! Never did know how it got there. Water means a lot to many of us, maybe because we live on an island. Really looking forward to reading Swallowtail Summer.


  2. User: Gina Cresswell

    Posted on: 09/07/2019 at 8:24 am

    I can’t wait to read this book. As a child I spent many happy holidays at Horning, always staying at The Swan Hotel. The Urbanedies family ran it and I became great friends with their daughter. Happy, happy times which I am sure I will relive when I read your book.