Interview: Author Nick Holland
Living North chats with Brontë expert Nick Holland
What was it about the Brontës that first got you interested in chronicling their lives?
As a native of Yorkshire myself, I've always thought of the Brontë sisters as the ‘Queens of Yorkshire’, and indeed of the North of England as a whole. I'm immensely proud that they represent my county, and their novels are still magnificent reads 200 years after their birth – I’ve read their books many times, yet every time I find something new. Many people know their books (and rightly so) but they don't necessarily know much about their lives – their real stories are just as fascinating as their fiction.
Why do you think they continue to hold such a fascination to the rest of us?
The Brontë novels are brilliant reads, whether you're seeing them for the first time or the 10th, and as long as this world keeps on turning their books will continue to be read and loved, but people are also in love with the Brontë story. Three sisters living in a remote moor-side village with little formal education – how could they write such amazing books? It captures the imagination, which is why tourists still come from across the world to see Haworth.
Which one is your favourite author?
I love them all, but I will have to come off the fence and say that my very favourite is Anne. Maybe it's because I always like to support the underdog, but I think it's also because Anne's two novels, Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, are very different to those of her sisters. Anne was greatly interested in portraying the truth in her novels, even if some readers at the time saw that as shocking, which is one of the reasons her writing seems so fresh and relevant today.
What's been the proudest moment of your writing career?
A succession of moments, because I love attending literary festivals and giving talks on the Brontës. It makes me so happy, and humble, that people have given up their own time and money to come and see me and hear more about the writing sisters that I love so much. Brontë fans are a very knowledgeable and lovely group of people, and they always have fascinating questions to ask!
Are you working on anything at the moment?
I'm sure I will be writing about the Brontës and the Victorian era until the day I pop my clogs, but I may also be making a return to fiction myself – watch this space! At the moment, I'm really enjoying promoting my new book Aunt Branwell and the Brontë Legacy. Elizabeth Branwell became a second mother to the Brontës after their mother died tragically young; Elizabeth made huge sacrifices from which we all benefit, and I'm proud to have brought her remarkable story to the attention of so many people.
What kind of books do you like to read yourself?
You may not be surprised to hear that my favourite book is by a Brontë – Emily's incredible Wuthering Heights. Passion, violence, intrigue, love, loss – it really has it all. Away from the Brontës, I love reading historical biographies, especially relating to the Victorian and Tudor times, and thriller novels. Raymond Chandler is my favourite thriller writer, and I could read his Philip Marlowe novels over and over again.
Who are your literary inspirations?
Their first names were Charlotte, Emily and Anne so you may be able to guess their surname? They are great inspirations for any aspiring writer, as they faced huge adversity in their personal and writing lives – and yet they never gave in. Their novels were rejected time after time, yet they kept on sending them out into the world, confident in their own ability that they would eventually find a publisher who could recognise it. On a personal level, I have also been inspired by the late, great Barnsley writer Barry Hines, the author of Kes, among other works. He was a teacher at my school and whenever I saw him walk around the local village I thought, 'I want to be a writer like that one day!’
You were born in Barnsley and went to university in Huddersfield – what's your favourite thing about Yorkshire?
I love being from, and living in, Yorkshire. It's such a cliché, but the people here really are warm, friendly and supportive. It's also a beautiful county; I love countryside walks, and in Yorkshire you have some of the best landscapes in the world right on your doorstep. People have the impression that Barnsley is dark and foreboding, when in fact it has some spectacular scenery within its boundaries.
Where's your favourite place in Yorkshire?
There are so many places I love, from spectacular Rievaulx Abbey to the twisting streets of York, but there are two places I love more than any other. One, of course, is Haworth and its surrounding moors, but the other is Scarborough. Anne Brontë (who also loved the resort) is buried there, in the shadow of Scarborough Castle and next to the beautiful St. Mary's church. My dream is to live there one day, and be able to walk on the sands in all kinds of weather, watching the seagulls wheeling overhead. It's my favourite place in the world, and every time I step off the train there I feel like I'm home.
Aunt Branwell and the Brontë Legacy is published by Pen & Sword Books and is available on their website.