Captivated by the story of a Dorset village, author Lorna Cook found the perfect setting for her first book - a gripping tale of secrets and love. Joanna Davis reports.

NORMALLY an author's plot, characters and setting come together simultaneously.

But first-time writer Lorna Cook had a story - it just didn't have a setting.

It was only when Lorna's husband sent her the link to a newspaper article about an abandoned village in Dorset that Lorna realised her book should be set in Tyneham.

While many of us as Dorset residents are familiar with the tale of Tyneham, the coastal village residents were forced to leave due to Army requisition during the Second World War, Essex resident Lorna, 37, had never heard of it.

She said: "I'm a World War Two buff and I was really surprised that I hadn't heard of it."

Lorna had crafted the story of Lady Veronica, her husband Albert, and Veronica’s past love Freddie, who returns to his ancestral home in the midst of war. But for various reasons, she needed a location where secrets could feasibly lay undiscovered for more than 70 years.

Very rapidly Lorna became 'obsessed' with Tyneham.

She said: "I was blown away by the story of how over two hundred residents were forced to leave so quickly."

Lorna wrote 60,000 words of what would become her book The Forgotten Village and then paused.

She said: "I found it near impossible to find a lot of information on Tyneham. I suppose compared to everything else going on it wasn't the biggest of atrocities in the war. I was really keen to find out what had happened to the villagers in real life. A local article I found said they had been moved elsewhere but I couldn't find anything to back that up.

"I dressed up a research trip to Tyneham as a family holiday, found the only day during the Easter holidays when the army were allowing tourists into the village and allowed myself to become immersed. The rest of the story just flowed.

"When I was in Tyneham itself I went round the historical plaques and took pictures of them all. I was really lucky to see pictures of the people - and I couldn't find those pictures anywhere else."

Inspired by her visit to the Purbeck village, Lorna went away and finished writing The Forgotten Village, which features a parallel timeline - the war-set storyline running alongside a modern day plot of a woman experiencing a disastrous break to the Dorset coast.

The 1943 section of her book features the villagers of Tyneham being asked to make one more sacrifice: to give their homes over to the British army. But on the eve of their departure, a terrible act will cause three of them to disappear forever.

In the 2018 part of the book the character of Melissa hopes a break on the coast of Dorset would rekindle her stagnant relationship, but despite the idyllic scenery, it’s pushing her and Liam to the brink. When Melissa discovers a strange photograph of a woman who once lived in the forgotten local village of Tyneham, she becomes determined to find out more about her story.

Lorna, who lives in Leigh-on-Sea, said the county of Dorset made the book come alive. She says she developed a love of the south west of England after spending time in Cornwall working in Padstow, it 'cemented my complete love of the area', she said.

"Tyneham was so odd and spooky - even on the sunniest of days it still feels like that," she said.

She added: "I did spend a lot of time there. My poor children had to spend a lot of time driving around going to different villages. I fell completely in love with Lyme Regis. I was very lucky that my editor was from Dorset and she would keep on going to me 'the people are lovely too!'. She was really good at making sure I had the descriptions of the different coastlines right."

Lorna started out writing when she entered journalism aged 21. After working for the Daily Mail group in the financial press she ended up working in what she describes as the 'murky world of PR (public relations).

It was becoming a mother that led to Lorna sitting down and writing The Forgotten Village.

She said: "I was able to write because my youngest child slept a lot during the day - which was fantastic, but the problem was there wasn't much sleeping being done at night!

"People said to me 'you should be sleeping in the day', but I decided I wanted to use the time for writing."

Inspired by popular authors Lucinda Riley and Kate Morton, Lorna soon realised her book needed something special to set it apart from the many dual timeline books already on the shelves.

She said: "I realised I needed a twist. When I sent the book off to agents quite a few of them asked to meet and I thought ' maybe it's not as bad as I thought'

"I wrote it quite quickly but there was a lot of back and forth after that first draft."

In the month of its publication The Forgotten Village has proved an instant success. It became the bestselling historical fiction book in Amazon's book charts.

Mother-of-two Lorna said she has been surprised by the success of The Forgotten Village and considers herself to be 'lucky'.

"I never thought it was marvellous, I'm one of those obsessive authors always checking my Amazon reviews!"

She added: "I've had really good feedback for the book, I've been really lucky - my mum was an early reader. She said 'it's perfect, there's nothing wrong with it' and I said 'you can't be biased, I need some critical feedback!'

Lorna is now working on her second book, another dual timeline story, but this time set in Scotland.

She said: "I didn't think it would happen to me. It sounds crazy to me saying 'I'm a full-time author.'

"If I can do it, anyone can. It didn't happen to me immediately, for me it was about having tenacity and constantly asking how I can make things better and doing all I can to fix things. There are always opportunities to keep doing that."

*The Forgotten Village by Lorna Cook is available in paperback, digital and audio versions. See for more information.