When Many a Moon, the final book of my Mapleby Memories trilogy is published on 1 June, I will definitely be celebrating. Writing it has been a challenge but along the way I've learned a lot - about how to manage writer's block, about the thirteenth century in England, about working in an hotel, about the housekeeping duties at a country club, and most of all about how we all carry some of the past with us in our genes and hidden deep within our our ancestral memories.
How did this all start? How did this picture of a derelict building become Many a Moon?
Unbeknownst to me and the dog, the far side of the long strip of woodland marched along the perimeter of a golf course, and the view was spectacular. On that particular morning, however, the only other thing we saw was a large iron statue of a stag. It was a startling find in the middle of a deserted wood and the dog felt obliged to bark at it. Long and loudly! Fortunately the cottages were out of earshot so only the birds and hidden woodland creatures heard him. That walk set a pattern for the rest of our holiday, however. Each morning we would leave the rest of the household sleeping and climb the hill to what, early in the morning, felt like our very own piece of woodland.
We ventured further each day and then, when we had explored every path and glade we climbed down some rough wooden steps to the golf course below and began to walk around the edge of the nearest green. And that's when we saw it. The old mill! Except that we didn't know it was a mill then. To us it just looked like a derelict cottage. However, several years later when we returned for another holiday, someone had fixed a blue plaque next to the gaping doorway that stated it had been a functioning grain mill in the thirteenth century. Of course I took a photo, several in fact. Then I stored them away with the rest of my numerous holiday and travel snaps and almost forgot about them.
Almost but not quite. It was too intriguing. How was it still standing? Who had worked there? Why was it at the edge of a wood, far away from any useful road? And if it was a grain mill, where was the mill pond and the river that fed it? There was a muddy ditch, narrow enough to step across but nothing else, and surely the building wasn't big enough to store grain. Hadn't I read somewhere that mills were often next to bake houses? The questions never ended but I had nowhere to put the answers until I needed a final story for Mapleby Memories. Then everything fell into place because the curtain between the past and the present is gossamer thin in Mapleby as anyone who has read the first two books, Remembering Rose and Loving Ellen, will know.
This was all I needed to be able to travel back to the thirteenth century and immerse myself in its history and culture, and what a journey it has been, for me, and for Ellie and Will the main protagonists of the story. And for all my other characters who live in Mapleby as well because that's the thing when writing a series about a particular place. The characters intertwine, children grow older, jobs develop, friendship circles widen and it all has to be woven together in the story. So most of the characters in the first two books have walk on parts in Many a Moon.
Now the book is finished and about to be published, saying goodbye to them is almost like saying goodbye to old friends. Or children growing up and leaving the nest! I do know one thing though. When I next visit the old mill at the edge of the wood, and I will, the memory of the story will still be there. I will still be able to look out across the golf course and imagine modern day Will riding across it on his red tractor mower, the same as I will be able to imagine thirteenth century Ellen laughing and throwing sticks for her dog. They will always be with me the same as all the characters in my other books.
And here's a taster:
......Before I could answer her I heard somebody call my name. The voice floated up from below. “Ellen, it’s ready now. Drat the girl, where…” The rest of the sentence was swallowed by a sudden gust of wind as a slim figure with two long brown plaits bouncing on her shoulders ran into a stone building at the foot of the hill.
Telling myself I really must remember that there were a lot of other women called Ellen in the world, I pointed. “Is that another chalet?”
She laughed. “No, it’s not. Come on, I’ll show you.”
We clambered down steep wooden steps built into a wooded slope and the closer we got to the bottom of the hill the louder the noise became. At first I couldn’t think what it was, then I realized it was a fast flowing river. There was another noise too. A creaking sound that I couldn’t identify. As the only way to make it to the bottom of the hill was in single file clinging onto a knobbly wooden handrail, Joanne didn’t elaborate further until we were on the grass at the edge of the golf course. Then she beckoned me to follow her along a narrow path, pushing some spindly saplings out the way until we reached a sun dappled clearing. I looked at the scene in front of me in confusion. Where was the river? Where was the building? I was too busy being confused to hear what Joanne was saying. Her concern brought me to my senses.
“Yes. Sorry. I’m fine. I guess the climb down made me lightheaded. After years working in a city I’m not used to real fresh air the same as I’m not used to quiet.”
“A week or two living here will soon sort you out. In the meantime let me introduce you to the old mill. It’s not, as you can see, exactly suitable for a chalet.”
She was right, and I joined in with her laughter. Inside though, my stomach churned. What had just happened? Why had I seen someone called Ellen run into this derelict and almost roofless building? And why had I heard the rush of a fast flowing river when there was just a shallow ditch, dry now but probably muddy when it rained?
Joanne was too busy telling me about the mill to notice my confusion. “It was built sometime in the twelfth or thirteenth century when Mapleby was very different from the sleepy village it is today. I’m not even sure why the country club is named after it because nobody knows anything at all about its history.”
As we retraced our steps, I saw we were standing on the very edge of one of the greens. “What was here before the golf course?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “I’ve no idea. Probably fields or maybe a farm.