An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
INTERVIEW WITH M J KNOX, AUTHOR OF ISOBEL'S SON
Isobel leaves a letter for her son, Tom, to be read one month after
her death. Her revelations take Tom back in time and throw into
turmoil his settled life as a committed and respected GP.
Supported by his partner, Alex, Tom embarks upon a quest to piece
together the jigsaw puzzle of his life, with unforeseen hurdles,
discoveries and redemptions; a story of love and loss amidst the
intricacies of family relationships unfold as we are transported
from leafy Warwickshire to the wide expanses of the beguiling
North Norfolk coast.
Isabel’s Son is a gentle yet rich read; sensitively written and layered with the
complexities of real family life. An acute understanding of family relationships
and tensions combined with a satisfying mystery, keeps the reader enticed
as they get to know the characters over a story that spans generations with its
thought-provoking twists and turns. This ebb and flow of family life creates a believable narrative and you soon fit into the novel, sharing the moments of tenderness, sadness and despair as well as great happiness and hope. In short, this lightly written prose somehow grips you hard and gets under your skin as you find yourself really caring about Tom and what happens to him. I was intrigued to find out more about this likeable character as I met the author, M J Knox, for an insightful chat...
“The character of Tom was always very clear in my mind. I was a Practise Nurse for ten years and worked with doctors both good and bad. We tend to be fed rather negative media stories about health professionals, and I am certainly aware that much needs to be done, but there are some genuinely good doctors out there, and Tom is based on all of these. In the present climate of ghastly turmoil around the world, I felt there was room for a story that reflects the good side of human nature too.”
As well as an interest in the way attitudes to professional life have evolved, Maggie was also interested in sexuality; “I realise now that part of me wanted to write a novel which did not treat people’s differing sexual orientations as anything unusual. It seems to me that there are not many books that do that. Someone asked me the rather unenlightened question ‘Why did you make him gay?’ I didn’t make him gay; Tom was always a gay man in my mind.”
The book centres on family life; the dynamics and tensions of family relationships from problems between father and son, to differing sibling personalities and atonement of past mistakes. Maggie herself had a colourful childhood, being the classic middle child to Northern Irish parents. Growing up in Leicester, her father was a Presbyterian minister. “It seemed everyone’s unwanted granny or unmarried young mother-to-be came to live with us. Conversation flowed at every meal and discussion on a wide range of topics was the norm.” With both her parents being avid readers, the likes of Charles Dickens was an integral part of her life. She wrote her first play at age 14, which she directed and performed at school, and although went on to train as a nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and work in the NHS for many years, the writing bug never left her. With inspiration from Mary Wesley (who wrote her first novel at 70 years old) and in between enjoying her six grandchildren, she finally put pen to paper, her goal to “write a story which involved a family and invited the reader to turn the pages to see how it all ended.”
“I have always been fascinated by the scenario of two people meeting after having known each other years earlier and the ripple effect of that encounter.” Lucky for us this ‘encounter’ takes place in North Norfolk along the coast which is returned to as the mystery unfolds. Images of sand dunes and sea-spray, windswept beaches and peaceful walks are described beautifully as the reader longs to be there. To write such heartfelt prose must surely reflect a deep love of our sacred coastline? “Oh yes, the wide empty beaches and the big skies .... I hope I express my love of the area through the characters in this book. Many of my childhood holidays were spent in Heacham and Sheringham, and then when I met my husband, Henry, we discovered that all the times I had been holidaying there; he had been along the coast in Brancaster with his family. We continued to holiday in Norfolk for many years after we met and my sister-in-law now lives in Thornham, so we visit her when able. We also recently stayed in Holt and the Holt Bookshop kindly offered to take some copies of my book.”
Being a local lover of our North Norfolk coastline, I found myself trying to guess the places where the characters were; Brancaster Staithe and Sheringham sprung up in my mind as I read, but Maggie insists “the settings are a mixture of all parts of North Norfolk that I know. I don’t name specific places because I want to invite readers to imagine from my descriptions rather than relate to one particular place they may know. I hope I have captured the essence of that most lovely part of the county.” I can safely say you’ve achieved that Maggie, along with producing a highly accredited first novel to boast about at your writing group. So, what’s next? “Short stories. I think this format is becoming more popular as we live in a world of ‘quick fixes’. My plan is to write a dozen or so short stories which relate to each other, but which also stand alone.” Well, we at Finest really hope the setting is Norfolk again, and look forward to welcoming you back to our county for a well earned holiday soon!
Isobel's Son is available as paperback and on kindle from Amazon, in Holt Bookshop, or can be purchased directly from the author at TWQ Publishing for a discounted rate of £6. Email: [email protected] for more information.
Thanks To M J Knox for taking the time to chat with us and for supporting Finest of Norfolk.