Jilly: Treats from the Peak

North Lees Hall, the original Thornfield Hall (David Lally via Wikimedia Commons)

North Lees Hall, the original Thornfield Hall (David Lally via Wikimedia Commons)

Are you tempted by our Christmas Week Short Story Challenge? Everyone’s invited, and it’s only a measly five hundred words.

The challenge evolved in the comments to my post Man-Caves & Brainwaves, about the rich and varied history of my home county of Derbyshire and its story potential. The rules (guidelines, really, it’s Christmas and we’re flexible) are simple – write a 500-word short story including ‘Derbyshire’ and at least three of the following: Darcy, Rhinoceros, Woolly, Admire, Love, Mine, Villain, Volcano, Ghost. Extra kudos for using more than three, and kudos with sparkles for Christmas references.

I’ll be starting off the challenge next Sunday (21 December). Several of the other Ladies are planning to play, and Michaeline will close the week in style the following Saturday, 27 December.

If you have a little reading time, here are a few Derbyshire-set or -inspired books to whet your appetite.

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
When we say Derbyshire, we think Darcy. We couldn’t possibly have a story challenge without name-checking the hero of arguably the greatest romance novel ever written. If you ever get the chance, take a tour of the real Pemberley, the Duke of Devonshire’s stately home Chatsworth House.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Or you could go Gothic. In 1845, Charlotte Bronte went to stay with her friend Ellen Nussey, whose brother was the vicar in the in the Dark Peak village of Hathersage. She used Hathersage as the model for the village of Norton, and North Lees Hall, a sixteenth-century tower house set below the spectacular gritstone cliffs of Stanage Edge, as Mr. Rochester’s mysterious Thornfield Hall.

The Toll-Gate, Georgette Heyer
More dramatic and less frothy than many Heyers, The Toll-Gate has a male protagonist – a reassuringly competent ex-soldier, who deals with orphans, highwaymen, villains and Bow Street Runners, solves the murder mystery and wins the girl. Makes excellent, atmospheric use of the isolated countryside with a bonus spooky denouement in the limestone caves.

Miss Wonderful (Carsington series), Loretta Chase
I love this heart-warming, funny, moving historic romance that makes brilliant use of the geology and history of the area. The heroine’s family home is just outside the spa town of Matlock Bath; her father is a botanist who spends most of his life tramping the hills, collecting plant specimens. The heroine loves the wild, desolate landscape and is implacably opposed to the hero’s proposal to build a canal. There are also some scary moments involving disused mine-shafts. I don’t know whether Loretta Chase visited Matlock, but her descriptions are spot on, and her storyline is perfect for an area that was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. She also resolves the plot in a clever, satisfying and authentic manner.

Rosie Hopkins Sweetshop of Dreams, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop, The Christmas Surprise, Jenny Colgan
Contemporary romance. I haven’t read these, but I’m told they’re a nice, feel-good blend of sweetness, warmth and nostalgia. The series starts when the heroine relocates from London to rural Derbyshire to help her ailing, elderly aunt, who owns an old-fashioned sweetshop. I’m going to buy these for my mum for Christmas.

The Terror of Blue John Gap, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A scary non-Sherlock short story. A doctor, recovering from tuberculosis, goes to recuperate at a Derbyshire farm. He strolls around the hills, investigating the geography and geology, including an ancient mine. He becomes embroiled in a series of sinister events and solves the mystery of Blue John Gap and the murderous mythical beast that lurks there.

A Place of Execution, Val McDermid
Acclaimed and award-winning psychological thriller. It has parallel storylines, one set in 1963 (a Detective Inspector attempts to locate a missing girl thirteen year-old girl in the Peak District), the other in present day (a journalist plans to publish a story of the investigation, and when a fresh lead emerges, the policeman stops co-operating, and she must find out why).

Cooper & Fry Series, Stephen Booth
My husband’s catnip. A series of murder mysteries starring Derbyshire detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, set in classic Peak District locations featuring stone circles, desolate moorland and underground caverns.

So what’s it to be? Historical, contemporary, romantic, mysterious, scary, or whatever else takes your fancy? Please join us here next week – and if you’d like to play, we’d love to read your story.

9 thoughts on “Jilly: Treats from the Peak

  1. I’m in! I’m almost finished with my piece, too, but I have to warn you—I’m playing fast and loose with the concept of a “Christmas Week Short Story Challenge.” Just sayin’.

    But these look like great suggestions. I’ve been stocking up on some Georgette Heyer I haven’t read, as well as some Phoebe Atwood Taylor (who I’d never heard of until I started hanging out with you guys). So I’m looking forward to a rich literary new year, all set in Derbyshire.

    • Fast and loose is perfect, Kay. I haven’t started mine yet, though I know roughly what it’s going to be. Silly and fun, at least that’s how it’s playing in my head right now 🙂

  2. Excellent! I need to take some time this week to look up some more Derbyshire pictures. The one you posted is so awesome! Makes me want to build a Hall in the northeast corner of our corn field (-:. (Maybe when I win the lottery.)

    I’m afraid it might be a last-minute burst on my part, but it will be a lot of fun, I know that!

    (I didn’t realize that Derbyshire informed SO MUCH of our genre. I am torn between ordering Miss Wonderful for myself, or asking for it for Christmas . . . .)

    • That’s fine – I’m going first next Sunday, Micki’s going last the following Saturday, so you’d have a week to play with it in between doing all other things Christmassy. As Jenny C used to remind us all the time, there are Many Roads To Oz. I bet mine will be very different from Kay’s, and Elizabeth’s, and Micki’s (not sure who else is playing). Micki and I did a 500-word challenge in Feb and I’d never in a million years have imagined a story like hers from the words she had to use; it was great, though, and she got Bunny out of it, which was a major bonus.

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