It started as a picture in my mind: a young woman wallking on a beach with the sun coming up. The beach was wide and long and she was the only person on it. Was she alone by her own choice or because something had happened to her? Didn't she have friends or family? Her aloneness nagged at me.
Oddly, though I had no idea who she was or what she was doing there, I knew to within a few days what the date was â€“ a morning in June 1837. That's because I mostly write about history and my particular interest is the nineteenth century. 20 June 1837 was the day that King William IV died and an eighteen-year-old girl called Victoria woke up to find herself Queen of England and large parts of the rest of the world beside. Which was the last thing in the mind of my lonely young woman on the beach. Our own excitements and troubles blot out what are supposed to be the big events of history â€“ the victories, the defeats, the rises and falls of regimes and the deaths of monarchs.
I liked this young woman, the way she let her hair blow out in the wind without fuss or vanity and the determined way she walked. It wasn't her fault she was alone. Some wrong had been done to her, not by her. Her father had just died. When I thought of that, I knew the beach where she was walking. Calais Sands, on the channel coast of France. Those sands had a black reputation. After duelling was outlawed in England, men intent on trying to kill each other in a gentlemanly fashion would take the short sea voyage from Dover to Calais and meet among the sandhills, with seconds and a doctor in attendance. So her father had died in a duel.
But then, by the nineteenth century, most gentlemen had more sense. Only fools duelled. So did my determined and likeable young woman have a fool for a father? Not possible. Therefore what was in her mind as she walked on the sands was the fact that her intelligent and free-thinking father hated the very idea of duelling and couldn't possibly have died in the way she'd been told.
So that was the start of my story, and as I followed my young woman, Liberty Lane, in her travels I started to realise that the death of an old king and the arrival of a new young queen weren't as remote from her life as she'd thought. But the big events of history and the terrifying things that happened to her were only part of the story. That first picture of loneliness stayed in my mind. I wanted to know how she set about re-building a life for herself, finding friends and things that connected her with the rest of the world again. That's why the story ends with another sunrise and the tentative start of her new life.
An adventure of historic proportions. A Foreign Affair is a featured book in Fictions Readers, a group to discuss contemporary women's fiction, books, women's issues and much more. Click here to join the group.
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