There’ll always be an England Great Britain.
There’s something about the country of my birth, something that has tugged me back across the Atlantic twice. I’m not sure what it is, I mean, heck…Britain isn’t perfect. You only have to read our newspapers to see that. (Just avoid the Daily Fail). Petrol (gas to our American friends) costs a packet, if you want a joint of beef for the traditional Sunday roast, take out a loan first. We’re apparently going to be overrun with a fresh wave of immigrants from some former Communist country, our government is chipping away at benefits with the fervour of a beaver on speed carving up a tree. So, not all is rosy in this nation of gardeners and shopkeepers.
So, S.A., if it’s so dire, why are you there?
Well, that’s a good question, easily answered. Have you ever tried getting a permanent residence visa for the U.S.?
It doesn’t matter. For all its flaws, quirks, temperamental weather, bad dental work and ‘Gardener’s World’, this sceptred isle is my home. It’s in my blood, my soul and, most importantly, my writing. My first serious attempt at writing a publishable novel came out of a fierce bout of homesickness which overtook me during the misery of the Arizona monsoon. I sat down and typed up a lovely, long historical romance set during the Great War. I lost myself in it, and in the follow-up book. They were both (mainly) set in England, the locations based on my old haunts in Berkshire, that glorious county of trees and gentle rivers, verdant fields and charming villages. Neither book found an agent, alas, but the simple act of writing them soothed my longing for the Old Country.
My first published novel, ‘Stolen Summer’, is my homage to Britain. When I wrote about Evan’s homecoming, it was so easy to put myself in his place, to enjoy that first, defiant roast beef dinner, pie and chips, the sound of rain on the windows, picking out favourite foods in the supermarket. Yep, that was me in Evan’s head, indulging in a return to the country of my birth. I never once imagined, when I was writing ‘Stolen Summer’ that I would end up, a handful of months later, setting foot on English soil. I didn’t quite want to kiss the tarmac at Heathrow, not with an uncertain future ahead of us, and a hellacious upheaval behind us. But when I stood barefoot in my friend’s garden that evening, listening to the rain while curling my toes in the soft, cool grass, it felt right. My heart sang. I was home.
I love this country. I love the landscape. There’s a certain light—golden and painful in its clarity—that strikes something deep inside me. It’s there on a brilliantly cold midwinter’s day, and it’s also there on a cool summer evening. When it kisses the downs, the ancient hedgerows and the fields of ripe barley there is no more beautiful place in the world. It tugs at me, tells me that I should write, that my characters belong here as much as I do. I create lives for them in this landscape, let them hear the screeling of the swifts at dusk, the plaintive cry of the Red kite as it idly drifts on the thermals in search of prey. I let them feel the cool rain touch their skin, smell the delicate sweetness of wild honeysuckle, taste that sweet burst of home-grown fruit. In short, they do all the things I missed when I was clinging to the air conditioner in the fierce Arizona heat.
Most of my stories—published and yet to be finished—are set here. It feels proper, and right. It’s so much easier to write when the setting is embedded in the author’s soul, as familiar as a hit of strong, sweet builders’ tea, as comforting as settling down to watch ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ on a cold winter’s evening. When you read one of my stories, you’re not only getting a glimpse of my characters’ lives, you’re getting a glimpse of mine. I hope, if you read them, you’ll fall in love with my country the same way I have done…again and again and again.
And while you’re reading, listen to this most British of pieces—Nimrod, from Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’—drink a cup of strong tea and nibble on some proper British chocolate.
My books can be found here
My Tweets can be read here
My occasional ramblings are on my blog
And my Facebook page
Thank you for the photos. S.A. Meade – Four Barrows, Sam Higson – Ullswater, and Jay Northcote – Stonehenge