It’s paperback publication day for Letting in the Light, the third book in the Spindrift trilogy set at the turn of the 20th century and located in an artist’s community in Cornwall. Each of the books in the trilogy is a stand alone story. Here is an excerpt for you to read.
The afternoon was hot and breathlessly still, the only sound the humming of bees on the wildflowers in the high, mossy banks of the lane. The sun beat down upon his shoulders and he mopped his forehead, wondering if his journey would prove to be worthwhile.
He rounded a bend in the lane and saw a great copper beech, its purplish leaves silhouetted against the cobalt sky. Drawing closer, he glimpsed a substantial house behind a wall encrusted with lichens and fringed with ferns. He leaned on the gate to study the house and felt a stirring of interest. Built of stone, it was clad in Virginia creeper. There were two wings, set at right angles to the main façade to enclose a paved forecourt on three sides. Billowing lavender lined the central pathway to an elegant Georgian portico. So, Benedict Fairchild had been telling the truth this time. He’d said Spindrift House was very handsome.
A few yards down the lane was a sign pointing to the Spindrift Gallery and he walked between stone pillars into what had once been a cobbled farmyard surrounded by outbuildings. The doors of an ancient, slate-roofed barn stood wide open in welcome.
Inside the barn, the soaring roof was supported by hefty oak beams and clerestory windows illuminated the paintings, pho- tographs and craftwork on display. Clusters of visitors perused the exhibits, whispering to each other, as if they were in church.
A woman in her middle years was sitting at a desk, writing in a ledger. She stood up to greet him with a friendly smile. Her hour-glass figure was trim and her hair almost black, except for a streak of silver at the front. ‘May I help you?’ she asked.
‘I’d like to browse.’
She inclined her head and returned to her desk.
He walked around the gallery, studying the structure of the barn. It seemed sound and might be put to any number of uses, a ballroom or a place to hold weddings perhaps. He paused before a group of small watercolours depicting Spindrift House. His eye was caught by the perfect rendering of the copper beech against the azure sky, exactly as he’d seen it, but in the picture, the Virginia creeper on the sunlit stone was ablaze with autumnal colour. Leaning forward, he deciphered the discreet signature. E. Fairchild. There was something so captivating about the painting, he knew he would have bought it even if the artist hadn’t been Edith Fairchild, Benedict’s wife.
‘I’d like this one,’ he called to the woman at the desk.
Her movements were graceful as she lifted the painting off the wall and wrapped it carefully in tissue and then brown paper.
‘Can you tell me anything about the artist?’ he asked.
She smiled. ‘I am the artist. I live and work here in the Spindrift community.’
So this was Benedict Fairchild’s wife! She was highly personable, with the unmistakable glint of intelligence in her green eyes – a beautiful woman still. Whatever could have made Benedict wish to live apart from her?
‘If you’d care to wander around the courtyard,’ she said, ‘you’ll see some of our craftsmen and women busy in their workshops.’
‘Thank you,’ he murmured.
As he was leaving, a young, dark-haired woman hurried through the door and he took a hasty sideways step to avoid a collision.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry!’ she said. She gave him a dimpled smile and lowered dark eyelashes over her hazel eyes.
He bowed his head and watched her as she made a beeline for Edith Fairchild.
‘Mama!’ she said. ‘Have you seen my—’
‘Pearl, shh!’ Her mother put a warning finger to her lips and nodded at the other customers.
Outside, he strolled around the courtyard, where chickens pecked peaceably amongst the cobbles. He peered into a jewellery workshop, where a man and a woman were bent over a workbench, intent upon their craft. The door to a photographic studio stood open. Inside it a girl reclined on a chaise longue before a classical backdrop of Grecian pillars, while the photographer arranged his tripod.
A horse whickered at him over a stable door and he stopped to pat its velvety nose. The rest of the stable block had been converted into artists’ studios with glazed doors. One bore a notice on which was written “Studio to rent. Enquire in the gallery”. There was also an old dairy, a cart shed and a coach house. All looked to be in reasonable condition. Some of them might make suitable staff accommodation or could even be converted into annexes with extra bedrooms. Excitement began to bubble through his veins.
Taking a furtive glance behind him, he tiptoed along a gravel path between two of the outbuildings. He passed a walled kitchen garden and, through an opening, saw a girl tending neat rows of vegetables. At the end of the path, he found the main garden. There was a terrace at the back of the house and a wide lawn, bordered with hydrangeas and rhododendrons. He slipped into the shrubbery and worked his way to the end of the property, where he unlatched a gate and went onto the headland. Seagulls circled overhead and a brisk sea breeze ruffled his hair.
As he walked across the clifftop, he recalled the day he’d finally threatened Benedict Fairchild with legal action for failing to settle his gambling debts. He’d been dubious when the man offered him a promissory note instead. Benedict was a slippery character, as others had learned to their cost. He had little ready money and nowadays lived on his expectation of inheriting his mother’s house in Berkeley Square.
‘It’s quite simple,’ Benedict had said. ‘Think of the debt as an investment. If I come into my inheritance, I’ll pay you, with an attractive rate of interest, the day probate is settled. But if Mother is still alive in, say, five years, my sixty percent owner- ship of Spindrift House will pass to you, in final settlement of the debt. You’ll love the house and it’s worth much more than the debt.’
The murmuring of the Atlantic drew him towards the edge of the cliffs. Catching his breath in delight, he stared at the shining sea, sparkling in the sunshine, and the cove of silvery sand below. His pulse raced. This place was absolutely perfect! He looked back at Spindrift House and, even without having seen the inside, his mind was working out how to convert it into a superb small hotel. The station was nearby and the quaint fishing village of Port Isaac was already popular with summer visitors. Such a project, in this idyllic place, was sure to be a roaring success.
He chewed at his lip while he thought. Spindrift would be an excellent second hotel to add to his investment portfolio and he didn’t want Benedict Fairchild’s cash half as much as this jewel of a property. The first thing was to have their verbal agree- ment drawn up officially by his own lawyer, nice and tight, so Fairchild couldn’t wriggle out of it. The only fly in the ointment was that, one way or the other, he’d have to persuade the current occupants to leave the house if the project were to succeed. A fleeting pang of regret pricked his conscience at the thought of Edith Fairchild and her enchanting pearl of a daughter being ousted from their home. But no matter what it took, he knew he simply had to have Spindrift House.
1914 Spindrift House, Cornwall
Edith Fairchild’s good-for-nothing husband, Benedict, deserted her when their children were babies. Now the children are almost adult, Edith and Pascal, her faithful lover of two decades, are planning to leave their beloved Spindrift artists’ community in Cornwall and live together in blissful sin in France.
But an explosive encounter between Benedict and Pascal forces old secrets into the light, causing rifts in the happiness and security of the community. Then an assassin’s bullet fired in faraway Sarajevo sets in train a chain of events that changes everything.
The community left in Cornwall struggles to eke out a living, while the younger generation enlist or volunteer to support the war effort, facing dangers that in the golden summer of 1914 would have seemed unimaginable. When it’s all over, will the Spindrift community survive an unexpected threat and will Edith and Pascal ever be able to fulfil their dream?
To buy Letting in the Light click here
To read about The War to End All Wars, the historical background to the story click here