Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide
Writer and artist Juliet Bates’ second novel The Colours is set in North Yorkshire and explores a mother and son relationship. She spoke to Yvette Huddleston.
When author Juliet Bates sat down to write her second novel The Colours, she had a pretty clear idea of what she was aiming for.
“There were certain things I knew I wanted to do,” says Bates. “And actually not much changed, while I was writing, from the first thoughts I had about it.”
Now based in northern France where she lectures at the School of Art in Caen, Bates was born in Darlington and grew up in the village of Aldbrough St John near Richmond – and from the outset, she knew that the novel’s setting would be in North Yorkshire.
“It was quite a nostalgic trip for me in some ways,” she says. “It was the coast that I was particularly drawn to – places like Whitby, Saltburn, Scarborough and
Robin Hood’s Bay – and I wanted to explore the landscape of that area because it suited the story I wanted to tell.”
The Colours is a sweeping family drama covering a span of several decades of the 20th century from just before the First World War right up to the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981.
The novel’s main characters are Ellen and her son Jack, born out of wedlock in the 1920s. At a time when single motherhood was socially unacceptable and despite being put under pressure by the local priest to give up her son, Ellen determines to raise Jack herself – until she can no longer cope. Told from the perspective of the two protagonists, both of whom for different reasons are slightly on the edge of society, the novel explores their separate and intertwining stories.
“I knew that I wanted to write about two generations of a family,” says Bates. “And to look at the way in which parents and children might make the same kind of mistakes. That whole idea of history repeating itself within a family. I was also interested in the idea of inheritance – of attitudes and ideas. How a parent may unconsciously give a child certain viewpoints on the world.”
The imagery and descriptions in the novel are striking, closely observed and beautifully wrought. It is clear that Bates’ writing has been influenced by her career as a visual arts academic.
“I have been in art schools either as a student or lecturer since I was 17, so I don’t know how else to write about things,” she says. “It is part of what I have done for the last 25 years. My job is all about looking at things so it is kind of second nature. I don’t think I could write in any other way.”
For the past 20 years, Bates has lived in Normandy, so her descriptions of the Yorkshire coast are all based on memory. It’s an impressive feat, the area clearly made a big impression on her.
“I haven’t been back since I left, but I have many happy and vivid memories of those places,” she says. She was hoping to visit when the book was published in April this year, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, she has been unable to. “I was looking forward to it, so that was a bit disappointing, but overall my experience of lockdown was quite positive. It sort of suspended everything which was actually quite nice. I continued my teaching online but I still had a lot of time to do my own writing.”
Novel number three is already under way.