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Debbie Roberts

Location: Surrey

Bio

Writer of historical romance fiction

Current project

Currently working on a 91,000 word novel set in late Victorian rural Kent. Hopefully, a book readers will enjoy curling up to on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate in the winter or lounging in the garden with a glass of something colder in the summer.

Merryn Hewitt is almost nine when her father dies. Life changes drastically when her brother takes over as farm manager and moves his family into the farmhouse to live with Merryn and their mother. After a year she moves in with her sister in the local village and eventually, having left school, works on the farm as under-manager for her brother.

In the September of 1896, when Merryn is twenty, and off to collect the hop pickers from the nearby town railway station a stranger waves his billycock hat in front of her horse and cart looking for the farm manager. It transpires that, at the squire’s behest, a company is to assess the farm over the current year with a view to updating it due to the increase in importation and progress with steam. This throws their idyllic community into turmoil.

A romantic tale about her relationships with family, friends and herself, the foreseen changes and a view of rural life at that time through every day scenes of farming in Victorian England.

Writing sample

On the lock bench sat a courting couple. The young woman’s parasol rested firmly on her shoulders, shading her from the strong afternoon sun, as they watched boats go in and out. The water lapped against the sides, and sprayed through the middle of the doors, which creaked and groaned.
Caleb was on the other side of the lock, his threadbare flat cap pulled down over his forehead, a half-smoked rollup cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth.
He couldn’t read nor write but was astute, according to Merryn’s Aunt Hannah, and good with money, which she was grateful for on his low wage, Merryn recalled.
Her Uncle Caleb loved his garden, where, apart from the menagerie of animals, fruit and vegetables, were also two sheds and the double-holed privy: a large hole for adults and a smaller one for children. They were very envious of that as they’d nearly lost Agnes who’d peered too deeply into the one at Titlark Cottage recently.
Caleb grew all sorts: potatoes, cabbages, onions, lettuce and, tucked away at the back of the neat lawn, rhubarb, raspberries and gooseberries.
‘Afternoon, Ladies,’ he said. ‘Can you move up a bit, sir? There’s another boat that’ll just about fit in.’
The boats jostled for position and, as the last boat entered the lock, Caleb pushed the second paddle to close the lock doors, then the windlass to shut the sluices.
‘Caleb.’ Grace nodded.
Entering the cottage, Merryn brushed against the tin bath resting against the cool white wall. The smell of baking seeped out into the hallway, as she pushed open the door to the small front room. In the bay window sat a small square table, with a crisp white tablecloth, where sun shone onto a glass vase of freshly cut sweet peas.
Hannah beamed as she clapped eyes on them.
‘Hello, you lot,’ she said.
‘A new range? How do you manage without the fire?’ Grace pecked her sister lightly on the cheek as she passed, brushing her finger along the top of the range.
‘I’m used to it now. I’ve just baked some lavender and ginger cookies. Come in, sit yourselves down.’ Hannah plumped up a cushion. The shiny brass fender sat in front of the range, where she warmed plates for tea against it.
The kettle was always on in this house, Merryn realised.
‘Your front door mended now, Hannah?’ Grace ignored her sister and picked up cutlery to lay the table.
‘It only sticks in the winter when it’s cold and damp.’ Hannah continued to roll out pastry.
So different to the way her mother rolled pastry, Merryn noticed.
‘Sorted out that abandoned well, Merryn?’ Hannah called over, as Lucy moved Hannah’s crochet and sat down in the brown armchair.
‘Yes, the blacksmith made a cover to go over it. Shame to fill it in; we may need it at some point,’ Merryn replied.
‘Lucky escape there.’ Hannah picked up the pastry on a wooden roller and placed it across an enamel pie dish.
Agnes ran towards the door to the backroom, where Caleb and Hannah slept. She knew a few toys were stowed under the bed. Merryn grabbed her hand and lifted her niece onto her lap at the table, where watercress sandwiches awaited. Agnes reached towards them but looked up at Merryn as she did so.
‘No, Agnes,’ Lucy said.
Grace turned towards her sister.
‘Gooseberries look gorgeous this year, Hannah.’
‘Yes. I’m making a tart for tea.’ She poured a pan of warm fruit into the pastry case.
‘Ooh lovely, one of my favourites.’
‘I know, Grace,’ Hannah replied.
Merryn’s cousins arrived back with the water and a packet of Woodbines for their father.
‘Thank you, girls. Now run along and help your sister in the shop. We’ll eat at three.’ Hannah turned the girls by their heads to face the door and they skipped off towards the shop. ‘Don’t run by the lock. I won’t tell you again.’
They looked back at their mother.
‘Don’t skip either.’ Hannah shook her head.
‘She did say “run along,”’ one of the girls whispered to the other.
‘And no back chat,’ Hannah reprimanded, before she turned back to her guests. ‘They’ll be the death of me those girls.’
Merryn unlocked the catch on the sash window and pushed up on the wood. The curtain billowed out in the summer breeze.
‘Weights on your window sorted then, Hannah?’ Grace asked.
‘Yes, slides up and down a dream now.’
Merryn pulled the top sash down slightly. Her cousin waved from behind the counter of the small shop across the lock as a little girl’s head went by the window. Merryn looked down to see her riding a hobby horse; her parents behind her, pushing a perambulator. Merryn returned her cousin’s wave.
‘Caleb alright, Hannah?’ Grace asked.
‘Yes, he’s fine. Though he’s got to go up to Chiddley lock tomorrow to help his brother. He’s so used to the pound it takes a while for him to re-adjust to a flash. They’ll renovate it come the autumn, so he’ll be happier once that’s done.’
‘Always something,’ Grace said. ‘There’s going to be a lot of changes at the farm in the not too distant future.’
‘Yes, well the same on the river, there are the dobles and bawleys taking paper, bricks, fish and such like up to London but now with the cement barges, we can have about twenty-five of those at a time. It can get so busy. Things have definitely changed.

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