Here's an extract from my new book which will be published in September - Searching For Captain Wentworth. Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion I've had a lot of fun writing this time travel book. It's a little different to my usual sequels, and is set both in the present and the past. Two of my favourite places in the whole world provide the setting - Bath and Lyme - I hope you enjoy this little taster!
On the day that the parcel arrived I didn’t really take much notice at first.
“Now, that’s what I call an interesting object,” my father said, putting the brown paper package before me on the kitchen table with a flourish. “It offers all sorts of possibilities from the exotic to the mundane.”
“Knowing my luck it’s more likely to be the latter,” I muttered under my breath, spearing the top of a boiled egg with my spoon to watch the golden yolk trickle in a glutinous trail down over the striped eggcup until it congealed in a pool on the blue plate. Aware that he was observing me closely I sensed his silent agitation as he waited for me to show some sign of interest.
“Full of mysterious promise is that parcel; I wonder what’s in it,” Dad persisted, watching me stab a toast soldier into the yolk until there was nothing left but porcelain egg white like the gleam of a fragile teacup. In an effort to appear uninterested he went to stand at the sink pretending to be busy. I heard him fill a bowl with steaming water knowing that I was being watched from the corner of his eye.
“Well, aren’t you going to open it?” he said at last, turning with a burst of curiosity.
I wasn’t in the mood. I couldn’t care less what was in the parcel, and I sighed before I could stop myself.
“Is anything wrong, love?” He put down the teacloth and the saucepan he was drying before sitting down on the chair next to mine. “You’re out of sorts, Sophie. Tell your old Dad. What’s the matter?”
The teacloth proved to be an object of fascination in that moment, as I avoided the answer, and his eyes, taking time to fold the fabric into a satisfying rectangle. Part of me was ashamed to be behaving like a petulant teenager; I was far too old for that, but the fact was I didn’t want to tell him everything because I knew that despite being truly sad for me, he would also be completely delighted, and I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing that in his face. The truth was that I’d had my heart irrevocably broken, smashed up like the brittle egg shell lying shattered in pieces on my plate. Everything I’d ever believed about Lucas, our relationship, and about our future together had finally been proved to be false. If I’m truthful, I’d always known that I would find myself sobbing into my breakfast one day, feeling bruised and abandoned. But, that it would come at such a spectacularly low point in my life I hadn’t fully considered. Actually, there were no more tears; I’d gone beyond the crying stage. I just felt completely numb. Telling my Dad who I knew would be pleased to be proved right about my philandering boyfriend was out of the question, so I blamed my mood on the horribly unsuccessful job interview of the day before, which was also true. All I had to do now was listen to murmurs of sympathy.
“I knew there was something, I could just tell,” he said, as he folded me into the warmth of his strong arms. “Don’t worry, Sophie, it’ll all turn out for the best. Besides, there’s a reason you didn’t get the job, it wasn’t meant to be, and I’ve always said, the right thing will come along just when it should. Be patient, time will tell.”
Dear Dad, that’s his answer to everything. Fate will play its hand. According to him, we cannot escape our destiny nor should we try. Still, it was nice to hear some sympathy even if I didn’t subscribe to his ideas about providence and divine intervention.
It wasn’t just the fact that Lucas and I had come to the end of what was inevitably going to happen anyway, I knew I had to face up to some uncomfortable facts. To be a writer had been my ambition since leaving university, but the manuscripts I’d sent out had always come back, the fat brown envelopes dropping back through the letterbox with the most depressing sound in the world. I’d had a few articles published, seen my name in print, and earned the princely sum in six years of what amounted to most people’s idea of a six month salary. Yesterday had been my first attempt into the world of work and a ‘proper job’. I hadn’t got it. So, what was I going to do now? I had no idea.
Steps up to Beechen Cliff, Bath
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Dad persisted, nodding at the package and producing a pair of scissors that he’d obviously had at the ready.
