A Curious Turn of Events


Wheel of Fortune wall painting, Rochester Cathedral, Kent

It is funny how despite your best plans, fate derails you. You can be racing along what appears to be a single-track when suddenly you are led in a totally different direction. That’s what happened to me with my latest book.
I was half-way through the draft of my second novel – a World War II story set in a remote part of the British Isles – when I became side-tracked. I had already lost steam, having had to put writing aside in order to promote my first book The Devil Dancers.
I find the whole PR process tiring and tedious. Nothing is more soul-destroying for a writer than the black art of publicity. For one thing, it takes up so much time. For another, it requires enormous input for minimal returns. There can be nothing more counter-productive to creativity than focussing on sales and column inches.
I was in a dog-tired, depressed state of mind when I settled down to watch the BBC’s interpretation of Dickens’s unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It is a work that I find intriguing for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it was Dickens’s last work. You can literally see where he put the pen down before suffering the massive stroke that killed him a few hours later. It is a very poignant connection with the writer that bridges the 143 years that divide him from the reader.
Suddenly, you are at his side, looking over his shoulder with the horrible presentment of hindsight; although Dickens himself cannot have known that the sentence at which he put down his pen was to be his last. It is one of the rare occasions in a book when the reader knows more than the writer. We know what happened next, although Dickens did not.
Of course, what we do not know is how The Mystery of Edwin Drood would have ended. Even in death, Dickens created a new genre – the detective story which requires the reader to supply the ending. Many writers have also offered their own solution to the mystery, including Gwyneth Hughes who wrote the script for the BBC’s 2012 production.
However, what really intrigued me was Dickens’s reference in Edwin Drood to Ceylon (now modern Sri Lanka). It struck me as a rather unlikely reference at a time when the British Empire stretched halfway across the world and there were far more obvious jewels in its crown, such as India.
Yet this reference to Ceylon struck a particular chord with me, for it was the setting – albeit in the 1950s – of my novel The Devil Dancers. I had spent nine years on that book, researching every aspect of the country, its culture and convoluted politics. For nine years, I ate, slept and breathed Ceylon – I still do – and I wondered what had inspired Dickens to refer to it.
It was that tiny, niggling question that led me to Rochester in Kent. Re-named Cloisterham by Dickens, Rochester – and, in particular its beautiful medieval Cathedral – provided the setting for Edwin Drood.
In an extraordinary twist of fate, Rochester Cathedral will shortly host the official launch of my second book Barley Bread and Cheese, a collection of short stories inspired by the Cathedral and its treasures.
As launch-date approaches, I’m going to share some aspects of that journey with you. It’s a roller-coaster and there will definitely be some white-knuckle moments. But it’s also hugely exciting. So get on board and hold tight!

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2 Responses to A Curious Turn of Events

  1. Hi Truda, I love the look of your new blog and wish you every success with ‘Barley, Bread and Cheese’. Also can’t wait to hear more about how the little questions led you astray!

  2. Reblogged this on HISTORY MAGPIE – Building a nest with the stories, objects and people who have filled Kent's history. and commented:
    As a fellow history fan and ‘Kentish maid’, I always follow Truda’s writing projects with interest. Her new book of short stories was inspired by some of Kent’s treasures and she has kindly let me share the first in a new series of post about ‘Barley Bread and Cheese’ with you here.
    Many thanks, Truda!

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