I’m getting to the age where I’m beginning to wonder if I should even mention my birthday! On the other hand- I’m a sucker for balloons, ice-cream, and the excuse to eat rather more cake than usual! So bring it on!!
This year I’m celebrating with my lovely family, and a walk over beautiful Dartmoor. This is a place that inspires me the second I catch glimpse of it, on each and every visit.
For years I’ve intended to write a story based on the moors of Devon, and yet somehow time, and other work commitments, haves never allowed it. This year though, it has to happen- even if it’s only a short tale…ummmm…I can feel the ideas brewing…
And talking of brewing- let’s all settle back with a cuppa-(coffee for me please)- and a nice big slice of birthday cake, and contemplate the meaning of life, the universe and everything- apparently now I’m this particular age I should know the answer…
No? Okay- let’s read this instead… a sneaky exclusive peep from chapter one of my forthcoming novel, Romancing Robin Hood!!! Enjoy!
Raising a cup of tea to her lips, Grace lent back against her pine chair and blew carefully through the steam which rose from the liquids surface, before taking a sip from the third pots worth of tea she’d ordered that afternoon. The scolding drink slid down her dry throat, a throat which her friends joked must be layered with asbestos such was her ability to drink tea down almost directly from the kettle.
Staring through the teashop window, Grace watched the summer time shoppers stroll by in a never ending stream of flip-flops, t-shirts and a staggering variety of different lengths of shorts. It was as if everyone on England had decided to expose as much flesh as possible, as wholeheartedly as possible just in case burst of late June heat this was the only sun they saw all summer.
Grace drew her wandering attention back to the reason for her weekday escape from the office. With constant interruptions from research students and fellow academics alike, Grace had been finding it increasingly impossible to marshal her thoughts for the opening chapter of the book she was trying to write.
Two hours ago she’d gathered up the print out of the manuscript so far, and headed for the quiet of Mrs Beeton’s tearooms. She’d read it twice already, and now sped through it again. A notebook lay next to her teacup, and Grace added an additional point to the rough list she’d made of things to check out and expand on, before sighing into her cup and turning back to watch the stream of pedestrians pass by the window flourishing a vast array of swinging carrier bags.
Writing a book in the academic world was a bit like running an incredibly slow race with your legs glued together, and at least one arm tied behind your back. Everything took so long. The research, the checking, the double checking, making sure you were one step ahead of everything else already published on your subject, and racing (tortoise style), to get your book out there before a similar historian, in a similar office, in a similar university, produced their book on an identical subject in a similar fashion. Then of course, there were the constant interruptions. Students and fellow lecturers always wanted something. Then there were the secretaries, who were forever after some pointless piece of administrative paperwork that the occupants of the ivory tower had decreed it necessary to add to the already overwhelming mountain of documentation in circulation.
‘At least,’ Grace mumbled to herself as she picked her sketchy book plan and chapter draft back up, fanning herself with it in an attempt to circulate some air in the stagnant air of the café, brought about by a week of unusually balmy late June weather, ‘no one else studies what I study in quite the way I do.’
Admitting defeat, and stuffing her work back into her large canvas bag, which was more suited to the beach than land locked Leicester, Grace pulled out the square envelope that had arrived in the post that morning, and pulled out the card within. It showed a guinea-pig wearing a yellow hard hat and driving a bulldozer.
The card could only have come from Daisy. Grace read the brief message again. Daisy’s familiar spider scrawl, which would have been the envy of any doctor, slopped its way across the card, illustrated that it had been written in haste. Grace could picture Daisy clearly, a pen working over the card in one hand, a packet of pet food in the other, and probably her mobile phone tucked under her chin at the same time. Daisy could multi-task with the prowess of a mother or three.
Daisy however, wasn’t a mother of any sort. She had long since vowed against human children, and after her degree finals had swiftly cast aside all she had studied for in order to breed rabbits and guinea pigs, house stray animals, and basically be an unpaid vet and rescue shelter owner. Her home, a suitably ramshackle cottage near Hathersage in Derbyshire’s Peak District, was the base of an ever changing and continually growing menagerie of creatures, which she always loved, and frequently couldn’t bear to be parted from. Grace smiled as she imagined the chaos that was probably going on around Daisy’s wellie booted feet at that very moment.
