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I spend a lot of time in my own head. It’s my favourite place. After a conversation with my agent where I jokingly referred to  the world I inhabit when I am writing my books as my ‘safe place’, she invited me – okay she ordered me – to write a piece which described this world.  I have called it Havenbury.  My first Havenbury book ‘The Homecoming’ is out in all formats now. The second, ‘A Vintage Year’, is due out early in 2019.

For a little taste of my Havenbury universe, read on…

High on the Sussex Downs is the birthplace of the river Haven. At its source it is a mere trickle, springing clear and icy from the ground, irrigating the pale, chalky soil of the vineyards on the south face of the hill. Reaching the valley it forms a fast-flowing stream which divides the orchard of The Dower House from Havenbury Manor, a formidable gothic pile overlooking the village of Little Havenbury.
The occupants of The Dower House, sweet, shy Imogen – a children’s book writer and illustrator – and her partner Zach (aka Lord Havenbury) live together with Tango (a cat) and little Ruth (a human) in rural bliss. Now that Imogen has twice won the Carnegie Medal for her books based on the real Tango and Ruth, she frequently finds fans lurking in the undergrowth around the house and the village, seeking out landmarks that feature in her beautifully detailed illustrations. She and Zach, who is an artist blacksmith, work in adjoining studios up at the Manor where a converted outbuilding provides a creative space with inspiring views. Zach is furiously busy nowadays as he is inundated with commissions through the Bespoke Consortium, a co-operative of creative artists producing high quality homewares, mainly based at Serena and Giles’s old farmhouse up the road. Also, Zach’s great friend and neighbour Matt, who is the BBC’s Political Editor, has persuaded him to take up his place in the House of Lords where he reduces the average age by about twenty years and is becoming a useful government advisor on a range of issues connected with rural economic regeneration and the preservation of traditional crafts.
If you follow the stream past The Dower House and the adjacent flint and stone Norman Church where Imogen and Zach will eventually get around to marrying – but only when Imogen’s friend Maddy has time to help her organise a perfect country wedding – you will leave the village of Little Havenbury and, with barely a gap between them due to the new housing estate, you will reach the tiny hamlet of Havenbury Green. Here, in the centre, is a large and handsome Victorian villa overlooking the duck pond and the green. This is where Matt lives with his wife Emily, a journalist who writes feature articles on country life. Although spacious, the house is chaotic and noisy, seemingly only just big enough for their family; baby Miranda, a daft golden retriever and Matt’s two stepchildren Tash and Alfie who are from Emily’s former marriage to Prime Minister Ralph Pemilly.
Both Tash and Alfie spend the majority of their time with Matt and Emily because they are not keen on Ralph’s second wife Susie, and anyway they find life at Downing Street a bit of a yawn. Tash is a fervent socialist – mainly to annoy her father – and has insisted on going to school at Havenbury Magna Secondary Modern, where her current ambition is nothing more than to get a bar job at Sails nightclub on the quay. Her main motive for this is to drink a lot and pull the extremely unsuitable night club owner Jonno, an ex-soldier who battles with the legacy of his active service days, and is especially attractive to teenage Tash because he is twice her age and covered in tattoos.
Alfie’s ambition, on the other hand, is to leave his posh prep school in the neighbouring village of Latchfield and go away to board at the school where his mates Freddie and Harry have already gone because they are a bit older. Alfie really misses going to Serena and Giles’s house to hang out with Freddie  and Harry. He thinks boarding school will be cool and also worries he might be running out of luck in avoiding confrontations with the year six kids at the newly refurbished Little Havenbury Primary School, who – on account of his going to the Prep school up the road, and being the Prime Minister’s son – are constantly on the alert for opportunities to push his face in.
Alfie’s mother Emily has no idea her son is in such dire peril and congratulates herself on managing to persuade her ex-husband Ralph that village life – with the little shop and tea room run by formidable grand dames of the village Pinky and Perky – cricket on the green in Summer and long Sunday lunches with their many friends including GP Simon and his school teacher wife Genny – are the best possible upbringing for his children. Ralph spends ‘quality time’ with his children when he visits his little constituency home, the Lodge House at the gates to Havenbury Manor. He doesn’t come to Little Havenbury very often which suits Emily and Matt just fine. Ralph considers himself an excellent co-parent because he tends to think he is there more than he actually is and it gives him something to chat to his advisors about when he has to formulate policy on anything to do with childcare or education.
