The Widow’s Tale Little-known facts
- When he first came up with the idea of a story based around a newly-widowed woman renting a cottage on the north Norfolk coast, Jackson considered trying to write it as a screenplay. It was his editor at Faber who suggested trying to develop it as a piece of fiction. To be fair, it would have been a very atmospheric little film, but there wouldn’t have been much action.
- Whilst the book is far from autobiographical the author did incorporate into the text several incidents from his own life – for example, the experience of being a life-model. In the mid-’80s Jackson posed for the painter Simon Edmondson who had a studio in the old perfume factory on Carpenter’s Lane near Hackney Wick (presumably now part of the Olympic site). And those old Victorian buildings are extremely cold … brrr.
- Jackson also went on retreat for five days, just as the protagonist of The Widow’s Tale does. He actually stayed at Buckfast Abbey, near Buckfastleigh in Devon. He was a singer in a band at the time and just fancied having a few quiet days, to work on some poems and short stories and to catch up with some reading (he remembers taking along the collected works of Philip Larkin and a Victor Hugo novel). To be fair, he was also curious about the monastic lifestyle, though there was never any real danger of him being invited to stay on full-time.
- As anyone who happened to drive along the north Norfolk coast road about five years ago will testify the home-made speed camera, built out of plywood, really did exist. As the protagonist says, it was the fact that it was painted the right shade of canary yellow that had you slamming your foot on the brake. A second glance told you that it was clearly knocked-up in someone’s shed. There was a similar one in Cowfold, West Sussex. Jackson thinks there’s something quaintly British about people building their own speed cameras, but certainly the last time Jackson was up in Norfolk the camera mentioned in the novel had been removed.
- The ‘Holbein’ element of the book was quite coincidental. Whilst Jackson was in the area, carrying out some research, he happened to see a collection of Holbein’s prints in a second-hand bookshop in Burnham Market and considered buying it for a friend who’s a bit of a Holbein fan. He decided to leave it, but when later in the day his friend responded to a text and said that he would most certainly like it Jackson returned to the shop. Of course, by then it had gone. Unfortunately, the author is the kind of person who will get a little obsessed about such things. He never could track down that particular edition, but decided to attribute his obsessions in that department to his protagonist. ‘Christina of Denmark’ being a young widow was a little bit of serendipity, which one could argue tends to come about, given the right circumstances.
- The information in the section relating to ‘underpainting’ and paint restoration comes courtesy of an artist of Mick’s acquaintance called Stig Evans. Stig has a studio along the corridor from Jackson’s office, so the two of them stop and chat quite regularly. If asked, Evans will almost certainly over-state his input, but Jackson is keen to point out that he bought him a bottle of rum in return for his contribution and that as far as he’s concerned that’s the end of it.
- Like the protagonist, Jackson occasionally suffers from blind spots, which are a result of migraines. He’s been thinking of using it in a piece of fiction for quite a while and it just seemed to fit in this novel, especially following the entry about the apostles from the church at Salthouses. (If you haven’t already read the novel a lot of this stuff is going to make no sense at all.)
- Jackson’s favourite beer is Woodforde’s Wherry. He has a vague hope that by mentioning it in the novel (the protagonist has the odd glass or two of it) the brewery will reward him with a lifetime’s supply.