I usually say I’m from Maine because it’s simpler. My father was in the Navy & I grew up moving on every year or two. I’m an only child; I learned very early that books are more reliable friends than people. You can take books with you, from one posting to the next, or find them at your new local library.
When my father retired we moved to Maine. I learned about wild countryside & long walks in Maine, but I longed for bookstores & live music & was sure that I was a city girl really. When I left home to go to college I wasn’t coming back, except maybe to stand silent on a peak in Darien* occasionally and breathe that sharp glorious ocean air. I had some lovely years in both Boston and New York City. I didn’t mean to come back to Maine, let alone buy a little house there. But I did. Oh.
I had just decided I was there for life** when Peter happened, because that’s how these things go.
Talking about Peter still makes me all puddly. Sigh.
Peter Dickinson & I originally met when I went on a Literature of England tour a million years ago, not long after BEAUTY came out. I was the only author in the group—it was mostly teachers & librarians—& I shamelessly took advantage of being introduced, as one of them, to the authors who came to talk to us. One of these was Peter. Then we ran into each other at a couple of book conventions & started keeping vaguely in touch. I visited him & his first wife one weekend when I was in England pretending to be there on publishing business but really because, you know, England.***
Two years after his first wife died he was going to be wandering up the American East Coast giving lectures & asked if he could visit?, not, as he said later, having really taken in how large New England is. But it was too late. I’d already said yes.
& I don’t know what happened. What I remember is seeing this tall thin slightly stooping Englishman I knew very, very slightly, walking through the disembarking-passengers door of the then-tiny Bangor Airport & thinking oops.
We parted at the end of a somewhat bewildering weekend saying, this is silly, never mind. Or he was. I was saying, um, you know, I’d kind of like to think about it . . .
A week later when the phone rang at 7 am† I knew who it was & what he was going to say. & I was right.
I don’t actually recommend the whole love-at-first-sight coup-de-foudre thing. It’s way unsettling, I imagine even when it doesn’t involve moving 3000 miles away across two national borders. You spend most of your time thinking, I’m doing WHAT?, & for WHY?, & WHO IS THIS PERSON I’VE ONLY BARELY MET & HAVE SWORN LIFELONG DEVOTION TO? Also, not an insignificant consideration is that it makes all your friends & family crazy. You’re doing WHAT? & for WHY? YOU’VE BARELY MET THE PERSON. Also, & HE’S TWENTY FIVE YEARS OLDER THAN YOU ARE & FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY! SHE’S TWENTY-FIVE YEARS YOUNGER THAN YOU ARE & FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY!!
But. Bottom line. If I had it to do over again, even knowing how it turns out, I’d do it again. Yeah, of course we knew that it was probable that he would die a lot sooner & leave me a (relatively) young widow, but living through it is a lot different than having a semi-intellectual discussion with someone you’re so busy being madly in love with you can’t think anyway. & we didn’t know that he’d start getting old sooner than we expected—when I married him in his early sixties he had more energy than any six ordinary people. Maybe eight. Maybe twelve—nor of course did we have any idea that he’d have a first stroke in his middle eighties that would turn him into a little old man, nor that he’d die a few months after the second stroke two years later.
The last two years were grim.
I’d still do it again. Je ne regrette pas? Yeah.
We had about a dozen-plus years in the old family house out in the Hampshire countryside, & then another dozen-plus in the little town of New Arcadia, which is where we’d been going to buy human groceries & dog food & hardware & office supplies, this still being the pre-on-line-shopping era. But Peter had started to feel his age, & he’d been keeping the old house together by willpower & a lot of sometimes eccentric mending†† & it was time to let go. So we moved into town.
I thought I was in Hampshire for life. I loved the countryside & the footpaths—we were in a great area for the fabulous British public footpath system—& the gardens. The National Garden Scheme meant that you & a lot of your neighbours were open once or a few times a year for the public to come wander & schmooze for an entry fee all of which went to the NGS’s chosen charities.††† When you run out of local gardens, you join the National Trust & visit all their gardens.