In a way, the thought of the parcel did cheer me up. I’ve always loved getting presents through the post, but I couldn’t see how this could possibly be anything that might improve the sense of hopelessness that was filling every thought in my mind, every pore of my being. I cut through the string and the brown paper layers wound round with so much sellotape that I’d almost lost the will to finish opening it before I managed to extract the most exquisite object I’ve ever received. It was a rosewood box inlaid with mother of pearl fashioned into simple scrolls and arabesques into the lid and along its sides. There was a small key in the lock, which on turning clicked satisfactorily to release the mechanism that secured it. When I look back now, I must admit I was immediately intrigued. The box was like no other I have ever seen or held since, and as it opened, the shades of the past seemed to whisper something in my ear as the heady fragrance of orange blossom and frangipani, rose from within its depths. Inside, I found a set of keys bound together with a blue striped ribbon, and a letter.
Jane Austen's House, Bath
How are you, my dear? I hope you are well! Your father’s last letter gave me all your news and I’m very pleased to hear that you are still writing!
I hope the box that you have opened will prove useful to you. There is nothing like a fresh place for inspiration and it crossed my mind that you might enjoy a break from your London life, so I am enclosing a set of keys to the house that my father’s family have owned in Bath since it was built, which is for far more years than I can remember. Your Grandmother and I spent our summer holidays there from school before travelling to the seaside in Dorset and Wales. Later on, we used to take your mother as a little girl and I think she enjoyed these visits very much until she was quite grown up, just before she met your father and the pleasures of Bath did not have such a hold.
Unfortunately, the entire house is no longer at your disposal as it was divided up when my father wanted to lease out the lower floors. You will have the run of the upper floors, however, and I believe there is only one tenant now on the ground floor. It is some time since anyone in the family stayed in the house, and I’m afraid to tell you that there is not much in the way of modern conveniences, but I hope that this will not trouble you too much.
The location is particularly pleasing being next door to Jane Austen’s house in Sydney Place, a situation very well positioned for the gardens across the road and a five minute level walk to the shops. Do you know Jane Austen’s books? I think you would enjoy them.
I sincerely hope it will prove to be an inspiration for your writing and that you will enjoy as much fun as your namesake in Sydney Place. There was another Sophia Elliot who lived in the house once upon a time, and as a youngster, I remember reading her journal. Anyway, my dear, I know it would have pleased my dear sister, and indeed, her beloved daughter, to think that you might be able to enjoy a little holiday in the famous spa town. Have fun!
Great Aunt Elizabeth.
Jane Austen in Bath
I put the letter down and gave my Father a look that told him I wanted the truth.
“What have you been up to?” I asked quietly, “Exactly what have you been telling Great Aunt Elizabeth?”
His ears instantly tinged with pink as he admitted what I already suspected. “I’m worried about you Sophie, you’ve been moping about this house for too long. I admit, I did write and tell her what you’d been doing, but it was her suggestion that you go to Bath. To be honest, I’d forgotten there was a house, although your mother used to talk about it sometimes. Listen, I’ve a little money set aside. I want you to use it, and I know your Mum would have liked you to make the most of a trip to Bath. You could write that novel that you’re always saying you haven’t got time to do. What do you say?”
I couldn’t be cross with him. Anyway, it was a brilliant idea, and so generous of him. Besides, what else was I going to do? I didn’t want to hang around the house feeling completely depressed, or go out and experience the misery of bumping into Lucas and Lily in Camden High Street confirming the fact that they were seeing one another. I didn’t want that above everything else. At that moment I wanted to believe in all Dad’s nonsense about fate and destiny. To be as far away from London as I could get seemed a great idea, and Bath was a place I’d wanted to visit for a long time. In fact, ever since I’d read about it in Persuasion.
My favourite book has always been Jane Austen’s Persuasion and it’s been the comfort blanket of my life, which I know sounds a bit dramatic, but if ever I’m feeling fed up it’s my novel of choice. What I’ve always done when I can’t face the world is to retreat into its pages and spend some time with Captain Wentworth. Oh, I know how that sounds, and every one of my friends thinks I’m completely mad, but the truth is that Frederick Wentworth is my idea of the perfect hero, and let’s be honest, the idea of a man in uniform goes a long way to help numb those real twenty-first century feelings.
© Jane Odiwe