There are times and places where the sheer reality of history can grab you by the throat. It doesn't always happen when and where you might expect â€“ not necessarily in the palaces or castles or on famous battlefields. These are three of my times and places. Do you have your own?
1.) At the back door of the big house.
I work several days a week in a beautiful garden attached to a great house in the village where I live. The oldest part of the house goes back more than five hundred years. The gardens are open to the public, with a restaurant in the Victorian conservatory. In the mornings, Liz, who cooks for the restaurant, rings the gardeners and tell us what she needs for the day â€“ carrots, asparagus, chives, coriander, salad leaves. We pick the vegetables in the kitchen garden, surrounded by warm walls of red brick, and take them to the back door of the house, taking care not to get our dirty boots on the nice clean floor. We are treading in the footsteps of gardeners who did the same thing a hundred and fifty years ago, when Victorian ladies and gentlemen would have been playing croquet on the lawn. Those gardeners in their turn were treading in the footsteps of others five hundred years ago. Knights on horseback might have glanced down at gardeners much like us, carrying in baskets of vegetables and herbs.
2.) A Roman road in Spain.
We are on a riding holiday in southern Spain. Our horses have turned out of the pine forest onto a paved road that leads steeply up a mountain. Bushes of rosemary, and lavender brush against our strirrups. The shoes of our horses clink on the paving stones. The horses are of the sure-footed old Andalucian breed. The paved road is clear and firm. It was built by the Romans more than two thousand years ago. We come over a rise and suddenly there is the sea in the distance, and a line of mountains purple-blue on the far side of it.
'That's Africa,' somebody says.
We are looking out over the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean is at its narrowest, and the mountains are in Morocco. A Roman officer would have paused there, just as we are pausing, the the flies buzzing round his horse's head and the scent of rosemary and lavender in his nostrils, amazed to see another continent so near.
3.) Crossing a small river in Texas.
On horseback again, this time on a ranch in Texas near Bandera. By Texas standards, it is not a large or wealthy ranch. My companion is the wife of a man whose family have lived there as long as it had been a ranch. We ride down a slope among clumps of live oaks and ford a little river. The water is totally clear, running over horizontal slabs of grey rock, no more than eighteen inches deep at the point where we cross. On the far side is a deserted wood-built two storey house, canted sideways a little, a motionless wind pump in the field behind it. My companion says her husband's grandparents lived there. That track, still visible in the grass, is the road they'd drive their cart along into town. I have a picture in my mind of children playing in the river, the family dog chasing jack rabbits in the field among the blue bonnets. Then I think of something else my companion had said earlier as we rode past a line of tall trees. 'They're pecans. The native Americans used to plant pecans, so they could eat the nuts when they came round this way again.' Probably those first Americans would have crossed at the same place as we crossed, over the flat rocks, pausing to let their ponies drink the clear water, gone into history like the gardeners and the Romans and the children splashing in the river.
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It's good to hear from friends and readers who say they're looking forward to reading my Victorian thriller, A FOREIGN AFFAIR. Publication date is the 25th of this month, but if you don't want to wait that long, there's a chance to dip into it from today (11 March) in our Sneak Peek.
The story is about what happens when a person who just wants to get on with his or her life is kicked in the teeth by history. My character Liberty Lane is such a person. One day she's a young woman with a future that's reasonably normal by her unconventional standards. The next day, her life is turned upside down by an anonymous note saying her father has been killed in a duel.
I hope you'll be tempted to take a Sneak Peek and follow Liberty's fortunes. Let me know if you guess what happens next.
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.
Click here to buy the book.