Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Chagrin, Ohio, the Appalachians, & Me

Please welcome Sheila North, radio presenter, author and American living in the UK, to my blog this week.  Continuing the theme of travel and life abroad Sheila gives away a few secrets about her life before Yorkshire!

Hound of the Basingstokes
Illustration byTom Brown 
The state of Ohio (OH) is the birthplace of my favourite American humorist, the late James Thurber.  I'd love to be the visiting writer at ‘The Thurber House’, in Columbus, OH.
Another Ohio treat is the charming small town (population 4,113) of Chagrin Falls, which I visited in the early 1980s.
What's not to like about Chagrin Falls?  For starters, there's that name.  It conjures up images of early 19th century American pioneers, bravely going where no pioneer has gone before.  Unfortunately, instead of the Pacific Ocean, they found a river, and a waterfall.
They were chagrined.
I enjoy writing about real places, which is why most of the short stories in my collection Koi Carpe Diem are based in my home town of Doncaster, South Yorkshire.  One exception is The Hound of the Basingstokes, which is set in a flat in Baker Street, London.  Bunty Jennings: Tree Whisperer takes place in a fictionalised version of Doncaster called Danefield.
Bunty Jennings : Tree Whisperer
Illustration by Tom Brown
Basing fictional places on real ones is great fun, and is what I'm doing with the title story of my upcoming collection, A Yorkshireman in Ohio.  The Yorkshireman is Inspector P. Thwaite, who arrives in Sweetheart Springs, Ohio, with his sidekick, Sergeangt Jake Cat.  Who is a cat, and well pleased to find that Sweetheart Springs is much warmer than Doncaster.  The picture book town of Sweetheart Springs owes a lot to fond memories of Chagrin Falls, although I doubt the latter has ever been the setting for death by tentacle.
I haven't yet placed a story in or around Appalachia.  I suspect it's just a matter of time.  When I was a child, we used to go on vacation every summer.  Mom and Dad would pack the light blue Ford Mercury with kids, colouring books, and suitcases, then drive around visiting other states.  In the morning, Dad would ‘fill 'er up!’ at a gas station.  Come lunchtime, the family stopped for sandwiches, or burgers, followed by ice cream sundaes, chocolate malteds, or a ‘Brown Cow’ - that's a root beer float - at Big Boy's, or Howard Johnsons, or perhaps just a snack and a shop at Stuckeys. Much of my plastic horse collection came from Stuckeys.  Their peanut brittle was pretty good, too.
My favourite vacations were in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where we visited Berea, Kentucky, and bought a copy of a folk songbook called ‘Sweet Rivers of Song’ which I still treasure.  Memories of Virginia, West Virginia, and Kentucky call to me, even as I write these words.  Someday, I'll feel that cold, early morning mountain air; smell the pines, and look down at the little lights in those big valleys.  And, of course, feast on genuine Southern cooking.  It's rather like Scottish: if it's edible, fry it.
John Denver was right.  It really is almost heaven.

Sheila North
Photograph by Keith Hartley
About the author  I was born in Detroit, Michigan.  This is not necessarily my fault.  I have been a stringer, newspaper editor, tollbooth attendant, comms assistant, journalism student, writers’ group leader and mental health worker.  I also bake the best brownies in South Yorkshire.  My interests include volunteering with a local radio station, singing angst-ridden folk songs, falling asleep in front of the telly and mangling the English language with my Mid-Western-Yorkshire accent.  I live in Doncaster with my husband David, a rat named Charles and a Dalek called Gerald.

About her work  To read more of my writing, visit my blog sheilanorth.wordpress.com, or look on Amazon for my dark fantasy The Woodcutter’s Son; my short story collections, What No Pudding? and Koi Carpe Diem (print copies available from Lulu) the short story collection that precedes A Yorkshireman in Ohio.  The latter is due for publication this month.  You can also hear me on Bookit!, my radio programme about books and writing at sinefm.com

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