“I want a Gundred,” I said, thinking of the old hag in What the Monk Didn’t See. “And I’m going far back in time, probably to Medieval times.” At the time I had just completed my WW2 novel.
In the end I went further and took my characters to Saxon times. But Maud’s request for something ‘like the hagstones’ stayed in my mind and I created a golden cross, worn by an abbot, and dropped on Romney Marsh where it moves into different hands. It’s been a wonderful tool, linking different characters together and moving from place to place through the story.
I wondered how many different ways the Marsh could be described, and going back to 680AD takes my reader to a very different place, one where the land is just beginning to dry out and islands are forming, but the sea still comes in at high tide, filling the creeks.
Here my visiting monk is gazing down from the top of the Shipway (Lympne Hill) on a moonlit Romney Marsh: The sea was on the rise and a million silver sparkles flowed with the tide, filling creeks and flooding low-lying land.
Here he is following a causeway across the marshy land: The track was narrow and every footstep needed to be taken with care, lest they should slip and their precious cargo launch into the gurgling marshland… The very thought of it caused Brother Edwen's stomach to lurch. Reeds brushed against his ankles and there was an occasional rustle as if a water-rat or wading bird had been disturbed by the nocturnal humans. In the half-light of a cloud-covered moon, Romney Marsh gave away none of its secrets.
And here my female character, Eadlyn, is looking over Romney Marsh from Lympne: But the Marsh still beckoned her: those flat lands with great pools of water and tidal creeks winding this way and that. The view was clear at that moment, but Romney Marsh changed with the weather and when the mists hung about at dawn it was the place of mysteries and mythical beings. Eadlyn could believe that the pagan gods still lurked in this place which was half-land and half-sea.
I’ve covered Maud’s requirements. But how to create another Gundred – the same but different? Meet Hlappa:
“There's curious things happening on the Marsh tonight, and I don't know that I understand it.” These words came from an old woman; a newcomer to the Sandtun. Her name was Hlappa and she wore her old age for all to see in her skin that was wrinkled like a dried apple, and her wisp of dull brown hair. Her voice was hoarse; she coughed a little, then reached for her mug of weak ale, before closing her eyes.
Her son, the clay-worker, gave a sigh. “She's always worrying over one thing or the other. Stirring up trouble.”
“That's how it is with the elders,” Eadlyn gave him a smile.
“I get these feelings and they play in my head,” Hlappa opened her eyes again and looked at those gathered nearby. “We are not the only ones on the Marsh tonight.”
“Perchance there's a farmer out with the cattle?” The clay-worker’s tone was irritable. “That’s enough of your talk.”
“A farmer is an innocent man, or so we would hope,” she raised her voice a little, disturbing the children, causing the mothers to draw them closer. “The folk on the Marsh tonight move in secret. Why else do they travel by dark?”
As I come to the end of my novel set in the year 680, I wonder if my readers will mind being taken back so far and will they like my interpretation of Romney Marsh in those times? I am reflecting on the plots of previous novels and debating what to include in the next one. Do I continue with my Saxon saga or return to the Dungeness series? Or perhaps I should stick with the job in hand – editing, re-reading, checks and more checks…?