Tiding - The Winter of 1963
Siân Collins explores the inspiration behind her latest novel
TIDING – the winter of 1963
Many British children born in the 1950s, myself included, might remember the winter months of 1963 with nostalgic, vivid delight. Schools were closed, streets free of traffic, familiar mundane places transmuted into mysterious arctic landscapes. Adults kept indoors, huddled by paraffin heaters and meagre fires, preoccupied with ‘making ends meet’, their thick curtains drawn to stave off the cold baying at the windows. We children, on the other hand, had no such worries. We escaped to the great outdoors, joining our liberated school pals in snowball fights, building ice tunnels, tracking through the whiteout beyond the front doors. Meanwhile, the elderly froze in their beds, sheep and wild ponies starved in snow drifts, pipes burst and the electricity was cut off. But did we care? The excitement of living by candlelight; of sledging down frozen fields and empty highways; of sliding along icebound streams. We loved the risk and the danger. In this strange monochrome landscape you could easily lose your bearings. Once-familiar pathways became booby traps; the sudden crack of overladen branches presaged disaster; creatures of nightmare lurked behind snowdrifts and the walls of abandoned sheds. Meanwhile, in the endless snow-locked adult world, relationships splintered, theft went undetected. Bodies were hidden.
Living on an estuary in west Wales, we children experienced a particular phenomenon of that remarkable winter: the freezing of the sea. Forlorn gulls and herons stalked the ice in search of food, fish lay belly up below the surface, the margins between sea and land completely dissolved. Everybody clustered on the strand, wondering at the sight. For weeks on end the township was cut off from the world, all roads out blocked by towering snowdrifts. And then the thaw came, and we youngsters glimpsed, for the first time perhaps, the terrible toll those frozen weeks had exacted on the older generation — parents and grandparents, labourers and lonely spinsters in their dark freezing cottages. Years later, pondering how I might write a novel about the tricky borderland between childhood and the adult world, I remembered that particular snowbound, spellbound winter. It felt an appropriate metaphor: we were ten years old at the time, about to move from primary to secondary school; slipping the safety of our moorings towards the exciting, stormy freedoms of the sixties. The novel’s title, ‘Tiding,’ with its multi-layered associations — sea drift, the weaving of stories, the workings of fate and time, the pull of the past — speaks for itself.
Author of Tiding