Somewhere between the North Sea and the Bristol Channel lies an island. Not over large but big enough to contain a couple of towns, a number of villages, hamlets and farms and all the other bits and pieces that go to make a place like that: crumbling cliffs, litter strewn beaches, deserted churches, closed down quarries used as landfill sites and a preserved railway run by solicitors in boiler suits. Along with the usual complement of dingy tea-shops, paint-peeled hotels and rain-sodden caravan sites. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the place. I love it. For a writer it provides enough material to last many lucrative volumes . And the views are spectacular. But I wouldn’t want publicity to spoil it. I don’t want you, dear readers, getting up charabanc trips to clog up our already sclerotic lanes trying to discover the true identitiy of Mrs. Vest’s Tea Rooms or whatever.
People I meet at receptions and literary luncheons have tried to ferret out just where this place is and have resorted to goading me with clumsy prompts over dinner to see if I could be made to let slip some clue. There have been those who have stated categorically that this island must be Romney Marsh or Chichester and Selsey Bill. Some have argued for the tip of Cornwall or Salcombe and Start Point or, even, The Isle of Wight. There’s even a University department in Wisconsin or Kyoto or somewhere which keeps e.mailing me with suggestions that the island might be a metaphor for post-colonial Britain, wherever that is, but I never rise to the bait - it might be none of the above. Or bits of all of them.
One thing I will admit, though, the people are all real. The characters in the stories are all people whose names I know and you’d find them all on The Island. These are folk I might bump into in Safeways or The Post Office. Of course, I’m not so stupid as to make them identifiable in any detail; I’ve taken the precaution of adapting occupations, circumstances and hair colour. So there’s not a chance you would be able to identify them and I hope to God there’s no chance of them recognising themselves. And there’s no point in trying to link characters with the place I live because that’s Dorset (England, Europe) and there are no islands here.