Publisher: Witness Impulse, an imprint of HarperCollins
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Event Organized By: Literati Author Services, Inc.
Elisabeth is a picture restorer. This gives her the solitude and independence she needs—living and working alone in her flat. Despite her skills and reliability, Elisabeth undercharges for her work—valuing the worth of the paintings rather more than she values herself. Her ambitions are modest: beauty to look upon, unintrusive friendships, and complete privacy. But when a mysterious and obviously wealthy man commissions her to restore his fabulous collection, an uncharacteristic combination of curiosity and financial need prompts her to accept his offer. Elisabeth soon realizes her error, as the past and the present combine to make privacy her nemesis. As she becomes a hostage to her patron, her lover and her friend realize they know nothing about her, or where she might be.
Running up the hill to the station, late for the afternoon train, late for life, she had seen an old man with a stick walking ahead and had stopped to avoid him. He had been identical to a stranger putting flowers on a grave in the cemetery, and both times the sight filled her with fear and fury, made her wilt, wounded with memory. After that, she had sat too long by the graveside, distracted by the monuments of chipped angels and worn sandstone, the new stones of vibrant white, the flowers and shrubs, new or faded. She was not mourning: she was assuaging a constant sense of guilt and loss, aware that it was not quite the same sensation. Flowers took a long time to die when left in the air. It was t he only place for miles where she could see colors. a put on letters since they moved and the thousand and one recriminations which would have followed if ever she had dared to knock on their door. Father would have come towards her leaning on his stick and, never after all these years meeting her eyes, mumbling accusations until her willpower fell away with her coat. She had satisfied the insatiable appetite of guilt by taking flowers to her mother’s grave. Standing there in front of a new, crude white and gold headstone which reminded her of a bathroom fitting, she could feel similar waves of disapproval rising like heat, drowning her own anguish in their blind lake of understanding.
It was the grey, utilitarian mess of the landscape above all, but she no longer knew if this judgment was the selective nature of her own eyes which made it seem so dead. The bus from the graveyard into town took her past some rare fields of glowing yellow stubble, blinding in the light, but she could not take unmitigated pleasure in that. She could look at a field in a state of beauty and know it would change with the same unreliability of people, but a painting of the same thing could make her shout for joy.
After art, nature. Never the other way round. Green fields and wide skies were better in oil paint, more easily controlled, invoked no loneliness. Which could not be said for the station, unmanned after the truculent man selling tickets left at four. A dearth of trains to take her into lovely, filthy, metropolitan anonymity. Empty feelings and empty stations, no sense of belonging. If you do not belong when you are a child, you will never belong.
He never touched me, father, only you. I have tried, mother father, sister, brother, to gain some sort of acceptance, but you haunt me, even in solitude, with all your bitter hopelessness.
I grew up in rural Derbyshire, but my adult life has been spent mostly in London, with long intervals in Norfolk and Deal, all inspiring places. I was educated mostly in convent schools; then studied English and went on to qualify as a solicitor, working for what is now the Crown Prosecution Service, thus learning a bit about murder at second hand. Years later, writing became the real vocation, although the law and its ramifications still haunt me and inform many of my novels. I’m a novelist, short story writer for magazines and radio, sometime Radio 4 contributor, (Front Row, Quote Unquote, Night Waves,) and presenter of Tales from the Stave. When I’m not working (which is as often as possible), I can be found in the nearest junk/charity shop or auction, looking for the kind of paintings which enhance my life. Otherwise, with a bit of luck, I’m relaxing by the sea with a bottle of wine and a friend or two.