Betwixt and Between
The park at the heart of Motherlove
Motherlove is a book that follows two girls, one living a hippy existence on a small-holding in Wales, the other desperate to escape her miserable family home on a council estate in the home counties. So the action veers between the wild freedom of the Preselis in Pembrokeshire, and the urban claustrophobia of Lyford, a town that is fictional, but constructed out of my memories of Luton, where I grew up.

Arndale library
 I shamelessly used Luton’s Arndale Centre as a location. It was built, while I was living there, over the graves of many small lanes and backstreets, cutting the town centre in half like a Berlin wall. Nearby is the library, where I once worked, the scene, in the book, of much explanation.

The location that brings the stories of all the characters together and provides the setting for the greatest drama, is Lyford’s Portland Park. Town parks offer a peculiar hybrid zone, where an illusion of countryside stands within an ocean of brick, concrete and tarmac. It offers grass, trees, flowing water, ducks to feed and squirrels to chase, but it’s hemmed in. Iron gates can lock people out – or in. There is always, to my mind, something slightly sinister about a park.

Lyford’s Portland Park is modelled on Luton’s Wardown Park. I’ve missed some of Wardown’s defining features: the grand museum and the suspension bridge, but others are there – the meandering paths, the boating lake, the drinking fountain, the willows. I’ve even restored some – the boat house, in my story, still has boats.
wardown park

railings gates boats

Wardown Park began as a farm – truly rural ‒ became a gentleman’s estate, and then a civic amenity, for the benefit of the town that now engulfed it. People could go boating on the lake. They could even swim in it. Its calm waters are stroked by weeping willows and swans glide across it. But the inflow is clogged with filth, and the outflow is a stagnant roadside ditch. There could be anything beneath the surface of that lake. Keys. Lost wedding rings. Loot. Bodies…

Just as there could be all manner of things beneath the surface of so many lives.

outflow inflow water