Made in Scarborough
Children accept the status quo. You live in a place and that’s how it is. But I think I knew then that being born and raised in Scarborough, on the Yorkshire coast, was special and would form me as a writer. It did, and not only because the adaptation of my ghost story, The Woman in Black , started life there, at the Stephen Joseph theatre. The coastline, the cliffs, the sea, the beautiful curve of South Bay, the public gardens, the cliff trams, the smell of rock pools, the massive winter storms, all have threaded in and out of my dreams for 70-plus years.
I was born in 1942 and so grew up during the last years of the war and the postwar era. I remember air raid sirens, my infantsize gas mask and white rings painted round the huge trees that lined the roads, to guide us when walking in the blackout. Scarborough received a few leftover bombs dropped by enemy planes as they returned home from raids over the northern industrial cities. My first haunted place was the bombed shell of St Margaret’s girls’ school. I peered through the “Keep Out” fences, imagining the ghosts.
My imagination is rooted in the landscape and the town, a place of faded gentility at one end, poverty, especially among fishing families, at the other. The old ladies, spinsters accompanying elderly parents on slow walks along the esplanade, and the retired wool merchants from the West Riding, lived, respectively either in a poverty that kept up appearances at all costs, or in great wealth, on the South Cliff. They, along with survivors from the first world war, the generals, majors, lieutenant colonels, sat out their days on benches looking at the North Sea. They lodged first in my mind, later in my books.
But so did creepy places. Penny-in-theslot machines showed executions, a Chamber of Horrors in a long-gone museum had waxwork murderers. I was forbidden to enter, but I often did. No wonder I have a macabre side.
As an only child, my days were spent with my mother, who met her friends for morning South Bay and Castle Headland, Scarborough
coffee in Marshall & Snelgrove’s department store. It was posh. Mannequins paraded through the restaurant, as I escaped to wander the store, x-raying my feet weekly in the shoe department machine.
On the foreshore, the dodgems, candy floss and amusement arcades were all out of bounds. We went penniless. Sometimes they gave us bags of sweet drum-scrapings and we cadged free rides. I set short stories there, decades later.
It all exists when I return. I am transfixed by the gliding snake cables of the cliff tram. Time means nothing. Scarborough is out of time. It means everything.
The Comforts of Home by Susan Hill is published by Chatto & Windus.