This excerpt from The Secret Lives of The Doyenne of Didsbrook introduces you to a young Lucy Fothergill who is the main character in this murder mystery spoof.
Didsbrook is a historic treasure nestling in the bosom of a conservation area. It can be accessed either by train or by car, but there is only one way in, and one way out by either means of transport. It is a pastoral dead end, an idyllic haven, surrounded by rolling hills and lush, green countryside – one of the last remaining bastions of serenity in England’s green and pleasant land.
The town evolves around two great Didsbrook institutions, both founded by the towns most flamboyant resident, the actress turned bestselling novelist, Jocelyn Robertshaw. DADS, The Didsbrook Amateur Dramatic Society and DAWG, The Didsbrook Authors and Writers Group.
When I was fourteen, my life took an unexpected twist, and I became a fully-fledged member of DADS. I had been coerced by my mother to audition for the part of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz. My mother had bagged the role of Glenda, the part Edna Fowler had coveted, but managed to contain her disappointment after being cast as the Wicked Witch of the West.
The director of the DADS production of the Wizard of Oz was its founder, Jocelyn Robertshaw. I hadn’t spent any time with Jocelyn since the day she caught us by the trout lake. Apart from waving at her from a distance when Daniel and I went swimming at the Manor.
I was on stage, having finished singing my audition piece, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and I was squinting into the spotlight. I couldn’t work out who was sitting with my mother in the stalls. A woman stood up, clapping enthusiastically, and I recognised the outline of her jodhpurs.
‘Bravo, young lady! Joan Fothergill! You didn’t tell me your daughter sings like a nightingale and can act the socks off the entire DADS membership. Goodness, how time flies, young lady, the last time I talked to you was by the trout lake, and you were wearing a pair of pink knickers.’ My cheeks turned crimson, and I heard my mother mumble the words, lake, knickers?
‘Lucy, dear, welcome to the fold, welcome to DADS! The part of Dorothy is indisputably yours!’
‘She’s a good writer too, Joc, she’s won some very prestigious competitions,’ my mother chirped. I think that was my first experience of teenage mortification. How could my mother tell a multi-published author that I’d won a few school writing competitions and make it sound like I’d won the Booker Prize?
‘If she writes as well as she sings and acts, Lucy will be a member of DAWG before she can say, Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Thank you, Lucy. We’ll see you at rehearsals on Monday eve. Right! Time to crack on. Who’s up for the part of the cowardly lion? Arthur, darling, where are you? You’re giving it a go, aren’t you?’
It was at that moment that Jocelyn Robertshaw became one of my teenage idols, along with One Direction and the Jonas Brothers. I was in awe of this larger than life local celebrity, who not only founded DADS but DAWG as well. The revered body of local writing talent, and becoming a member of the celebrated Didsbrook Authors and Writers Group, became one of my fourteen-year-old self’s lifetime writing goals.
After the DADS production of The Wizard of Oz was over, I featured in one more production, as Kathy Bostock, in Whistle Down the Wind, before knuckling down and focusing on schoolwork. I didn’t see Jocelyn again until I was in the Sixth Form when she came to my school to give a talk about the pitfalls of making a career as a writer. By that time, I was the editor of the school magazine, and my life goals had blurred a little as I centred all my efforts into getting good exam grades and going to University, but it didn’t stop me from sticking up my hand up and saying,
‘I really want to be a writer, Mrs Robertshaw.’
‘I know you do, Lucy, dear. I’ve read some of your work in the school magazine. Your headmaster sends me copies every month, you know, and I have been most impressed, as well as being very touched to see you’ve reviewed all my books!’
‘Oh, yes, I have. I love your voice and your attention to detail. Your writing is so descriptive, and it creates maximum impact, and, oh, I love all your red herrings.’ After her talk, Jocelyn made a point of coming to see me and told me she would be happy to help me pursue a writing career in any way she could.
‘Perhaps I could be your mentor, Lucy if you’ll have me?’ I was at a loss for words, for once. My most favourite author had offered to become my mentor. I was so overwhelmed; I hugged her again. After that, I saw Jocelyn at least once a week before going to University. She was always so positive and upbeat about everything.
‘It’s a tricky decision for you, Lucy, dear, having been bitten by both the acting and the writing bugs, but you can do both, you know. I did. I was an actress before I met my husband. I never wrote a jot until after I had both my children.’
Deliberating whether to plump for writing or acting career, made choosing a degree a challenge until a course at Roehampton jumped out at me. Creative Writing and Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies and, much to my delight, I got on the course. Jocelyn wrote to me regularly at University, and receiving her letters was a highlight. My parents were lousy letter writers, so I looked forward to receiving Jocelyn’s inspirational and motivational epistles, spurring me on. During one weekend at home, I told my mother I was going to see Jocelyn.
‘Best not, Lucy, love. She’s not herself at the moment. Her husband, Peter, has recently been diagnosed with stage four cancer.’