Polly Crosby is the author of historical mysteries set in her ‘beloved’ Norfolk and Suffolk. With her third novel, Vita and the Birds, out on Thursday, she explains how her childhood home of Walberswick is a constant inspiration
When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer and what led you to getting your first book, The Illustrated Child, published?
I always wanted to write! I wrote my first novel at 19, and whilst I managed to get a literary agent, the book didn’t sell. So often, an author’s journey to publication is a long and arduous one, but we’re made of strong stuff! I’ve written ever since that first rejection, finally publishing my debut at the age of 40. I wrote The Illustrated Child over 10 years, at first in my young son’s nap times, and then whenever I could find a free five minutes. To me, writing is like breathing – it’s something I have to do. It was like that before I was published, and it’s still like it today, though with quite a few more deadlines!
What was it like having your first book published in the unforgettable year that was 2020?
Publishing my debut was a learning curve in itself but doing it in a pandemic was quite something else. I discovered an incredible support network of other debut authors online, and together we managed to muddle through. My planned launch (which was also meant to be my 40th birthday party) had to be cancelled, and the bookshops were closed, but it was still an incredible time, and it certainly put a shine on what could otherwise have been a very difficult few months. Besides, writing is a wonderful escape – I spent most of 2020 lost in editing my second novel, The Unravelling, and dreaming up my third, Vita and the Birds, which is out on the 25th of May.
How was both The Illustrated Child and The Unravelling received?
I’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction to both books, and since being able to go out and about and meet readers, it’s been so nice to talk to people face to face about them. During the pandemic, when readers contacted me to say how much they enjoyed my novels, it made all the craziness of the situation worthwhile. It still feels surreal sometimes that people are reading a story that I’ve written!
What is your new book, Vita and the Birds, about?
It’s a gothic mystery set on the Suffolk coast, told in dual timeline between 1938 and 1997. A young woman breaks into a derelict mansion and finds a portrait that looks uncannily like her – except that it was painted long before she was born. At its heart, Vita and the Birds is a story of love and family, and I suppose it’s my own love letter to my childhood home of Walberswick, a very beautiful place with an exceptionally artistic background.
Gorgeous cover by the way! Who illustrated it?
Isn’t it incredible? It was created by the HarperCollins design team, of which, Stephanie Heathcote hand-painted the canaries on the front. I’m in awe! It’s a perfect representation of the novel – dark and beautiful and glimmering with gold.
Is the Suffolk Coast a constant inspiration to you?
Gosh yes. And Norfolk too, where my next novel is set. I was spoilt, growing up somewhere as beautiful as Walberswick, being able to go swimming before school, and picking samphire from the edge of the river to eat that night slathered in butter. I think there’s a melancholy beauty to the saltmarshes and the tidal creek that winds through the village, and whenever I need inspiration or just time to think, it’s always the first place I seek out.
Where is home nowadays and does Suffolk regularly draw you back?
I’m Suffolk born but moved across the border 20 years ago and married a Norfolk boy, and consequently I consider myself to be half-Suffolk and half-Norfolk! I live in South Norfolk now, which is a hidden gem. We have access to so many beaches in both counties, and the city is so close, and yet we’re deep in the countryside. I have lots of family in Suffolk, so we’re often there still. I will always have one foot in Suffolk, I think.
Does it feel like this latest book is a first, in a way, in that you are able to get out and about to promote it?
Yes! You’re so right! I’ve got so many in-person events arranged this time. Talks in bookshops and libraries, festival appearances and a real-live book launch for the first time! For my last novel, The Unravelling, which was about a butterfly collector, I bought a beautiful butterfly dress for my launch, but didn’t get to wear it as the pandemic reared its ugly head yet again. I’m not sure a dress covered in canaries will be quite so elegant, but I’m certainly on the hunt for something with a Vita and the Birds theme, and I plan to wear it and wear it this summer!
What is next for you?
I’m about to start editing my next novel, which is set in a sanatorium on the Norfolk coast in 1935, and soon I’ll be announcing some exciting news about another writing project. I’m so happy that the warmer months are here, which means I can sit out in the garden and write away to my heart’s content. As long as I’m writing, I’m happy. And what more can anyone say than that?
Vita and the Birds, by Polly Crosby, is published on Thursday May 25. Pre-order on Waterstones and Amazon. Also, visit POLLY CROSBY. Polly will be appearing at Southwold Books on Saturday May 27; Waterstones, Norwich on Wednesday June 7; Poringland Library on Thursday June 8; and at Primadonna Festival, July 28-30 (day TBC).
Featured images: supplied