Treading Life’s Broad Highway by Loretta Proctor

Posted by on Nov 1, 2012 in Historical Fiction Influences | Comments Off on Treading Life’s Broad Highway by Loretta Proctor




Children have such wonderful blank canvases for minds.  And the books they read at this period become impressed as if on soft clay that has not yet baked and hardened into an unchangeable shape by adult experiences and disappointments. The books that impressed me as a child are those that resonated even then with something latent in my nature. Bringing them to mind even after all these years still carries with the memory that thrill of discovery, the joy, the exquisite pleasure of losing myself in a golden, hazy, and more delightful world before my mother returned me to the mundanities of drying dishes, laying the table or going down to the shops.

The first book was given to me by my Grandma when I arrived in England as a small child of about four years old.  It was a large hardback book of Greek myths with black and white illustrations. I couldn’t read or even speak much English at this point but I loved the pictures in this book. It was almost as if I knew what they meant and what they represented.  Are we a blank canvas in our childhood?  Or do past memories linger from other lives?  Perhaps it was simply my Greek ancestry speaking through my genes.  Who knows.

My father was an avid book collector and he had many books on art.  I have always loved images and pictures in books and still do and collect as many old and beautiful books as I can afford. When I was about nine years old, Dad brought me a large old volume of The Arabian Nights illustrated with fabulous, intricate, black and white etchings which he bought for a few pounds in an antique shop in Gloucester. It stirred my imagination as nothing else so far and I absolutely adored this book, reading it from end to end, poring over every picture.  My liberal mother allowed me to do as I would with the book, colour in the pictures with crayon and watercolour – and how I loved my artistic efforts!  What deep, immense pleasure I derived from this creative, simple way of passing time, surely far more pleasure than youngsters do nowadays with their mobiles and violent computer games.  In the end the covers fell off, pages came out and I ruined the book but it was ruined by love.  My mother threw it away when we moved house and I mourn its loss to this day.  I have seen a similar copy in an antiquarian bookshop, pristine and smart and now worth a lot of money.  But what are books for?  Are they just to be preserved on a shelf?  No child ever read that clean copy in the shop, that’s for sure. I read and loved mine literally to bits.

However, the most formative of my historical fiction reading as a child were the books of an English author called Jeffery Farnol.  His first and most beautiful book was called The Broad Highway.  It was a story set in the early 19th century and tells the tale of Peter Vibart who believes himself to be disinherited by his uncle.  By nature, he prefers the plain and simple life and eschews the false, over refined life of the Victorian gentleman.  He decides to abandon his old life and set off on a trek along the highways and byways of rural England to find his true calling.  On his travels he meets up with some intriguing and well sketched characters that often popped up again in subsequent books.  Becoming a blacksmith in a small village, Peter surprisingly discovers a deep, passionate love there, has many startling adventures, and understands his own nature a great deal better through many sufferings.  In the end he finds happiness and gains his inheritance once more.  It’s a voyage of self-discovery and even as a young child, I understood and loved the wisdom and the deeper meaning of this well told tale.  I proceeded to devour every Jeffery Farnol book I could find in our local library and sobbed over some, laughed at others.  His range was never limited to one historical period but covered the mediaeval times, Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and even early 20th century.  I learnt much from him of costumes, history and other details. Yet it never felt as if he was ‘info dumping’ as so many modern historical writers tend to do.  It all appeared correct and natural.  I later discovered his brother actually did most of the research…lucky Jeffery!  I wish I had such an obliging relative who would find out all I needed and leave me free to just write the stories.

So great was my love for these books that in later years I collected as any as I could find and now have the complete works which amount to about fifty books.  Some of the original and early books are really beautiful and amongst my prized possessions.  The Broad Highway is to a great extent a benchmark for my own first book The Long Shadow, though the latter is set in Greece in World War One.  Yet it is a story of a man who takes a journey in life to discover and understand himself.  It is also a story about passionate love and the mark it leaves, the shadow it casts over a person’s life.  It seems this story was always in me, waiting to be written, part of my psyche and the Broad Highway and all Farnol’s later works, simply coloured and animated the inner experience.

Loretta Proctor, November 1, 2012

The Long Shadow will be a FREE KINDLE BOOK November 3-5