Shortly after my first serious relationship ended when I was 24, my mum took a photo of me on the Malvern Hills. I’m at the top of Midsummer Hill wearing walking boots, jeans, a t-shirt and a fleece, and there’s a double rainbow behind me.
Despite the maelstrom of emotions I was working my way through at the time, I look remarkably happy. There’s a sheen of sweat on my forehead and a look of optimism in my eyes. I remember feeling that, despite everything, that things were going to be OK. And they were, as it turned out. I met my wonderful husband just six months later. I’m not of course claiming that the hills brought that about, but I am certain that they have provided me, and hundreds of thousands of others, with solace.
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” – the first line of Psalm 121 – was my school motto. And while the memory of my school days does not fill me with either joy or serenity, I have an absolute affinity with that message. I grew up in the hills’ shadow, and in the hormonal and emotional storms of my teenage years, I definitely looked up to them for reassurance. They had been there long before me and would be there long afterwards, and that knowledge helped me to keep my worries in perspective. As an angst-ridden teenager, I took my walkman and headphones and marched along them, sat down and gazed at them and stomped up and down them, many, many times. And so when I decided to set my second novel, Grace, in my home town of Malvern, I did so knowing that my two protagonists would both share the same love for these ancient hills.
Michelle and Amelia are ostensibly two very different women with two very different childhoods, but they are both Malvern natives. Both of them have found peace on the old sheep tracks which become overgrown with bracken in the summer months, and have felt both achievement and an endorphin surge as they leaned on the Victorian toposcope at the peak of the Worcestershire Beacon.
In the novel, these two women are locked in a battle with social services which neither of them want for a baby called Grace, who was removed from Michelle at birth, and whom social services have place with Amelia with a view to adoption. The relationship and courtroom drama that ensues is carried out with the hills as a constant backdrop, with the glorious music of Worcestershire’s famous son, Edward Elgar, chiming in with regularity.
It’s an emotional yet uplifting novel which I hope will open the eyes of readers both to the shadowy world of the family courts and the gut-wrenching decisions social services departments across the UK make daily.
I also hope that my love for its setting – for the Malvern Hills, for the town that nestles in their folds, and for the glorious Malvern Priory – shines through, and will encourage more people to visit the area and discover its healing properties for themselves.
Grace by Victoria Scott is publishing in hardback on 7th July by Aria, imprint of Head of Zeus, priced at £20. You can buy it here.