Finding Inspiration in the Location.

Posted on 11th June, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, historical novelist Tania Crosse was here talking about the inspiration behind The Harbour Master's Daughter. This week, I'm delighted to welcome her back again, this time to discuss the inspiration behind The River Girl.


* * * *


My debut novel, published in 2004 and now re-released by JOFFE BOOKs under the title The Harbour Master’s Daughter, was inspired by a visit to Morwellham Quay, the restored Victorian copper port on the Devon bank of the River Tamar. But through repeated research visits there from my home over two hundred miles away, I got to know and fell in love with nearby Dartmoor, which subsequently provided the inspiration for my next novel, recently reissued as The River Girl.


I was utterly stunned by the spectacularly savage beauty of the moor, its wild rivers and bleak, open wilderness dotted with magnificent granite crags and tors. My imagination was at once triggered, and I could picture in my head what life must have been like on a remote farmstead way in the past, when the only means of transport would have been on horseback if you were lucky enough to own such an animal, or on foot, traipsing for miles across a barren landscape. Not only would life have been harsh and unforgiving, but what secrets could be kept hidden behind the doors of such isolated, primitive dwellings? So, once again, my original inspiration came from the location itself.



My head was spinning with ideas for a second, this time moorland, saga, but I was keen to link it with the previous story. Dartmoor is principally known as hill farming country, famous for its wild ponies but also for the hardy sheep and cattle that graze free on its uplands. Not every visitor will realise, though, that in the past, the moor was very industrial. One of its main industries was mining, mostly for copper but a variety of ores was extracted from the western areas. Until the arrival of the railway in 1859, the majority of all this heavy ore was taken to Tavistock in waggons and then transferred along the canal to be exported through Morwellham. So what better way to link the two books than by choosing a Dartmoor location that was both nearby and known for its mining?



The choice was obvious. Not far north of Tavistock was the most important copper mine on western Dartmoor, Wheal Friendship, on the Mary Tavy side of the River Tavy. It was said to have the biggest waterwheel in the world, driven by a leat that today still drives the small hydro-electric power station there. Other mines came and went on the opposite bank, on the Peter Tavy side, but while I wanted a link with mining, I wished to concentrate on the remote life at an exposed farm. So while Mary Tavy and mining comes into the story, I decided to set the main action on the windswept slopes above the fascinating village of Peter Tavy leading up onto the heights of the moor.


The River Tavy itself, though, has its source way up in a lonely and desolate valley known as Tavy Cleave, ‘where only the mewing cry of the buzzard and the harsh bark of the raven could be heard above the howling wind.’ It is a place where the heroine escapes when her soul is in turmoil, thus the title of the novel, The River Girl. The background image on the cover is that very place, taken by Dartmoor guide and historian, Paul Rendell, editor of a wonderful bi-monthly magazine, The Dartmoor News. I must thank Paul once again for allowing the publisher to use his fabulous photograph.



The heroine is brought up on her uncle’s lowly tenant farm high above the valley. She yearns to train in medicine, but will have to content herself by following in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife and herbalist. Besides, her uncle has other secret plans for her. When she appears to have escaped his clutches, a vengeful obsession from another source brings the past back to haunt her. Even the man she comes to love holds a dark, terrible secret, and in a heart-stopping climax, each of them is forced to confront a personal terror.


When it was first published in 2006, an Amazon reader declared The River Girl to be the best book since Jane Eyre. Why not see if you agree?


* * * *



Dartmoor, 1858

Elizabeth Thornton has every reason to want to escape from home — a ramshackle farm in the middle of nowhere. Since her father’s death, she’s been trapped here, in the clutches of her lascivious uncle.


When a position opens up at Rosebank Hall, she jumps at the chance. She will be a domestic drudge at the beck and call of the house’s cantankerous master. It’s hardly the career of her dreams. Elizabeth wants to be a doctor, but she’ll do anything to be free of her uncle.


Then one night, the master’s wayward son turns up, a wounded soldier from a far-flung battlefield — damaged in every way a person can be. But as Elizabeth nurses him back to life, the pair grow closer and everything changes. But Elizabeth’s uncle isn’t ready to relinquish her yet . . .


Will she keep on fighting for her freedom? Even with her dark past nipping at her heels?


Fans of Nadine Dorries, Rosie Goodwin, Dilly Court, Freda Lightfoot and Catherine Cookson will adore this emotional coming-of-age story.





Book 1: The Harbour Master's Daughter

Book 2: The River Girl

Book 3: The Gunpowder Girl

Book 4: The Quarry Girl

Book 5: The Railway Girl

Book 6: The Wheelwright Girl

Book 7: The Ambulance Girl


* * * *


The River Girl on Amazon






Make A Comment

Characters left: 2000

Comments (0)