About The Book
I am William Lee: brute; liar, and graveside thief. But you will know me by another name. Heathcliff has left Wuthering Heights, and is travelling across the moors to Liverpool in search of his past. Along the way, he saves Emily, the foul-mouthed daughter of a Highwayman, from a whipping, and the pair journey on together. Roaming from graveyard to graveyeard, making a living from Emily’s apparent ability to commune with the dead, the pair lie, cheat and scheme their way across the North of England. And towards the terrible misdeeds – and untold riches – that will one day send Heathcliff home to Wuthering Heights.
I am thrilled to welcome Michael Stewart to Beverley Has Read today to talk about the research required to write Ill Will, the untold story of Heathcliff during his absence from Wuthering Heights. I am a huge fan of the Emily Brontë novel Wuthering Heights having read it and loved it during my University days (it was one set text that I completely devoured) and I was intrigued to know more about the methodology behind writing one of fiction’s most famous characters. My thanks to Michael Stewart for sharing these thoughts with me.
Ill Will: researching the historical novel ‘equel’
First there was the sequel, then there was the prequel, now there’s the ‘equel’ – a book
written in response to another book where the action takes place during the timeframe of the original book. My novel, Ill Will, fits the description of ‘equel’, dealing as it does with Heathcliff’s lost years. I had the idea for the book as early as 1995, when I came across John Sutherland’s essay, ‘Is Heathcliff A Murderer?’. I left school at sixteen. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t do A levels. Instead I worked in factories around the Manchester area. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four that a girlfriend at that time suggested, if I wanted to be a writer, to go to university to study English Literature. It seemed like a good idea. Twenty-three years later, I’m still with her. It was sound advice.
When I came across Sutherland’s essay, I started writing. I wrote the first chapter but
realised I’d have to complete a lot of research to do the book justice. And that would need
time. Time I didn’t have. So I put the project to one side. I focussed on my degree, then when I graduated, I got into writing scripts. First theatre, then radio, and a bit for TV. I went on to write novels and short stories. But always based in a contemporary world. I didn’t have the time for research. Then about two years ago, the University of Huddersfield, where I teach Creative Writing, gave me six months’ sabbatical leave.
I used this time to research the book, reading every social history account I could get my
hands on. I also read widely around the subjects I was interested in: highwaymen and
outlaws, the industrial revolution, the flora of the West Ridings, the slave trade, the history of 18th century Liverpool, the use of slang down the ages, and many other subjects. During the writing of the book, I have walked hundreds of miles across the Yorkshire Moors. I also walked from Top Withens, the inspiration for the location of Wuthering Heights, to Liverpool docks, re-enacting the walk that Mr Earnshaw took in 1771, which resulted in him returning with Heathcliff. Mr Earnshaw completed the trip in three days. It took me three days just to get there, so he really must have been going some, with no time to sleep and little time to stop and eat. The moors surrounding Haworth and further on, have been a massive inspiration and continue to be so. They are a place of freedom and refuge. And I hope I have captured, to some extent, their unique essence in the book.
I am thrilled to be one of today’s stops for the Blog Tour for Ill Will. Many thanks to Lucy Richardson of HarperCollins Publishers for asking me to be part of the tour.