Let me start by telling you my reasons for setting the novel in your part of the country. There are two. First, I ‘studied’ at The University of East Anglia in the early 60’s – heady days of indulgent youth culture and a healthy belief in the hedonistic life style.
UEA in those days was very new. The concrete pyramids, so much a feature of the new campus, rose furtively from surrounding rough pasture and meandering streams. Not then the haughty arrogance of the Sainsbury Centre or the magnificence of the artificial lake – still many years away.
My first two years were spent in the surreal environment of the former RAF base at Horsham St. Faith. Plucked from the relative comfort of a middle class home, I found myself encamped with others of my age in the old quarters – still known as ‘blocks’. Mine was P block. Like all camps, there was a fragile government which strove to maintain order. As chairman of the Horsham Hall Committee I fought fearlessly to abolish the law forbidding men and women to remain in each other’s rooms after 11.30 and waged a dogged campaign to install contraceptive machines in the toilets – both conceded by the authorities with unseemly haste.
These were exciting days. Students were on the march in London. The Queen visited UEA as a potential academic retreat for Princess Anne, and had to endure the spectacle of students turning their backs on the Royal Cavalcade. Princess Anne did not come to UEA. We had our own ‘sit in’ in the Social Science block (where else?) but no one seemed to care much. We marched out when the Easter Holidays began.
So how do Cromer, Sheringham, North Walsham, and the Norfolk broads fit into this distant world? These were the places I went to when I had to get away – as I often did. These were places where real people lived, eating Sunday lunch, painting the house, walking the dog, playing in the park. A part of me still craved the order and familiarity of all this.
Cromer in the summer drew me to it’s bustling seaside – to it’s stately pier, to its seedy arcades, to its sandy beaches inter-cut with ancient groynes and to its faded Victorian grandeur. Cromer in the winter drew me to its emptiness, to its windswept promenade lashed by angry seas and to small sea front cafes where people retreated from the cold dressed in plastic pac a macs.
I mentioned a second reason for setting the novel here. Well most of it actually took place – here in East Anglia. Of course the town of ‘Frampton’ is made up though you can easily guess what place I had in mind. I won’t tell you the exact location – it wouldn’t be fair on family members still alive. But the essence of the story – the guest who arrived and stayed, the relationship which destroyed a family, the lie that was conceived to protect the culprits and the impact on the next generation – is all true. I’m not certain that the first fatal meeting took place in Cromer on a hot bank holiday in August 1921 – but it might well have done.
And so the story unfolds slowly against a backdrop of rural East Anglia struggling to come to terms with a new world order at the end of the ‘great war’. Our main characters seek release from the poverty that has bound them to menial rural lives, but as they venture out into the brave new world, they are seized by forces beyond their control and buffeted by emotions they don’t understand. As the story moves into the next generation, the tranquillity and innocence of East Anglia is brutally interrupted by the arrival of American GI’s to help wage war in Europe. As Flying Fortress bombers and Liberators thunder low across the flat countryside, their bellies full of explosives, the sounds of swing and the chewing of gum symbolise an uncomfortable union of two cultures with repercussions that reach out across two continents.
This is a story of passion and deceit. But it is also a story of ordinary people caught up in major global events which shook a sleepy corner of England long before the M11 and A14 had extended their inexorable tentacles into the region and changed it’s character for ever.
I hope I have encouraged you to download the story. Please let me know what you think – or better still, a review on Amazon would be much appreciated.
Very Best Wishes