BEVERLEY ELPHICK: A bit about me
I started writing in my early twenties, sending news items to the local papers, most of which were published. My day job, however, was in publishing, distribution and finance. From a young age I loved to be around books and as each of these companies had warehouses full of them I was very happy.
I settled down and had two children; while they were young I wrote short stories about the colourful village we lived in. Largely I wrote for my own pleasure and made no attempt to publish. When the children left home, my husband and I moved to the South of France. A few years ago we were called back to the UK to take care of my father who had Alzheimers. I wasn't able to concentrate on anything much so I created a blog detailing the highs and lows of living with a sufferer of this dreadful illness. I later combined the blogs and entered them into a short story competition, which I won. I am quite proud of this period of writing; the events were sometimes so challenging I wrote the blog endeavouring to make it humorous and my situation bearable. You can find the winning entry of my blog here.
Three Round Towers
I had been picnicking along the banks of the River Ouse which runs through my home town of Lewes. The nearby church at Hamsey was abandoned and neglected; the gravestones told many stories. On that day the river was surging on a rising tide and looked totally benign; but I knew that to be misleading. The River Ouse is, and always was a dangerous place. In historical terms the death toll from the Battle of Lewes where soldiers slipped, fell or were pushed into its wide waters was great and bloody; latterly, the suicides, the unexplained accidents and swimmers sucked under by the pull of the tide; incidents hang in the air like ghostly participants at a wake.
Then, there were the three round towered churches; the only three in Sussex, all built strategically along the river, all, probably, predating the Normans. The beginnings of Esther's story came into my mind on that hot sunny day and her story developed almost of its own accord. Esther meets many challenging situations in her life and my debut novel covers a period of three years in the 1790's. I then started on the sequel as so many people have asked: "What happens next?" No pressure!!
So, I hope you enjoy Retribution and Esther's continuing story.
Retribution: My Research
As part of my research for Retribution I looked at a number of pubs that were potentially relevant. One was The Morpeth Arms in London. I knew that the pub’s cellars were used to house convicts before being shipped off to the hulks that were moored on the Thames. This was not hugely surprising as nearly all of old London has some historic interest, but then I casually mentioned this to a friend who lives in the depths of Dorset and only visits London now and then. Out of all the pubs and eateries she could have chosen to visit she had been to the Morpeth. Not knowing about the history of this old inn she became alarmed when she went to the WC only to come over faint and with her equilibrium disturbed; in other words she was scared witless. My doughty friend went to the bar and mentioned her experience and was promptly told about the past history and that others had experienced the same chills. I think that strange and I love strange.
One of the other pubs I read about and intend visiting in the near future is The George Inn, Southwark, London. According to Geoffrey Hewlett writing in A History of the Coach Roads to Brighton, The George Inn is the last surviving galleried London coaching inn still in use. The Inn is owned and leased by the National Trust, so its survival seems assured. I long to stand on the gallery and look down onto the cobbled stable-yard. Geoffrey Hewlett’s book contains a good number of photographs and illustrations, many of which are of coaching inns.
Finally, another quirk of fate: when deciding how one of my characters would get from London to Lewes I deliberately chose the South Chailey coach route instead of the Uckfield one. I have lived in South Chailey for a couple of years and when reading the aforementioned book I discovered that I actually live on, and adjacent to, what was once the coach road to Lewes. This ‘road’ is now Green Lane and you would never know how important it once was to the locality and residents. Now I know about it I can see the subtle indications that it was once an important coach route.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to join a great bunch of people at the WRAS wildlife hospital volunteering for the feed and clean shifts one day a week. The commitment of four hours of hard work was always enjoyable and when I was unable to continue I greatly missed the camaraderie and, most of all, the hedgehogs!
