England's second city is a bostin' place to set a romance, writes Bella Osborne
When I pitched to my editor, Katie Loughnane at Avon HarperCollins, the idea of setting my latest romantic comedy novel in Birmingham, I did wonder what response I would get. Birmingham is probably not your first thought as a romantic destination. My fellow authors were setting their books in exotic locations like Morocco, Greece and Italy, and here was me suggesting the West Midlands - even I had to admit it didn't have quite the same ring to it. But in my mind it was absolutely the right place for my characters, so this was where my story had to be set.
I have nothing against foreign destinations, I love to travel and spend far too many hours googling holidays and daydreaming about beaches. But for most of us, trips to far flung destinations are rare, and when we do get the chance it's usually only for a brief holiday away from the reality of our everyday lives - which for many of us means a commute into a town or city.
I could have set the story in London, but I feel London is somewhere that gets more than its fair share of flag-waving. Birmingham is a much more underrated city, in my opinion. It is often termed industrial, along with most of the Midlands. It's true that the industrial revolution was the key to the expansion of the area, but that is just a part of Birmingham's history, and doesn't reflect the vibrant city it is today. It's the second biggest city in the UK, and I'm very happy to do some flag waving on its behalf.
Known locally as Brum, the city is home to Cadbury's chocolate and Typhoo tea, has five universities, over 100 balti houses, and famously has more canals than Venice. From the warmth of the people to the unique local phrases like bostin', meaning excellent, it is a city that welcomes you into its heart. It has so much to offer - I love the quirky independent shops and the Victorian arcades as well as the big name high street stores. The individual bars and cafes dotted about the city and the amazing run of restaurants on Broad Street with its nightly party atmosphere. But there is so much more to Birmingham than shops, bars and restaurants, and I wanted to pick on one of those things and put a spotlight on it.
Birmingham is one of the UK's greenest cities, with over 550 parks totalling over 3,500 hectares of public open space - that's way more than most European cities including Paris! One of the parks is Moseley Park, which is the inspiration behind the setting of my latest novel A Walk In Wildflower Park. Moseley Park is something quite unusual - an oasis of calm a stone's throw from the city - and it captured my imagination the moment I read about it.
Moseley Park has a rich history, being part of the former estate of Moseley Hall. The park was once the gardens to this grand stately home, and came under threat at the end of the 1800s when plans were drawn up to introduce more roads and worker housing. Local residents founded The Moseley Park and Pool Company Ltd in 1898 to protect the land from future development and so securing it for future generations to enjoy. At the time only those who had a property backing onto the park could experience what it had to offer.
I arranged a family day out so I could do some more research, and was thrilled by what I found. Today, the park is no longer an exclusive spot for the wealthy, because for a small annual fee locals can enjoy it all year round, and folk like me can borrow a key for the day for a small deposit. It is a beautifully well-kept park with a large pond, an array of trees and teaming with birdlife. Its sweeping lawns, meandering pathways and benches in secluded spots provide an easy escape from the hustle and bustle of the city on its doorstep.
And this is Birmingham all over for me - it's full of surprises. Like the tiny cathedral, the smooth modern shape of Selfridges, the tranquility of the canals, the Elizabethan grandeur of the Shakespeare room at the library, the time capsule that is the Electric Theatre and the huge Frankfurt Christmas Market that takes over the city centre on the run up to Christmas.
So when people ask me why I've based my latest novel here, my answer is - why ever not? It's bostin'!
Bella Osborne's new novel, A Walk in Wildflower Park, is out in all formats today.