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September 20, 2013

Pulitzer winner's new novel inspired by Wenham

Paul Harding, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his first novel, remembers the exact day he started to write his second.

The Topsfield resident recorded the date, March 17, 2009, in a notebook after telling literary agent Ellen Levine that he would give her 50 pages of new work in six months.

“I used that as a motivational tool,” said Harding, whose new novel, “Enon,” was published last week.

Harding had finished “Tinkers,” his first book, five years earlier and didn’t have a new manuscript for his agent until he was struck with “this instantaneous image.”

“It came to me as this weird silhouette,” he said. “A black paper cutout of an exaggerated hillside studded with headstones and, on top, a figure creeping across the hill.”

That figure turned out to be Charlie Crosby, grandson of George Crosby, the clock repairman whose deathbed reflections formed the core of “Tinkers.”

“I knew it was Charlie Crosby,” Harding said. “It was late at night, he had been up to no good, and his daughter was buried at the bottom. He was sneaking behind her because he was ashamed of who he had become since she had died.”

While this image was shaped by his imagination, many of its details were provided by sites in Wenham where Harding, 45, grew up.

The graveyard where Charlie spends a great deal of time in the novel is flanked by two golf courses, exactly like the Wenham Cemetery on Route 1A.

It is also near a lake that Charlie visits, just as Wenham’s cemetery is down the road from Wenham Lake.

The stretch of Route 1A that winds around the lake, which is the scene of a fatal accident in the book, is another spot that Harding knows well.

“Years ago, my father was in a weird car accident and rolled over the guardrail and down into the lake,” Harding said. “I worked at that McDonald’s in North Beverly when I was 15. I remember riding my 10-speed bike along that guardrail in my McDonald’s uniform thinking, ‘What if I ever got hit by a car?’”

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