Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Sydney Dovedale Story

In my Sydney Dovedale series, four couples find love in, and around, a fictional English village in the Norfolk countryside. (Actually, there are more than just the four main couples who find love, but I'll let you discover the others yourself, if you haven't already!).

The series begins in 1810, when young, impulsive Sophie Valentine takes a foolish leap into the dark from a balcony, and it currently draws to a close in 1835, when Molly Robbins Danforthe takes a wedding day carriage ride under a canopy of autumnal leaves on her way out of the village. Over the course of the twenty five years between those two events there are a great many adventures that take place in Sydney Dovedale. And more than a few misadventures.

This quiet village is, at first glance, a sleepy, quaint, typically-English place, but there is, of course, much more going on beneath the surface of those calmly-balanced tea cups. There is gossip, intrigue, passion, scandal -- and more than a few secrets. In Sydney Dovedale there are people who will make you laugh, people who will make you roll your eyes, people you would cross the lane to avoid, and people, hopefully, that you will come to know well, root for and love. Some of the folk you will meet in these pages are impoverished gentry, some are wealthy aristocrats, some are humble, hard-working servants, and others - well, who knows where they came from and how they got there? They're certainly not going to tell anybody.

When Lazarus Kane arrives in the village he is one of those folk who came to escape his past and make a fresh start. Below is an excerpt from THE MOST IMPROPER MISS SOPHIE VALENTINE, when Lazarus has his first sight of the village.

* * * *

He stopped at the peak of a slight hill and ran a hand along the rugged bark of a primeval oak—rumored to be the oldest in England—and gazed out over the cluster of thatched cottages nestled around a Norman church in the distance. The village was surrounded by timbered hills, and what were once open fields and meadows were now seamed with hedgerows and low stone walls. Thin trails of smoke left the rooftops, adding a little twist of coal ash to the pottage of fragrance.   

          Suddenly a tribe of young women in white frocks tumbled down the sloping lane, chattering and laughing, bonnets nodding like a row of droopy daisies. When he tried stepping out of their way, they giggled. The sound rose and fell in a frenzied cacophony as they surrounded him on all sides like a gaggle of excited geese. Then they were ahead of him, running away. He watched as they took turns climbing a stile. When they joined hands to run across the breeze-dimpled meadow, he realized where they were headed. In the distance, a tall maypole waited, bedecked in ribbons.

          He smiled and followed the path of his merry daisies, the box of belongings still perched on his shoulder. Several villagers now observed his approach. Sydney Dovedale was not the sort of place to which people came unless they passed through on the way to some­where grander, and the sight of a stranger would, no doubt, be cause for concern. So he kept his face merry, his stride confident. Let them see he came in peace.

          Just as long as no one gave him any trouble.

 * * * *
When creating the village of Sydney Dovedale I gave it a full history, which I hoped would add a touch of authenticity to the proceedings. In LADY MERCY DANFORTHE FLIRTS WITH SCANDAL, a character speaks of the flint stone ruin that overlooks the village and which was once the fortress home belonging to one of William the Conqueror's warriors - given to him as a reward for services in war. This warrior, having hailed from Saint-Denis in France, took on that name as his own. Over time that became "Sydney" and as the village was built up around the castle tower it took on the same name. Even further back, I decided that the stone with which his fortress was built had been ferried from the mouth of the river Yare, where it was once used in a Roman lookout tower. So the village has a foundation in history, even though it is not a real place (hush, don't tell my characters that!), and that past, I think, helps the story come to life.
In many ways the village is another character in the series, and an important one. It is where the stories start and end. It is the link that connects all the people as they come and go. It is the heart of their world. 
I hope, one day, to return there to Sydney Dovedale and continue on a journey through time with the children -  and maybe even the grandchildren - of Sophie, Ellie, Mercy and Molly. I am often tempted to go back there and stroll along that lane under the cherry blossoms that hang over Farmer Osborne's wall. I'd love to take shelter again under that ancient oak at the crossroads, enjoy a glass of scrumpy cider at Merryweather's Tavern, or even bang my head (for old time's sake) on the low ceilings of the tiny cottage where Ellie Vyne once spent her childhood summers with her aunt.
There are still many stories to tell about Sydney Dovedale. And my characters are itching to cause more mischief.
* * * *
          ...No one was there waiting for her, because no one knew she was coming. Two little boys, knocking acorns from the oak with long sticks, stopped what they were doing to inspect the arrival, and then, finding nothing of interest to them, resumed their assault on the old tree. Only a handful of others were there to meet the coach, and they, it seemed, did not recognize her in her new clothes.
          Except for Mrs. Flick, the village busybody, who was possibly as ancient as that noble oak under which she took shelter, but whose eyesight was remarkably sharp.
          The black-garbed old woman took one look at Molly and tripped, stumbling over her own walking cane, in such haste to hobble away and be the first to spread tidings, before anyone else saw the unexpected arrival in the village.
          Molly let her go, even gave her time to get there ahead of her. Ambling down the leafy lane, she was in no particular hurry to face the questions that would undoubtedly greet her return. She breathed in the familiar, misty autumn air and tasted the bitterness of bonfires in the fields, the muskiness of damp, dead and rotting leaves. Two gray carthorses looked up from their grazing as she passed. Did they recognize her, she wondered? Looking ahead, she saw a soft mist settled over the jumble of cottages down in the valley. She stopped a moment, setting her luggage down in the lane to catch her breath and straighten her bonnet.
          Well, there was her old childhood home. She had thought she could never go back there.  She was about to find out if it was true.....
Thanks for reading!
Follow the Sydney Dovedale story in four books currently available.
1.)The Most Improper Miss Sophie Valentine
2.)The Wicked Wedding of Miss Ellie Vyne (Portuguese translation - Madrugadas De Desejo).
3.)Lady Mercy Danforthe Flirts with Scandal
4.) Miss Molly Robbins Designs a Seduction
(The images on this post are - at the top: a scene from the wonderful TV series "Cranford", middle: author's own photograph of Sheriff Hutton Castle ruins near York, bottom: "A Village Scene" painting by Robert Gallon)


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