Taking the main road out of the village towards market town, Havenbury Magna, you follow the ever widening river Haven past the turning to Serena and Giles’s house, Home Farm. The cobbled yard, extensive outbuildings and handsome flint farmhouse, used to be the main farm for the Havenbury estate. It is no longer a working farm, with the surrounding farmland now divided between various neighbours including vineyard owner Charlie and his new young wife Bella. The converted stable block at Home Farm is now where most of the Bespoke Consortium members work. Consortium meetings are held around Serena’s scrubbed pine kitchen table in the enormous farmhouse kitchen with its fire engine red Aga taking up the best part of one wall. When her darling sons Freddie and Harry are at boarding school Serena distracts herself by baking cakes for the whole Bespoke Consortium team as well as steering the whole endeavour, along with joint director Maddy, to increasing acclaim from the homes and interiors fashionistas. Her devoted husband Giles, who is ‘something in the city’, is rarely there during the week, but makes up for it at the weekends when he whisks her off for boozy suppers at the Havenbury Arms to save her having to cook.
Serena and Giles’s nearest neighbour is the reclusive and secretive old lady, Rosalind. She lives in Copse Cottage – a little house in the middle of the woods – after retiring some years ago as the first female head of M15. Rosalind is a formidable woman who lives in splendid isolation with her two black Labradors, Burgess and Maclean. Still a target for her many old
enemies she is made safer by the fact that even people who have lived in the area for years tend not to know her house is there. Recently there have been rumours that Grace, a young, disaffected tabloid hack, desperate to become a more serious journalist, has been secretly engaged to ghost write her memoirs. Unfortunately Grace is rarely there long enough to do it as she can’t resist the temptation to tail Guy, Rosalind’s son, on dangerous humanitarian missions. Grace’s ambition and hot-headedness constantly land her in trouble, meaning reluctant hero Guy has to come to the rescue. Guy has been heard to mutter that he only wants to bring Grace home safely so he can kill her himself.
By the time the Haven reaches Havenbury Magna it is a majestic, tidal river, running serenely past the ancient docks at the foot of the hill, then weaving its way across the coastal plain to the sea. Thankfully, the docks at Havenbury Magna are too narrow and too far inland for modern commercial container ships, so the old brick warehouses are now divided into sought after second homes, popular with Londoners and those in the sailing fraternity.
The historic wealth of the old market town is still evident in the grand buildings pressed shoulder to shoulder, lining the steep, cobbled High Street right up to the ruined castle at the top. The shops in Havenbury Magna are largely an impractical mix of boutiques, tea rooms and antique shops, although residents have fought hard and successfully (so far) to ensure they also have the staples of modern life such as a post office, bank and small but comprehensive supermarket.
The townsfolk tend to have lived there for generations. They look down on the students who flood into the town from the nearby satellite university campus. The students, in their turn, look down on the tourist day trippers who are delivered in coaches and wander around in shorts throughout the summer months, eating ice creams, visiting the tea rooms and gazing vacantly at the view from the castle. They hope for a glimpse of Prime Minister, Ralph Pemilly, but are usually disappointed. When his schedule allows he likes to wander casually around Havenbury Magna on market day (fortnightly on Saturdays) where he can be seen buying rosemary focaccia and organic red onion chutney, whilst exchanging matey badinage with the stallholders, because he thinks it makes him look ‘in touch’ and ‘down to earth’.
Most of the university students wouldn’t be seen dead voting for Ralph Pemilly so they don’t care whether he is in town or not. In any case, the female students are too busy sharing half price happy hour Jaeger bombs at Sails nightclub and discussing how they are going to persuade hot, ex-army psychology lecturer Ben to sleep with them. Ben, on the other hand, whilst great mates with nightclub owner Jonno, avoids his students by drinking at the Havenbury Arms, which is halfway up the High Street and was recently saved from being closed by a wicked pub company. Here Ben can chat to his great friends Patrick and Helen, who – sweetly – can hardly bear to be apart after a twenty five year rift. Sometimes, Ben and his girlfriend Maddy will have supper there with Serena and Giles. More often, though, he will just stop for a quick pint and a chat with local vineyard-owner Charlie who spends a bit too much time propping up the bar and seems increasingly distracted and depressed. This makes Ben wonder what gives between Charlie and his wife Bella, who appears to be single-handedly running the vineyard, creating a glamping site and setting up the first ever Havenbury music festival. Bella looks thin and exhausted and – Ben gathers – she burst into tears when Imogen mentioned the other day that she and Zach were having another baby.

And still, the river Haven wends serenely on, oblivious to the trials of those who live around it, running cool, powerful and dark – always moving always changing – just as it always has. 

The first book in the Havenbury series ‘The Homecoming’, is out now.

The second book, ‘A Vintage Year’ is due out in early 2019.


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