Tapping into a rich seam of inspiration

Author Jill Robinson with her latest book Life's Rich Tapestry.
Author Jill Robinson with her latest book Life's Rich Tapestry.

FEMINIST and author Germaine Greer must be thrilled.

After all her plea has been answered - thanks to a Calderdale author.

When Jill Robinson read that the outspoken writer and presenter had complained in her book about the menopause that all heroines tended to be young, she couldn’t help but empathise with her.

What’s more she decided to do something about it.

“Where are all the hilarious harridans?” Greer asked.

Well if it was a challenge, Jill certainly rose to it.

She wrote Memoirs of a Single Parent With A Crush which was published in 2001 to instant acclaim.

Its heroine was Jess of Berringden Brow (“somewhere not too far from Halifax”) who was facing a bad case of unrequited love and coming out in a hot flush every time she visited her local library.

Fans not only took Jess and her friends to their hearts - they clamoured for more.

Two more books - Sons and Lodgers and A Place Like This - followed (again to critcical acclaim) and now Jill is currently enjoying a well-earned rest after publishing the fourth and final part of the quartet.

Life’s Rich Tapestry sees Jess working on a research project collecting life histories of care home residents, including those of a melancholic mariner, a disillusioned cleric and the Yorkshire Ripper’s newsagent.

And when she is not chasing peacocks down the back streets of Berringden Brow, she is trying to keep a troupe of 46 Koreans in line at a folk festival.

But Jill, who lives in Mytholmroyd admits that no one is more surprised than her at the reception the books have received.

“When I started - which was more than 10 years ago - I had thought it would just be the one book,” she says.

“I thought I’d write it, get it published and it would be a stand-alone piece but it was lovely when people asked me for more.

“The feedback was so encouraging too. People kept saying to me ‘it’s almost as if you’ve been eavesdropping on my life.’”

That was back in 2001 and when, two years later, Sons and Lodgers followed, Jill really did think “this is the end”.

So now after seeing book four published, can she be sure she can really close the door on Jess and her adventures and move away from the fictional Berringden Brow and its assortment of characters?

“Yes,” she says firmly.

“I don’t want to spoil the end of the book for people who haven’t read it yet but I do think I want to leave Jess where she is, although people keep saying to me ‘oh we love hearing about Berringden Brow. We wish it was real’.”

The latest saga looks at the many characters that come into the life of Jess,who is now in her 50s.”

“Really I wanted to give a voice to older people that’s why I have written about the life histpries. They are humorous but the people aren’t being played for laughs. Some of them have worked hard and I just felt it was good to tell their experiences.”

As with the first three books, many of the incidents recalled in the books have actually been experienced by Jill herself, who has worked as a researcher, undertaking projects for a number of universities.

And yes she really has had to chase errant peacocks and found herself at a folk festival, volunteering to look after a troupe of visiting Koreans; a task much more demanding than she’d hoped for.

“Sometimes I wish I’d had a nice quiet life without incident,” she laughs.

“But then it wouldn’t have given me the experiences for my books would it? One old lady described it all as ‘life’s rich tapestry’ hence the title. I really thought it summed it up perfectly.”

Born in the West Country, Jill came north to study at Leeds University and originally trained as a teacher.

Over the years she has contributed to a variety of publications ranging from parish magazines and local newspapers to daily papers including The Guardian and The Observer, as well as The Big Issue.

Following the publication of her first Berringden Brow adventures she found herself catapulted into a round of literary lunches, interviews and talks, including an appearance on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour to talk about teenagers (a theme featured in Sons and Lodgers), as well as a spell as a guest speaker on a cruise ship sailing to the Canary Islands and Madeira (“great fun.”)

She is currently contributing to the Northern Blog for The Guardian and her next project may well be memoirs of the 1960s and how the world was then for women in particular.

“Maybe it will be set in the West Country where I was born,” she says.

But for the immediate future her time is taken up with promoting Life’s Rich Tapestry - she is always willing to give talks to local groups and libraries.

“I hope people will enjoy it as much as the other books and if it’s the first time people have read about Jess and Berringden Brow, then I hope it will inspire them to go out and buy the first three novels,” she says.

l Life’s Rich Tapestry by Jill Robinson is available at Fred Wade, Halifax, The Book Case Hebden Bridge as well as on Kindle. To book Jill for a talk contact her at jill@berringdenbrow.co.uk