Behind My One True North by Milly Johnson
I’ve been asked a few times where the one big idea came from for My One True North and I can’t tell you. So there you have it! All I know is that I had a few ingredients that I wanted to throw into the pot, a sort of literary Ready Steady Cook. I wanted to set it in the HQ of the Daily Trumpet, I wanted a man and woman to take centre stage and I wanted the Northern Lights to feature. It was suggested to me that books about journalism don’t sell as well as maybe they should do so my lead character – originally a reporter – had to be something else. After dropping a scented candle on the floor dangerously near to a rug a little flower took root from the near miss – what about a fireman, everyone loves those. Okay – so what about my lady then? How could I squash her together with a newspaper? The Daily Trumpet is famous for its bloops and always getting sued – it’s entirely feasible she would be a solicitor then. Bingo. How do I get my characters together now?
As writers, we are always trying to tax ourselves, making the impossible happen. I like the idea that something brings characters together whom might never have met in ordinary circumstances. I liked the idea that they were both going through something at the same time, their experiences were parallel. It was a hard sell to make them go through something traumatic, but I’m always up for a challenge. Grief brings them together. In fact, let’s go the whole hog and let grief bring them together with others they might never have encountered, let a whole bunch of people share the common denominator of working through their pain.
I didn’t plan to bring The Teashop on the Corner back into play, like some fan-fiction ploy. The place just presented itself to me: ‘it’s open, ready for business and there’s the ideal woman to run the sessions, someone who has emerged smiling from a lot of hardship in her life – Molly.’ The idea of a big, gruff fireman mixing with a bunch of oddities eating cake amused me. And the readers needed to be amused too – grief is a tough subject to tackle. It needs lightness whipped through it to offset the sadness, to leave a reader feeling as if they might have been put through the mill but a glorious path of hope and happiness now lies before them.
Pete has a wonderful, close, loving family, Laurie has just one friend, yet they both feel isolated and out of sync with the world. Only with the motley band of fellow sufferers do they find a temporary home and respite. Laurie and Pete bond quickly, united by their experiences. ‘But…’ asked my evil brain, ‘…what if the thing that unites them serves to pull them apart also?’
By now the book was much longer than it should have been, but to hell with it, I just rode the horse and let it take me onwards. I don’t plan any of my books, so I had absolutely no idea how I was going to end up at the Northern Lights. Or even if they’d fit by the time I got to near the end. But, like Ready Steady Cook, all those ingredients somehow melded into a glorious Norwegian cake. I’m so incredibly proud of Laurie and Pete, characters who have no idea how strong they are, who are great role models for readers because they are decent, kind people who atone for any mistakes and deserve the ending they get.
So read, enjoy, sink into the world of Yorkshire folk and then be swept away to the chill of beautiful Norway. Have I seen the Northern Lights in real life? you may ask. Yes, and they’re magical enough for me to believe they truly are the membrane to a place beyond this one.