On Wednesday evening Marcia fulfilled the last of the events associated with this year’s publication which, as I am sure you all know, was for the hardback of Postcards in the Past and the paperback of The Sea Garden. So it is time . . . I nearly found myself writing “to get back to normal” . . . to get back to living in a world that presently encompasses a group of people living on the south coast of Devon. Some are in the town of Dartmouth.
The last event was to speak at the Taunton Literary Festival. The talk was held in Brendon Books – one of the remaining independent bookshops in this area – and the place was, as expected, full. Then there was, of course, time for questions.
|Marcia and her agent, Dinah, at the Times Oxford Literary Festival|
Talking about a group of people and literary festivals brings to mind the time when Marcia was speaking at the Times Oxford Literary Festival in, I think, 2008. She shared the platform with Meg Roscoff – writer of delightful children’s books, American and a trained psychologist. Come question time and a gentlemen raised his hand. ‘You describe the family in your book, Ms Willett, as “dysfunctional”. How would you define dysfunctional?'
‘How would you define it?’ asked Marcia.
‘I asked the question.’
‘I can tell you exactly what she means by dysfunctional,’ interjected Meg and she then proceeded to explain in details exactly what the word meant to a psychologist. When she had finished she turned to the questioner and asked him, ‘ And what do you do for a living?’
‘I compile dictionaries,’ came the reply.
Only in Oxford!
|It may have been May (I think - possibly April) but it snowed.|
An Oxford quad, brilliants sunshine, blue sly - and snow.
Back to this group on Devon’s south coast. Yes, they are a group but not a family – when you think about it Marcia very rarely does ‘families’ in the sense of a married couple with two point four children or whatever the average may be. Her ‘families’ are people who life has brought together in unusual groupings, usually through events outside their control or just because they meet and like each other. As far as I can gather there is a bit of both in this book but I am hopelessly lost, really. We have been in the “real” world for the last two or three weeks and I have lost the threads but no doubt I shall catch up soon. Then, of course, I shall not be able to say anything: the last thing I want to do is to diminish your pleasure when the book is finally published at the end of 2015.
From my point of view the setting of the book could not be better. I mentioned Hattie’s Mill Revisited a while back but things have moved on and I have (again) changed the format. At last – after years of getting it wrong – I think I am getting it right. The idea is twofold and bringing the ideas together into one publication (is it a book or a booklet?) has proved to be an enormous challenge. On the one hand I wanted to talk about the places that inspired the settings for the book and on the other to talk about the way Marcia creates her worlds.
Talking about the places, trying to give something to people who have never visited the area was, in the first place, going to be a minor part but I have realised that in some ways it is the more important. So the present idea is that there will be five publications (assuming I can keep going long enough) which will be centred on places: Dartmouth and Start Bay; Totnes; Tavistock and Dartmoor; Exmoor. Bodmin Moor and North Cornwall.
The first, then, is Marcia Willett’s West Country – Dartmouth and Start Bay. The two novels that are firmly set in this area are Hattie’s Mill and Second Time Around. Characters in a number of other books pop in and out of the town – Cass and Kate going to the Britannia Royal Naval College balls; Fliss and Miles live in Dartmouth for a while; Angus moves here in The Prodigal Wife and so on.
Thus there is a section ‘Dartmouth – Past and Present’ to be followed by ‘Hattie’s Mill revisited’ then ‘Start Bay – Past and Present’ and ‘Second Time Around revisited’.
|The sweep of Start Bay from Start Point to the mouth of the Dart|
The past is basically in words although I have found a few old photos but the present is essentially pictorial and one of the pictures I wanted was of Start Bay taken from Start Point showing the sweep of the coast all the way around to the mouth of the Dart with the Mew Stone (a lump of rock – you could hardly call it an island) that guards the entrance to the river. To get this picture needed the right weather and a crystal clear sky. It rained very hard on Sunday washing all the dust out of the atmosphere and Monday was set to be a sunny day so off we went and, yes, I got what I wanted.
Once again, I regret to say, I ended up chatting to the owner and then forgot to ask for the name of the dog. I love the notice in the background. This delightful spaniel is, like most spaniels, worried. In this case worried because his mistress has gone off AND LEFT HIM!!!
Ahh, there she is! Come on, hurry up and don't get run over as you cross the road!
For those of you who know Totnes, this dog is in front of the new shop selling all sorts of gear for walkers and so on which is in the premises that once housed Woolworths, opposite the Rumour Wine Bar.