An Englishwoman in France is based on a connection through the centuries, of two crimes: the murder of a girl of twelve by two boys in a London suburb in 2008 and the judicial murder of a boy about the same age in 304 AD. The connection between these two murders is Stella – sometimes called Starr – whose happy-go-lucky attitude to her gift of seeing the dead screeches to a halt when her daughter Siri is savagely murdered and Stella cannot see her in this world or the next.
This novel was born for me, when – having loved and visited France for twenty years- I ended up in the ancient city of Agde in the Languedoc, in a house at least four hundred years old, built on the site of the house of the Roman Governor of Agde Helee in the 300 AD. His gifted son Tibery was eventually cruelly killed : a young Christian martyr who eventually became known as the patron saint of the mentally ill.
The position of the house, is high on a ridge, with a sweeping view of the port and the Mediterranean beyond. People have lived on the ridge since the Greeks were here in 600 BC. The Greeks, then the Romans, and a sprinkling of pirates, arrived here as seafarers – adventurers all, like Allan and Nira Chidgey from whom I rent the house.
Layers of time are thick in the air here. From the first I’ve had this weird feeling that I know this place, that I’ve been here before. In the nearby village of St Thibery I became very excited when I found and translated a battered typescript in French with the legend of the boy healer Tibery, son of the Roman Governor of the port of Agde.
And so the research began: the writing started to unfold in my head and onto my notebooks. I became absorbed in the many legends and stories that have survived around this place for two thousand years. One story that really engaged me and has found its way into the novel was about a time after the death of Jesus, when a boat landed here on this coast with a precious cargo. This cargo is variously described as Three Marys – Magdalene, Jacobé, Salomé – as well as their dark Egyptian maid Sarah – later adopted by the Gitan/Roma as their own Saint. The gitan are still a powerful presence here, especially in the old Town where we stay.
I began to feel that there had to be someone in the novel who could see – even move –
through – the layers of the old city. And so my astrologer Stella walks into the story, into this ancient house, brought here to regain her sanity after the insanity of the murder of her daughter Siri (an event which truly reflects something which happened to a friend of mine whose daughter suffered a similar murder).
The novel follows Stella on her journey connecting these two dark events as she begins to understand not just her own grief but also the nature of survival through time, not just for the living but also for the dead.
Published by Seevern House/Creme de la Crime