& I introduced Peter to the concept of dogs. I brought my first whippet, Rowan, with me from America. We bought two more to keep her company—Holly, a half-grown rescue, & Hazel, the runt of a show-dog litter. He took to dogs rather the way I took to gardening. Enthusiastically.
We went on with dogs & gardens after we moved into town. The next dog generation were my beloved hellhounds, Darkness & Chaos, brothers from the same whippet-deerhound-cross litter, who were major characters on the old blog. They were joined six years later by Pav, short for Pavlova, who was a mini bull terrier, & who graciously allowed the hellhounds to think they were still boss.
& then . . .
After Peter died Hampshire began to feel less & less like home. Returning to America only crossed my mind long enough to be discarded. I’d put roots down over here, one way or another, & another bottom line is that I’m not giving up the (fabulous) British public footpath system. I’d also lived here longer than I’d lived in the States by then—when you subtract the five years I lived in Japan as a kid—& I found that that mattered. Also . . . Peter. It keeps coming back to Peter. We buried his ashes in the churchyard two minutes from my front door—thirty seconds from my front door when I was bolting for the tower to ring bells for Sunday morning service. The dogs & I visited him every day.
But the local landscape was changing. The countryside was getting harder to get to, & New Arcadia, having been a proper town, where you could buy groceries & office supplies, was turning into Ye Olde Quainte Englishe Villagee, whose only purpose seemed to be to dazzle the, you should forgive the term, incomers. When we moved there, as well as a tiny supermarket, two greengrocers, a butcher, an ironmongers, a newsagent, an office supply shop, we had a bakery to die for§, A BOOKSHOP, one real estate agent & an assortment of non-essentials like hairdressers & pizza parlours. By the time I left they had FIVE tea shops, FIVE tea shops, four, I think, high end ladies’ dress shops, three real estate agents & we couldn’t keep the newsagent or the hardware store alive. Oh yes & they closed the Post Office & hid a narrow cramped PO counter at the back of the tiny supermarket, which among other things meant you couldn’t take your dogs with you when you went there.
& then the summer of 2018 was another of these Hottest on Record ordeals, & I don’t do well in heat. I’d been moaning to everyone who’d listen about this, & a few who wouldn’t, & one day my stepson in northeast Scotland took a deep breath & said, here’s a mad idea, why don’t you move up here? It’s cooler, it’s cheaper & there’s, you know, where we are, the ocean.§§
I did try to think about this calmly & sensibly. But I’m not very good about thinking things through sensibly. I tend to go, YES!!! or NO!!! About moving to Scotland I went YES!!!!
& here I am, going on four years now, as I sit here sweating out a new bio as part of the push to get my web site live again. Scotland is definitely one of my better ideas, &, given that covid was going to happen, I’m extremely grateful to have ploughed through lockdown up here, where, if I open a window, I get the wind off the ocean in my face.§§§ I will extract lots of blog posts out of the move‡ & its consequences‡‡, so I will stop here. Adding only that I don’t miss Hampshire‡‡‡, but I miss what was once my life there. & the only thing I really regret is not realising I wasn’t in Hampshire for the rest of this life, & so I didn’t ask them to hive off a few of Peter’s ashes, so I could take them with me. Never mind. I have his (bent) wedding ring.
