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Talking Location With … Sophie Morton-Thomas – NORFOLK

18th March 2024

#TalkingLocationWith … Sophie Morton-Thomas, author of Bird Spotting in a Small Town – NORFOLK.

The story of Bird Spotting in a Small Town came about as I knew I had always wanted to write a chilling literary thriller in the vein of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I read when I was twelve or thirteen. I had been a keen bird spotter as a child (my dad bought me a small illustrated manual called Spotting Birds) and I knew I wanted to tie the two elements – a chilling thriller and spotting birds – together. After spending several holidays on the North Norfolk coast, I knew I had found the exact location I wanted to set the story in. Settings are hugely important to me, and I knew I couldn’t begin writing the story until I had found the right location. The characters, to me, have to somehow link with the setting, and I cannot work on them until I feel everything is laid out geographically!

The North Norfolk coast, with its isolation from the rest of the world, and its quiet beaches often fringed by marshes seemed the most ideal place to set this story of mystery and tangled family secrets.

Sophie Morton-Thomas

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Having spent some of our holidays on both the coasts of North Norfolk and also Suffolk, I wanted to draw on some elements of both counties. We stayed in Walberswick, Southwold in Suffolk for a week, and visited again the year after. The cottage we stayed in was fairly basic – some of the reviews calling it ‘ramshackle,’ but we loved it, and its location on the land that was so flat you could see for miles. The wind was strong that August but every day we walked to the marshy coastline of the village and took in the gulls and the sea that seemed to reach as far as the eye could see. Despite it being the height of the holiday season, there were few visitors and the beach was mainly ours. The marshes were of most interest to me for Bird Spotting in a Small Town, and I paid great attention to the sorts of birds that were inhabiting this area, as well as the skies and the lack of heat from the sun. These marshes had definitely been an inspiration when I came to writing most of the book.

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Sophie Morton-Thomas

The year after this trip to Suffolk, we headed over to the Norfolk coast, to Wells-Next-the-Sea and stayed in a local flat attached to someone’s home. Wandering around the town, I decided the place was almost too busy with tourists and shops that perhaps it wouldn’t be the ideal inspiration for Bird Spotting, until we made the walk to the main beach and forest, which is accessed across a narrow path that the sea touches on each side, complete with what seemed like abandoned fishing boats. The almost disturbing sounds of the gulls on this walk really hit the senses and make me realise I needed to focus in Bird Spotting on not only the sights of what was all around me at this time but also the cacophony of the birds’ calls. Hopefully this is an element I managed to bring about in the story.

On this same holiday, and again in the one the year after, we made our way over to Blakeney, a small coastal village that covers only 3.82 square miles. We queued behind many others to take a boat trip in the sea, to visit the seals on the tiny islands and to take in the scenery. I was never sure if I was going to include seals in Bird Spotting, but after taking part in this boat trip, I decided that they wouldn’t be able to appear in the story unless my characters were living in Blakeney itself and had access to a regular boat. However, the desolate shoreline and grey skies definitely stayed in my mind and I feel they have contributed well to my story.

The book itself is based in an imaginary village based between Wells and Blakeney, with a mention of Sheringham in the story, too. In the end I decided that a made-up village from my own mental images would work best, and I could add places like the caravan park and the church, and the little school to the map of the story. I drew on all of the photos and images of the places I had seen in North Norfolk, and Walberswick in Suffolk and created the nameless village that features in Bird Spotting in a Small Town, a place where secrets are trying to remain buried and people are just trying to stumble through each day without getting caught.

Sophie Morton-Thomas is the author of Bird Spotting in a Small Town published by VERVE Books.

Catch the author on TwitterX @sophiemoto1

 

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