In the summer of 2003, my husband Chris and I moved with our three small children to a small hamlet in Northamptonshire. Chris had just been appointed as Director of The Fellowship of Reconciliation, a Christian charity that campaigns on peace issues, and the job came with accomodation which meant I could stop paid work for a while.
After nearly five years of juggling childcare and a demanding job, it came as a relief to be able just to focus on the family, but the move brought with it new challenges. I'd been an employee for 15 years in jobs I loved, where I was respected, had authority and status. Full time motherhood for all its many pleasures (and there were plenty) meant being just another harassed woman in the playground. My days were often spent battling with stubborn offspring so they got dressed, had tea and went to bed at the time I said. And when Chris was away with work, I could go through an entire 24 hours without having a conversation that didn't revolve round the children or what was on CBeebies.
Furthermore, we were incredibly isolated. We lived in a flat above FoR's building, The Eirene Centre. It was converted from an old school house, stood next to the church and graveyard, facing Molesworth airbase across the fields. Apart from one neighbour 500 yards to the left of us, we were half a mile from the rest of the village of twenty houses that housed families who had been living there for generations. As Christian leftie pacifist newcomers, we were literally and figuratively living on the edge, and in the two years we were there, we always felt like strangers.I have never felt more lonely in all my life. I loved having the chance to be with the kids all the time, but the lack of like minded people, the cold winds that blew in (so locals said) from Siberia, the grey winter skies, and regular fog, left me feeling gloomy and depressed for much of the time.
But gradually, as I settled in to a routine of driving the children to school and pre-school and visiting toddler groups, life began to improve. I made friends with a couple of women who had also moved into the area, and shared my views. I began to run again after a break of 15 years, which made me feel better and connected me with nature in unexpected ways. As I trotted along the lane behind our house, I encountered grass snakes, pheasants, muntjac deer, and, best of all a hare, whose elegance and speed inspired me to run harder and faster, even though I could never catch up. And I found, that after a while, my brain, which for so long had been engaged in work, had the space and capacity for thinking about other things. I had room to daydream again, and it occurred to me, that I had always been a writer who had never had time to write. I was fast approaching forty, and if I didn't get on with it soon, perhaps I never would.
By early 2004, I was beginning to play around with two ideas in my head. One, which I hope to get round to writing one of these days, was about domestic violence. The other, was about ghosts, and was inspired by our living quarters. The Eirene Centre was a large property that had been extended from the old school house to create a small conference centre with six bedrooms a library and a lounge. Our flat was in the older part of the building and overlooked fields on front and back. I'm a city girl and was used to ordinary size houses, close neighbours, traffic and sirens. I found our new home a terrifying place at nighttime. I hated looking out over dark fields, imagining danger behind every bush. There were strange noises in the garden, and the floorboards creaked in the wind. And, of course, being next to the graveyard didn't help. Was it any wonder I used to think I heard voices whispering late at night?
Although on one occasion, I really did hear people talking (when a herd of sheep escaped from one of the farms and ended up in our car park resulted in a visit from the police and half the village), the rest of the time it was just my overactive imagination. Chris, naturally, teased me mercilessly about it, but after a while, I began to see the creative possibilities in my idiocy. Suppose those voices were real? Whose would they be? And what would they say?
And so 'Echo Hall' was born, and my life as a writer began.
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