The idea for ‘The Doyenne’ came from a short story called An Honest Review, which made the longlist in the Fiction Factory Short Story competition at the beginning of 2019.
The short story evolved around a writers group, the Didsbrook Authors and Writers Group, better known as DAWG. I had so much fun writing it, I carried on, and it evolved into the Secret Lives of the Doyenne of Didsbrook.
Some of the members of DAWG are also members of the Didsbrook Amateur Dramatics Society (DADS). The founder of both DADS and DAWG is the town’s best-loved resident, Jocelyn Robertshaw, once the darling of London’s West End and now, a best-selling author. The recently widowed Jocelyn lives in the Tudor pile that stands proud overlooking this quaint, fictitious, market town – somewhere in the Home Counties.
The first chapter made the longlist in the Flash 500 Novel Opening competition at the end of last year.
I’d hoped to have finished it in August 2020 but, unfortunately, it didn’t happen, and I can’t blame COVID-19 for that, but I would like to think it will be by the time we get shot of dismal 2020.
I will build this page as I go along, but, for now, I will leave my MC, Lucy, to introduce to you to her home town.
WELCOME TO DIDSBROOK
I was born on the 11th July 1996, which coincidentally, is World Population Day. My mother, Joan, was marvelling at the content of the Fresh Produce section of Didsbrook’s new Coop in the old abattoir building in Stockyard Street when her waters broke. Legend has it, my father, John, with the help of the store manager, bundled her into a trolley and pushed her across the cobbled marketplace to the Didsbrook Cottage Hospital. Just after they wheeled her in, I popped out, and the World Population counter flipped over to include me, and the population of Didsbrook rose to 651.
Didsbrook is a sleepy market town nestling in the bosom of a conservation area. Accessed either by train or by car, 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 tranquillity of our daily lives is rarely disturbed, other than by the shrill songs of the Yellow Hammer and Corn Bunting floating on the breeze. Or the constant, gentle rushing sound of the Didsbrook Rise, a shallow, stony brook, as it wends its way through the heart of town, on its way to feed the trout lake at Didsbrook Manor before joining the River Stoner.
Life has changed little since our medieval forebears first embedded their pitchforks here. Sometimes I walk along Didsbrook’s cobbled streets, and I imagine how life was in those days. Laughing women wearing frilly mop caps, carrying shoulder yokes, on their way to milk cows, or collecting water from the Didsbrook Rise. Men dressed in wool tunics and breeches, smoking clay pipes or chewing on pieces of straw. Some poor sod splattered in rotten tomatoes locked in the pillory in the marketplace, suffering public humiliation for perjury or subordination.
The town and the lush pastures of the South Downs surrounding Didsbrook are out of bounds to developers. However, there is one blot on our rural landscape, the Elmsmere Dairy, where my father is Plant Manager. It was built in the 1990s, amidst much controversy. Our Town Planners eventually agreed to tuck it away at the bottom of a hill, five miles outside Didsbrook; so, out of view from the town. The dairy is the closest any contractor has got to the township, and it serves as a constant reminder of why we need to preserve the natural beauty of the countryside. Despite its ugly presence, the dairy was a necessity. Didsbrook was in dire need of a pasteurising plant because the bovine population outnumbers its two-legged inhabitants by 5-1.
I consider myself blessed to have grown up free to frolic amid the Arcadian beauty of Didsbrook and the surrounding countryside. My older brother, Daniel, and I were like a pair of feral kittens, scampering over the unspoilt landscape, climbing trees, and falling over, returning home with scuffed knees. The only other children living in Didsbrook at the time were Betty Hargreaves, the butcher’s daughter, who was in the same year as Daniel, and Kevin Harper, who was my age. Kevin was an odd child. He was awkward at school, and rarely interacted with our peers. Although Daniel was happy to include Betty in our adventures, we always tried to give Kevin the slip, which wasn’t hard to do. He was overweight, and we knew we could out-jog him, so when we sprinted, we became specks on his horizon within seconds.
Didsbrook has always had the reputation of being a safe place to live which is why I have no memory of our parents laying down any rules about what we could or couldn’t do, or where we could or couldn’t go. The reality was that the only other living souls we ever bumped into were four-legged—Friesian cows. Hundreds of them, as Didsbrook’s primary industry, has always been, dairy farming. It still is but to a lesser degree. So, finding ourselves in the same field as the Holstein-Friesian bull from Frogs Bottom Farm would have been the worst situation we could have found ourselves. Daniel and I discussed our plan of action if we ever had a close encounter with Didsbrook’s Divine David, known locally as Dave. We agreed that, as Dave as reminded us of a Friesian Sumo wrestler, we were confident we could outsprint him, just like we did with Kevin. Fortunately, our theory never had to be put to the test.