During the writing of the last book, Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ music was an important background but was not, as far as I know, an inspiration. Things were different when it came to this book: Marcia was obsessed by the incidental music to ‘The Starlight Express’ written by Edward Elgar. By the time we had finished, we had three CD’s – one in the kitchen/breakfast room, one in her study and one in her car. I have no idea how often she listened to these but it was more than twice a day for months. Then she discovered that ‘Starlight Express’ was to be broadcast as a radio play. It was duly recorded and listened to very carefully. It was some time before any of this made sense.
It was shortly after The Golden Cup was delivered to Marcia’s editor at Transworld, Lynda Evans, that a brother and sister who lived in a house on the River Barle entered into our conversation. What, if any, was the link between these two people and ‘The Starlight Express’?
Meanwhile, just to add to the confusion, Marcia was convinced that there was a girl who would be driving southbound down the M5 and that she would turn off by Tiverton Parkway and make her way to that brother and sister somewhere on Exmoor. At about this time, this girl acquired a name – Daisy – and a profession – ballet dancer. Did this have a link to ‘The Starlight Express’? One thing soon became clear (at a time when we both needed something solid to grasp onto): Daisy refused point blank to have anything to do with Tiverton or Exmoor.
Thus our ‘something solid’ produced even more questions. Where was Daisy going? Who were these siblings living on Exmoor? Was there even any connection between the two?
Marcia began to make a connection between Daisy’s journey and a wind farm so we decided to drive down into Cornwall where there are some wind turbines and we ended up at Bowithick. Here there is a ford and two old bridges which cross the headwaters of Penpont Water as they tumble down from Bodmin Moor. This is a tributary of the River Inny which, in turn, is a tributary of the Tamar. In order to stretch our legs we walked up towards the moor and, on the way back, we saw a heron drop down and, after the usual time standing stock still, he (or was it she?) waded into a large but shallow pool adjacent to the stream.
As we stood watching the heron and hardly daring to breath, some people arrived down by the bridge. As they, and a couple of spaniels, poured out of their car with much noise and commotion, the heron took fright and flew away. We both knew that there was no point in staying any longer. The parallel universe in which Marcia lives at such times cannot function when real life intrudes but it was also clear that this place was going to be very important – as was the heron!
It was some days later that Marcia explained that Daisy had injured her back in rehearsal, was having treatment but was facing the possibility of a life in which she could no longer dance. She wanted us to return to Bowithick to make sure that this was where Daisy was heading when we was driving down the M5 from . . . well, wherever she was performing as a dancer.
An old friend of ours, Pam Goddard, lives in Bath and one day she rang Marcia to have a chat. Pam has been involved in the arts for most of her life – her late husband, David, was a television film director – and they were talking about what was on in Bath at that time. One item was a season of dance by a visiting company. It all fitted: Daisy was working in Bath.
The next day, armed with this revelation, we set off again for Bowithick. We had the place to ourselves and Marcia pottered off and spent a long time just mooching around. When she returned it was with a combination of puzzlement and satisfaction: she was sure this was where it would be happening (whatever that was to be). She was still puzzled about the brother and sister: she felt they were here but remained convinced they were up near Dulverton. She was to wrestle with this conflict for a few more weeks during which we made a couple of visits to Exmoor as well as returning to Bodmin Moor – it was all very exhausting. Eventually some names came to Marcia: Miriam, known as Mim, and Hester. As you will see, these are both women and Marcia suddenly realised that she was muddling two books and that there was a brother and sister in both. It was only a short time before Hester was put onto the back burner there to remain for quite some time.
Coming hard on the heels of The Golden Cup which was set only a few miles away on the coast gave us both a sense of deja vous. Thea’s Parrot was set only a few miles away from the setting of Those Who Serve and there was a strong connection between the characters in both books. It seemed there could be something similar between the characters in the The Golden Cup and this one even if it was not as strong as in the first two novels. To try out this theory, we drove down to Bowithick and then on to Port Quin. I sometimes wonder what people who live near where the books are set think during this part of the book cycle. Two old codgers arrive, either in a battered old camper van or a mud streaked four-by-four, once or twice a week for weeks on end. They potter about, take photographs, brew cups of coffee, sometimes eat a picnic meal and then, as suddenly as they arrived in the first place, they disappear.
Putting that to one side, this trip back to Port Quin triggered a flood of creativity and soon I was being told that the connection was through Roly, Mim’s brother, and Bruno because Roly had been a great photographer and Bruno, as all readers will know, had been married to just such a model, Zoë. So it was that some of the iconic photographs taken in the 1960’s featuring Zoë had been shot by Roly.
So why was Roly down in Cornwall?
There had been a tragedy and it had all been too much for Roly who started to drink far too much until he was so unreliable that he became unemployable. After a long struggle, he quit drinking and decided to bury himself back in the family home in Cornwall now owned jointly with Mim. It was nearly time for Marcia to start writing. She knew the first sentence – Uncle Bernard was becoming bored with sitting in his drawer – but the last one had not then been revealed nor had the nature of that tragedy which had finally destroyed Roly’s career. I seem to remember that this part of the jigsaw fell into place one morning while we were eating breakfast and doing the crossword. Mim was also a dancer and Roly had damaged her to the extent that she had no longer been able to perform. Instead, Mim ran a highly prestigious dance academy in London and Daisy had been one of her star pupils and had been invited to convalesce in Cornwall. All the main players seemed to be standing in the wings waiting for their cues while Marcia waited for that final sentence.
When it came, she knew why she had been listening to Elgar’s music and that radio play. It was a description of the final scene in a dance version of Starlight Express – and Daisy had been the choreographer. ‘And finally, whilst the carillon of bells heralded the rising of the gauzy backdrop, fully revealing the night sky with its shining web of stars, the whole cast had turned to welcome the rising of the most mysterious and wonderful Star of all: the Star of Bethlehem.’
For some notes and photographs describing Echoes of the Dance country the link is EOTD Country.