Oh, & the writing? Which is why you’re bothering with my web site at all? & you are understandably wondering if I’m going to say anything about it? There is never a lot I can tell anyone about writing, although I’ll try to answer, or re-answer, some of the obvious questions on the new FAQ. But the only thing that matters is that I am writing again. A storyteller isn’t really alive or fully inhabiting her skin unless she’s telling stories. There have always been fallow periods in my storytelling but the last few years have been bleak. The book I hope I’m finishing now is also bleak, but it’s the one that wanted to be written, & I think it has something worthwhile to say to its readers. I can feel other stories stirring, & I hope to tell them too. Including that infamous second volume of PEGASUS. I have no idea why I didn’t let my publishers put some kind of a ‘to be continued’ at the end. Major brain failure. Apologies. & while I’ve certainly had frustrated & outraged mail about it (!!!!) I haven’t had as much as I might be considered to have deserved, & I hope this means that my long-term readers know perfectly well that I wouldn’t leave Sylvi & Ebon parted forever. Some of you may remember my telling the story of the scene in BLUE SWORD where Harry is standing on the top of that mountain above the pass & Exciting Things Happen, & that’s where the entire story started for me? I didn’t, to begin with, know anything about the story but that scene. There’s a somewhat similar, from my perspective, dramatic WHAT??? scene in EBON, which is the title of PEG II, where Sylvi & Ebon get back together.
Wait for it. Please.
* * *
* Do people still read Keats, even in school? Anyone my generation^ will recognise that quote, & as a quote, immediately. I’m not dissing any youngsters who may very well have Kayo Chingonyi & Warsan Shire off by heart^^ & have never heard of Keats, but he’s worth a read. You have to get used to the way he uses the language—but then you have to get used to Chingonyi and Shire and Roethke and Lowell^^^, and and and, too. & once you’re in, you’re in.
^ I am incredibly old
^^ I am very very badly read in modern poetry, but I know I like those two.
^^^ Amy not Robert. Well, Robert too I guess, but I’m thinking of Amy.
** and having already run disastrously out of bookshelf space was trying to decide what to do about this. My favourite idea was to load the house on a very large tractor trailer—the house was better than two hundred years old and the big heavy planking it was made of had petrified into titanium or something, and furthermore it had been built perched on a lumpy granite outcropping, so all you had to do is run something like a very large spatula under it, hoist it up and whack it onto the truck bed—carry it out into the countryside and plonk it down on a few acres, where there would be room to build on the library. I was going to do this as soon as I wrote two or three best-sellers. Possibly four.
*** I’ve been a rabid Anglophile all my life. Much of this is down to THE LORD OF THE RINGS. A little of it is down to King Arthur & his lot although I read THE ONCE & FUTURE KING at an impressionable age & was damaged for life by White’s take on Guinevere. But all my favourite authors were British. I didn’t really start reading Americans seriously till I moved over here.
† I have never been an early riser
†† He was very proud of the fact that he had built the entire kitchen out of odds & ends he’d found at the tip, or mouldering upstairs in one of the 1,000,000 attics where it might have been lurking for centuries. Decades anyway. The resulting kitchen was highly functional—Peter was a practical person & did a lot of the cooking—but it perhaps wouldn’t win any awards for glamour, & first-time guests were known to flinch.
††† When I came over for a week, to see what I was getting into, immediately after our pivotal phone call, he was out in the garden every afternoon, so I was too. He said, a little worriedly, you don’t have to take gardening on just because you’re taking me on, & I said no, I’m enjoying this. He perhaps cast his generous declaration into some doubt with his first fiancée’s gift, however, which was a pair of secateurs.
His second fiancée’s gift was a purple rhinestone turtle pin, however, so that’s okay. I still have both these items of course.
§ I still dream of their lardy cake. Anyone unacquainted with the heights to which British comfort food can ascend, I recommend cream tea & lardy cake. Not together, however, unless you really want to explode.
§§ Known in the local extended Dickinson clan as The Big Blue Thing.
§§§ Sometimes it has teeth, of course. I’m still glad. I just shut the window a little faster.
‡ Including that my stepson & his wife are saints.
‡‡ Also including that I am now owned & run by a German Wire Haired Pointer. & the introductory blog about that is already written.
‡‡‡ There will be a blog post eventually about the campervan, with whose help I hope to visit Hampshire some day, supposing I ever figure out how to use the campervan bits, & take the GWHP on some of my old walks.