The inspiration for an asylum set on the Yorkshire Moors

Anna Hope discusses the importance of location to her writing, and delves into the wild landscape that inspired Sharston, the asylum in her novel The Ballroom

The inspiration for an asylum set on the Yorkshire Moors

Both the real asylum and my fictional Sharston were almost self-sufficient, with six hundred acres of land, and many of the male patients working the farms as a sort of occupational therapy. It is through this contact with the land that my hero, John Mulligan, begins to emerge from the depression that has led to his incarceration, and return to himself. As the summer of 1911 grows ever more beautiful, his guilt that the female patients are locked up while he experiences relative liberty sparks his original impulse to write to Ella, with whom he begins to fall in love. So the relationship of language and landscape, and the importance of each as a path to liberation become very important to the novel.

At various points during the writing of The Ballroom I took myself off to walk on Ilkley Moor; it’s such a rich landscape, littered with sacred sites and boulders with ancient carvings, of which no one quite knows the meaning. It was important to me that this magical landscape was infused in the book; at a time when so many people had so many ideas about how to control others, (eugenics is a major theme) I loved the idea that there’s something unmanageable, wild, almost pagan, just waiting to break through the surface of all that civilisation.

I wanted this wild current to be an ever-growing presence in the book, touching all the characters in their own way. And this wildness is only heightened by the weather, which, as it grows hotter and hotter, and the asylum becomes a cauldron in which all sorts of desires rise to the surface and insist upon making themselves felt…

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