It had been the cards arrival in the post that morning that had made Grace think back to her youth; that strange non-teenage hood she’d had, and of how it had got her to where she was now. A medieval history lecturer at Leicester University.
Grace had met Daisy fifteen years ago, when they’d been students together at Exeter University, at the tender age of nineteen, and they’d quickly become inseparable. Now, with their respective thirty-fourth birthdays only a few months ahead of them, Daisy, after a lifetime of happy singleness was suddenly getting married.
She’d managed, by sheer fluke, to find a vet called Marcus as delightfully dotty as she was and, after only six months of romance, was about to tie the knot. The totally un-wedding like invitation Grace now held, announced that their nuptials were to be held in just under two months time at the beautiful Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. Daisy had then added a postscript saying that she would personally shoot Grace if she didn’t turn up, and she’d throw in some mild torture of an especially medieval variety, if she didn’t agree to be her bridesmaid.
‘A bridesmaid!’ Grace grimaced as she mumbled into her cup, ‘Bloody hell, it makes me sound like a child of six. If I was married or had a partner I’d be maid of honour, but no, I’m the bloody bridesmaid.’
Swilling down her remaining tea Grace got to her feet, and carried on muttering to the uncaring world in general, ‘Robin Hood, you have a hell of a lot to answer for,’ before she hooked her holdall onto her shoulder and began the pleasant walk from the city centre, down the picturesque Victorian lamp-posted New Walk, towards the University of Leicester, and an afternoon of marking dissertations.
It was all Jason Connery’s fault, or maybe it was Michael Praed’s? As she crashed onto her worn leather desk chair Grace, after two decades of indecision, still couldn’t decide which of the two actors she preferred in the title role of Robin of Sherwood.
That was how it had all started, “The Robin Hood Thing,” as Daisy referred to it, with an instant and unremitting love for a television show. Yet, for Grace, it hadn’t been a crush in the usual way. She had only watched one episode of the hit eighties series and, with the haunting theme tune from Clannad echoing in her ears, had run upstairs to her piggy bank to see how much money she’d saved, and how much more cash she’d need before she could spend all her pocket money on the complete video collection. After that, the young Grace had done every odd job her parents would pay her for so she could purchase a myriad of Connery and Praed posters with which to bedeck her room. But that was just the beginning. Within weeks Grace had become pathologically and forensically interested in anything and everything to do with the outlaw legend as a whole.
She’d watched all the Robin Hood films and vintage episodes of Douglas Fairbanks Junior and Errol Flynn, Richard Greene, Sean Connery, and Barry Ingram. As time passed, she winced and cringed her way through Kevin Costner’s comical but endearing attempt at hero status, and privately applauded Patrick Bergin’s darker and infinitely more realistic approach to the tale. Daisy had quickly learnt to never ever mention Russell Crowes adaption of the story- it was the only time she’d ever heard Grace swear using words that could have been as labelled as Technicolor as the movie had been.
The teenage Grace had read every story, every ballad, and every academic book, paper and report on the subject. She’d hoarded pictures, painting, badges, stickers, along with anything and everything else she could find connected with Robin Hood, his band of outlaws, his enemies, Nottingham, Sherwood, Barnsdale, Yorkshire, and so it went on and on. The collection, now over twenty years in the making, had reached ridiculous proportions and had long since overflowed from her small terraced home to her university office, where posters lined the walls, and books about the legend, both serious and ridiculous, crammed the overstuffed shelves.
Her undergraduates who’d chosen to study medieval economy and crime as a history degree option, and her postgraduates’ whose interest in the intricate weavings of English medieval society was almost as insane as her own, often commented on how much they liked Dr Harper’s office. Apparently it was akin to sitting in a mad museum of medievalism. Sometimes Grace was pleased with this reaction. Other times it filled her with depression, for that office, its contents and the daily, non-stop flow of work was her life- her whole life- and sometimes she felt that it was sucking her dry. Leaving literally no time for anything else- or anyone else. Boyfriends had come and gone, but few had any hope of matching up to the figure she’d fallen in love with as a teenager. A man who is quite literally a legend is a hard act to follow…
More news on Romancing Robin Hood coming soon…