It began with a postcard that started a tug of war between place and time and had me wondering which continent and century I was living in. In June 2002 I sat in my Marina Del Ray apartment, studying a card of Corfe Castle, arrived in the mail from my American rock drummer boyfriend on tour in England.
Why did the card affect me so strongly? I had scrambled around the castle ruins as a child with my father and vividly remembered the feel of the place, but not a fact of its history.
The card demanded my attention often in following days. I felt delighted yet also disturbed by it. The castle tugged at my heartstrings, pulling me back toward the island of my birth and its centuries-old history, just at a time when I was set on creating a new life in the fast moving, ever-changing City of Angels.
I had emigrated from Corsica to live in Los Angeles three days before 9/11. What a time of upheaval to arrive in the United States. Like Sarah, in Nights of the Road, I came because of a night-time dream that could not be denied. Like her, I was still trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing here. Now, a year into my New World adventure, a ruined castle on a Dorset hillside seemed bent on intruding into my daily life?
I googled Corfe Castle. The name of a past owner, Lady Elizabeth Hatton, leaped out at me. So too did a BBC news item that her seventeenth century remains had recently been exhumed from an ancient crypt in London, together with those of her husband Sir Edward Coke.
A thought flashed through my mind: “Old bones disturbed with a tale to tell.”. I dug around more in Elizabeth and Edward’s past, met up with their daughter, Frances, and fell unreservedly in love.
Frances and I hung out together a while. Then she woke me one morning and told me to write her story. I hesitated. She had been a cause celebre, gossiped about in her lifetime. Works of fact and fiction on her life had appeared since. Why go over ground already well trodden?
Frances insisted she had a message to deliver for our times and that she wanted to breathe twenty-first century air. Later that same day, I went walking in the noonday sun on the Marina Del Ray beach and found Sarah James beside me.
Once these two women had me in their clutches, my writing fate for the next year and a half was sealed. The first version of Nights of the Road was completed in 2003. A couple of publishers to whom I made a pitch at a writer’s conference late in the year expressed interest, yet both said the modern part of the novel needed rework. I agreed but had no time: I was returning to my ‘real life’ identity as an international development consultant. The story sat on a slow burn, while I flew to Africa and back for work over another decade.
Ten years on, my body rebelled against long distance flying and grounded me. I picked up the manuscript again. By now, historical sources on Internet had multiplied exponentially and I could view portraits of many seventeenth century characters, including Frances’s stalwart and steadfast lover, Sir Robert Howard:
Now Sarah wanted her tale retold in the first person. I set to work again, with both women watching over my shoulder. As the revised novel neared completion, Frances and Sarah both voiced a view that, as independent and free-spirited women, we should follow a self-publishing path to bring our baby to public birth.
So here now, for your pleasure is our latest version of Nights of the Road as lived, dreamed and midwifed into being by Frances Coke, Sarah James and Midi Berry.
May you enjoy your read as you ride with us and Nights of the Road.