One thing we both knew from day one was that this book was not set in Dartmouth.
There were two very good reasons for that. The first was Marcia has had some uncomfortable emails from readers who are proposing to visit the area and want to ‘see some of the houses where your characters live’. I suspect that Marcia is super-sensitive about this but the thought of embarrassing the real inhabitants she finds very difficult. It is, of course, fine if you put a house in a very definite field but where there is no house. Not so if it is set in a specific road so must be that one . . . or that one . . . or perhaps that one.
The second reason is more prosaic. Marcia finds it far harder to find a place in a town where she can just be and brood. That was going to prove harder and harder during the ‘brood’ phase as time went on. As the summer progressed so more and more tourists crowded into the town and peaceful moments when Marcia could let her other world take over became more and more rare. How can you listen to a conversation between, say, Charlie and Claude when your eyes are watching a seagull as it attacks a a couple of visitors eating oversized portions of fish and chips? The fact that neither of them had any nutritional need for such a mid-afternoon snack while the herring gull is trying to bring up a nestful of vociferous and voracious youngsters has nothing to do with it. The mental effort needed to keep the imaginary universe in the forefront is demanding and tiring at the best of times.
Thus it was agreed between us that this book was not going to be set in Dartmouth which meant it had to be set somewhere else. The question was: where?
At this point I should explain that we knew a good deal about the book. We knew who the main characters were (Evie, Charlie, Ben and Claude) and how they earned their livings. We knew the problems they were facing but not how they would be played out. And we knew that one vital part of the story would be set in Dartmouth during Regatta week. Or, to be more accurate, we thought we knew these things but, as you will see, there was another character who was going to leap out of the woodwork which would result in a good deal of rethinking.
Thus we could not look too far afield.
‘We could drive down to Torcross and up that lane that runs beside what used to be the Torcross Hotel, couldn’t we?’ Well, yes we could and so we did.
This part of the South Hams is off the beaten track and few visitors venture into the maze of very narrow lanes and we found some very interesting ruins and barns that would have dome nicely – but Evie was having none of it.
Clearly a spot of light refreshment was needed so we set off to visit the Stokely Farm Shop on the road between Stokenham and Torcross. As you will now know, we like farm shops but to me this one is special. About thirty-five years ago, Bev, who then owned the place and ran it as a farm, decided to devote a few acres of land to strawberries to be sold from a shed in he field or, to keep the price down, by people picking their own. Meanwhile we arranged for a local donkey (Pickles by name and splendidly placid by nature) to pull a cart laden with the fruit and visit the car parks along Torcross line. I was delighted to be handling the marketing of this venture although I never expected it to turn out as it has.
Bev has long since sold out but there are still a few people around whom I know. I was chatting to one while Marcia ordered tea for her, coffee for me and cake for both of us. As I approached the table she had chosen I could see that she was full of surpressed excitement.
‘I’ve just seen her,’ she said as I sat down.
‘No. That’s what’s so odd. Jemima.’
A quick wracking of the brain with no success. ‘Jemima?’ I obviously had my dried cod expression on.
‘Yes, Jemima!’ she was now the third form’s English teacher. ‘Jemima Puddleduck. Brigid’s half-sister in Forgotten Laughter.’
‘So where does that leave Evie?.
‘I don’t know but I do know that Jemima’s living in a tiny cottage in Torcross and works in Dartmouth,’
‘And she’s in this book?’
‘Yes, I’m sure she is.’
And with that we decided to head for home, driving back through Dartmouth. As always we took the lane that dives down to Warfleet and climbs back into the town. It just so happened that there was a space in the row of cars parked in South Town and I grabbed it even though we had not intended to stop. My motivation was to see whether or not there were any interesting boats in the river that I could photograph or capture on video.
By the time we were together again, Marcia was resigned to this book being set firmly in the beautiful old town of Dartmouth and our quest was over. Ow all she had to do was to spend hours walking around the town as the eavesdropped on her characters as they met, chatted and separated.
This book is due to be published in hardback 27 August 2015.
For some notes and photographs describing Summer on the River country the link is SOTR Country.