I fell in love with Paris at the age of seventeen. Leaving England, still suffering from the ravages of war, I was suddenly transported to wide, graceful boulevards, under a clear, cerulean sky. The air was redolent of coffee, perfume, Gauloise.
There was an energy about the place. Handsome, dark-eyed men would undress you with their eyes. The women, on the other hand, would look confidently and often disdainfully around them, carelessly stylish – I later learned that, having been even more affected and impoverished by war, they would often dress up the same plain outfit with elegant little touches, adding a different collar, in lace, broderie anglaise, taffeta check, or a piece of flea market jewellery. Of course, I became familiar with the art galleries, including the famous Louvre. I loved the chateaux, too, with their intriguing little turrets and beautiful slate roofs
Some years later, I got the same ‘falling in love’ moment when I moved with my large family to Dorset. The rural community was full of characters with sharp wit if slow delivery. The local garage had a huge notice advertising North Sea oil. I asked the young man filling my petrol tank what the difference was. ‘Dunno,’ he replied. ‘It might smell a bit fishy’.
I loved the Dorset countryside, the green fields and bluebell-filled woods in May, the stark beauty of the trees in winter, the flocks of healthy sheep, the herds of Friesian cows, the occasional herd of Alpaca.
These places became part of my life-blood, and would feature in several of my books, from short romances to my historical novels. Love Thine Enemy began in Paris, shortly before the Second World War. It was quite unintentional, but Blackthorn Child also started there in 1848. It was not a conscious decision. Both stories had a connection to Dorset, too. I can’t seem to help it.
Blackthorn Child was sparked into being during a walk in the local Dorset woods with my lovely cream Lab Sheba. While Sheba snuffled away in the undergrowth I noticed some large stones beside the path. There must have once been a cottage there. Fascinating!
What if…? I thought as Sheba and I settled down to rest on a grassy slope.
I closed my eyes and imagined horse’s hooves, a rider in Victorian riding garb, dismounting and making his way along a path to the reassembled cottage. He entered and crossed a dingy room to lean on a window sill. I peered over his shoulder. In the valley below stood a beautiful Elizabethan manor house. Figures strolled about, the men in elegant Victorian suits, the women in silk and muslin gowns that drifted in the breeze, some carrying pretty parasols.
In my mind’s eye, the man turned, unseeing, such sadness on his handsome face…
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