Author Sara Foster reflects on her Lancashire childhood
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 November 2020
Blackburn-born Sara Foster has had a string of best-sellers on the other side of the world. With her latest novel now out, she reflects on her Lancashire roots.
I haven’t lived in Lancashire for more than thirty years, but my formative memories are as vivid as ever. Blackpool Illuminations and the Pleasure Beach; the Liverpool Garden Festival with its yellow submarine; long walks in Bluebell Woods; the disquieting witches of Pendle Hill.
I was born in Queen’s Park Hospital, christened at St Gabriel’s and went to the church’s school on Wilworth Crescent. My mum wasn’t from Lancashire but she grounded my early life in the area, and she loved to explore. Whalley and the Ribble Valley were favourites. We’d have the Houghton Weavers on in the car as we travelled around, and sometimes went to their concerts – I can still remember the words to Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs!
My mum and dad divorced when I was a baby, and mum and I lived in a semi-detached house on Rhodes Avenue in Blackburn. Behind us was a huge field with a small stream, and I spent hours playing there. Occasionally mum would hide notes in tree hollows from the fairies. She was head of Religious Education at Billinge High School, but when I was eight-years-old she got a new job in Norfolk, and we left Blackburn.
But we left too many loved ones left behind for us to stay away for long. For the next few years we regularly drove the five hours back and forth so I could see my dad and we could catch up with friends. Later I’d take the train to visit dad and his new family in Mellor Brook – I soon had three younger sisters whom I adored. My granddad Raymond Walsh was Lancashire born and bred, married to Jean for 51 years. They did a lot to commemorate the military history of the area, researching, writing and publishing many books and pamphlets about local war heroes and events.
Perhaps because of that early move, I didn’t grow up feeling I had strong roots in one particular place. I went to university in Nottingham, travelled in Asia and Australia for a year, then lived in Kent while I commuted to my first job at HarperCollins Publishers in London. When my husband Matt and I began talking about a move to Western Australia, it seemed like another exciting adventure. We’d fallen in love with the outdoor, laidback lifestyle on a previous visit.
I came to Australia as a book editor, but I’d always had writing ambitions, and set myself a determined goal of producing a finished novel before I was 30. It was published by Random House Australia in 2010, and in the last decade I’ve written another five books and had two children. Despite the move to Australia, my English roots have always called to me in my writing: I’ve set novels in the Lake District, London and the North Yorkshire moors, along with other parts of the world, but not in Lancashire… yet!
My latest novel, You Don’t Know Me, is the first of my stories to be set exclusively in Australia, and yet it’s become the first book to be published in the UK by Legend Press. It’s part love story, part psychological suspense, and part crime thriller, centering on the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl called Lizzie Burdett. Another of my thrillers, The Hidden Hours, which is set between London and Australia, will be released by Legend later this year and has been optioned for television by Australian production company CJZ.
I’ve lived in Western Australia for 16 years now, but still have a strong English accent with a few traces of the girl from Lancashire. My dad and granddad have both passed away, but I have relatives in Mellor Brook and Preston, godparents in Clitheroe, and a half-brother in Darwen.
The last time we visited, in late 2018, I took my two girls, then aged nine and five, on a nostalgic tour of the places I loved as a young child. We went to find the remaining patch of woods behind my old house (much of it now a housing estate) off Rhodes Avenue in Blackburn, and my elder daughter headed enthusiastically down to the little stream, only to slip and fall into a patch of nettles. I’d remembered a lot, but I’d forgotten about the nettles! The nostalgia was over, and dock leaves were hastily sought. Hopefully, some day soon, I’ll be able to come back on a more leisurely research trip, and give one of my stories some real Lancashire heart and soul.