Coincidence abounded in the summer of ‘87. First, Rosie Thomas, who turned out to be married to literary agent Caradoc King; second, publisher Carmen Callil, who just happened to ring Caradoc to ask if he had anything for her to read. Third, Carmen – almost a legendary figure in publishing – was Australian, and intrigued not just by LOUISA ELLIOTT but by the follow-up novel, about an Australian soldier in WW1…
If that wasn’t enough, well before anyone had mentioned payment for my efforts, the children and I went to view a house. For a couple of years, each time my husband Peter was home, we’d talked about moving. There was just one snag – the ones we fancied in our local area were out of our price range. This house – spotted by my daughter, Louise – was thirty miles away, just outside York. And since son Scott was at school in York, and my mother had recently moved back to her old home town, the advertisement in the Yorkshire Post seemed to be shouting, ‘View me – view me!’
Thanks to all the research trips I’d been doing over the past five years, the car knew its own way there. We were already half-way committed before we set off.
The house was an extended railway cottage with four bedrooms and what seemed acres of space, including a paddock and stable for Louise’s horse. Not only was the location stunning, it answered all our needs and was much cheaper than anything we’d looked at in the Wharfe Valley. Louise and Scott, both in their teens, were entranced – we all agreed that it was exactly what we needed as a family. What’s more, it was affordable. So I said yes, we’ll buy it.
The fact that the head of the family was thousands of miles away seemed a minor issue at the time – although the vendors were a little concerned when they asked where Peter was.
‘Odessa,’ I replied cheerfully, ‘on the Black Sea…’
Yes, dear reader, it did cause a few hiccups. But that wasn’t all. If Capt Peter felt winded by my news in August, six weeks later I was the one gasping for breath. Ages previously, he’d applied for a job as a marine pilot at the Sullom Voe oil terminal in Shetland – he was accepted, but had to wait for a vacancy. After three years, I’d stopped thinking about it. But while Peter’s ship was en route for West Africa, he was notified from Shetland that a vacancy had at last arisen. He placed a satellite phone call to me at home in Otley, to say the job was his as soon as he’d completed his current voyage.
If my husband felt as though we’d both won our respective jackpots, I shook my head at the timing. How on earth was I going to handle it? And move house, and write a completely new part to the novel, not to mention the necessary adjustments to the manuscript…?
A month earlier, I’d said to Caradoc that I should be able to complete the revisions by early March. Peter was due home at the end of October, but now he had a job in Shetland to go to, while I had to move the family home to York. How on earth was I going to cope?
Replacing the phone, I found myself staring at the framed WW1 photograph of Will in his Australian uniform. As usual, I thought crossly, he was looking over my left shoulder, avoiding my eye.
This time, however, he seemed to be smiling.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘I know you like your coincidences, but don’t you think this is going a bit far?’