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Erica James: How the Broads inspired my new book Swallowtail Summer

In Swallowtail Summer Sunday Times bestseller Erica James has written a captivating story about friendship, making changes, and learning to live life to the fullest... and all inspired by the beautiful Broads National Park.

The book's synopsis is: 'A cherished home, a circle of friends and a summer that will change everything... Linston End has been the summer holiday home for three families for many years. A rambling thatched house nestled on the water's edge on the Norfolk Broads, it's a haven of long, lazy picnics on the river, gin and tonics in the garden; a place to spend time together. But this year, the friends are rocked by unexpected news, and it seems that Linston End will never be the same again. For some, this summer feels like the end. For others, it might just be the beginning...'

Read on to discover how Erica found inspiration for her story...

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.

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.

Canoeing at Wroxham

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.

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.

Natural Norfolk Broads

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.

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.

Ranworth

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.

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.

Explore the Broads

 Swallowtail Summer

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