Animals are great to work with and when they are poorly you are privileged to be able to handle them in a way that you couldn’t do in normal circumstances. Helping sick creatures back to full fitness is very rewarding even if you are only a small cog in their recovery wheel. I was amazed to experience the different characters in the hoglets and high levels of intelligence in some breeds of birds; you just cannot appreciate how endearing baby owls are until you see three orphans huddled together on a perch. Fox cubs look adorable, but I struggled to get on with badgers. Beatrix Potter’s depiction of them as grumpy seems very similar to my experience of them! Fortunately, there was always someone to help if I was a bit lacking.
Last autumn I found a tiny hog on the lane near my home. It was daytime, and he was much too small to survive the winter, according to Trevor who runs WRAS. They took him in, cured his lung worm and kept him safe over winter. In April he was returned to me and I discovered that he was in fact a she and named Lily - she was also micro-chipped. The biggest surprise, however, was that she weighed over a kilo which gives her a great start back in the wild where she will have to find her own food (hopefully not laced with slug pellets).
On release night we waited for dusk to fall before making our way down some very spooky and little-used footpaths before we found the ideal spot to release Lily, away from the main road and amongst lots of mixed hedgerow with places for her to hide, as well as water nearby. She was still in the area where she was originally found. Hopefully, by now, she will have met up with other hogs, but I have to say I worry for her. Hedgehogs hide under shrubs and are vulnerable to the strimmer and garden forks as well as bonfires. (At the centre I saw a little one with its nose strimmered off; it did survive though.) Hogs can travel a long way overnight, but I hope that she won’t have to in order to find food or a mate.
For further knowledge about WRAS you can read about their activities and see photos in the Sussex Express every week. WRAS is a charity and supported by individuals and companies who make donations. Others support them with voluntary work. The hospital is at Whitesmith near East Hoathly. As I write this I see that they currently have 321 casualties in care.
Ooh la la!
I have spent a great deal of time in France and look back on a number of incidents with a smile, but only because I am safely distanced from them!
I was staying at a holiday home at St. Remy de Provence one night and having locked and bolted the windows and shutters I went to bed only to wake a few hours later desperate for a pee. I made my way to the bathroom and sat down, half asleep but registering a movement on the floor, I looked down at my feet and barely a hands width from my right foot was a big black scorpion. I can still remember the fright as I sat; not daring to move, nor to breathe. I was alone in the house, no-one to rescue me even if I found my voice. Neither it nor I moved for what seemed an age and then as we were at stalemate I slid my left hand down to a flip-flop that just happened to be nearby and very slowly brought it up and stealthily swapped it to my right hand before pouncing on the horrible thing. I thumped it repeatedly before scurrying back to my bed and spent the rest of the night worrying that it had friends who would seek me out for revenge.
Looking back, I feel sorry that I didn’t just scoop the thing up into a glass and put it out – and was it really that big – I don’t suppose so, but night-time fears are magnified beyond what is reasonable, and I wasn’t feeling reasonable. However, from that time on I never walked about barefoot and I always inspected my shoes before putting my feet in them.
Not very long after that ‘incident’ I was sitting on the terrace, the skies were blue, and I was soaking up some sun whilst having my nose stuck in a book. Suddenly, a viper dropped into my lap! A vi-per being the French equivalent of our adder is not something you want sitting in your lap. I don’t know who was more shocked – me or it. I didn’t see it go - I was too busy leaping about and shrieking. To this day I don’t know if it slid off the terrace roof or fell from the talons of a bird of prey.
And then there are the insects: caterpillars that live up in the trees in a white ball of fibrous stuff and on a given day they drop to the floor and walk head to tail to their destination, and you pray they don’t fall on or near you, or your child or dog. The stuff of nightmares. I could tell you about the hornets who are trying to get a toe hold here in Britain. We don’t want them. They are horrible and kill bees and each other as well as having a ferocious sting. Our own resident hornets don’t look nice but they are ‘relatively’ harmless. Last summer we had a minor invasion, two actually, took root in our conservatory. I was able to identify that they were ours and not theirs and just shut the doors and left them scouting around before they departed, satisfied that our conservatory didn’t contain anything worth having. If you see any of the Asian variety you should notify the authorities, quick.
That’s all for now, I hope I haven’t put you off France!