Authors: Rosamunde Pilcher
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When I wrote the preface for Rosamunde Pilcher’s first collection of stories,
The Blue Bedroom and Other Stories,
would be getting letters from readers. But to my surprise, I did too—letters from English students researching Rosamunde Pilcher for class papers, from
readers who wanted to share how much it had meant to them to discover her in the magazine’s pages, from longtime Pilcher fans who’d read every book she’d ever written and now wanted a copy of every story of hers
had ever published.
I even got a letter from my Aunt Margaret, in Michigan, who wrote, “I bought a new book by my favorite writer today. When I saw that you wrote the preface, I almost swooned! I never realized your work connected you to the author who gave us Penelope Keeling.
The Shell Seekers
is one of the best novels I’ve ever read.”
My aunt continued praising Rosamunde Pilcher’s writing and naming other characters from other novels. “I feel like I know them all,” she wrote.
With that she echoed the sentiment expressed by each correspondent. Countless readers, around the world and across generations, are struck by the recognizability, the believability of the people Rosamunde Pilcher creates, by the impeccably conveyed emotion in situations from tragedy to triumph.
It is rewarding to be “connected” to such an author, a privilege I share with a network of publishing colleagues, all of whom, from the beginning, believed in Rosamunde Pilcher’s talent and in helping her work reach the public.
Shortly after the phenomenal success of
The Shell Seekers,
Rosamunde Pilcher and I marveled together at the overwhelming acceptance that the novel was receiving. “It seems a lot of people like to read about the same kind of details in everyday lives that you and I do,” she said.
Exactly so. And many of the stories that we liked so much in the early years of her career are contained in this marvelous collection. All readers, old and new, will find here the genesis of Rosamunde Pilcher’s fictional world, the inviting surroundings richly described, the intelligent, likeable characters, and the ordinary events that become extraordinary in the hands of this master storyteller.
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING MAGAZINE
Opening his eyes, William recognized the feel of Saturday morning. A lightness in the atmosphere, an ambience of freedom. From downstairs came the smell of frying bacon, and outside in the garden Loden, the dog, began to bark. He heard his mother go to open the door and call him indoors. William stirred and reached for his wrist-watch. Eight o’clock.
Because there was no urgency to be up and about, he lay for a little, considering the day ahead. It was April, and a lozenge of sunlight lay across his carpet. The sky beyond the window was a pale, pellucid blue traversed by random, slow-moving clouds. A day to be spent out of doors; the sort of day when his father would have collected the family together with a shout and an exciting, impetuous plan, piling them all into the car and driving them to the seaside, or up onto the moors for a long hike.
Most of the time William tried not to think too much about his father, but every now and then memories would come surging back, like pictures, clean-cut, and with very sharp edges. Then he would see his father striding up a brackeny slope, with Miranda on his shoulders because the climb was too steep for her short fat legs. Or hear his deep voice, reading to them on winter evenings. Or see his clever hands, mending a bicycle, or doing intricate things with electric plugs and fuse-boxes.
He bit his lip and turned his head on the pillow, as though to turn from some unimaginable pain, but that was even worse, because now he was confronted by the object that stood, accusing, on his work-table at the other side of the room. Last night, when he had finished his homework, he had laboured over this thing for an hour or more, and had finally climbed into bed knowing that it had defeated him.
Now, it seemed to his imagination, it openly sneered at him.
You haven’t a hope of enjoying yourself today. You’re going to spend this Saturday wrestling with me. And you’ll probably lose.
It was enough to make a strong man despair. Twenty pounds it had cost him, and all he had to show for it was something that looked more like an orange box than anything else.
After a bit, he got out of bed and went across the room to examine it more closely, hoping that it would look better than he remembered. It didn’t. A floor, a back, two sides; a pile of small bits of wood about the size of nail-files, and a page of baffling, incomprehensible instructions.
Glue to scotia angle to the top front edge of the front panel.
Glue window jambs to inner head cills.
A doll’s house. It was meant to be a doll’s house. For Miranda’s seventh birthday, two weeks away. It was a secret, even from his mother. And he couldn’t finish it because he was too clumsy or too stupid or possibly both.
Miranda had always wanted a doll’s house, had been asking for one for the past year. Their father had promised that she would get it for her birthday, and the fact that he was no longer there had made no difference to Miranda, who was too young to understand, too young to be told that she must learn to go without.
“I’m going to get a doll’s house for my birthday,” she boasted to her friends while they dressed up in tattered party clothes and old ostrich feathers and totter-heeled shoes sizes too big for them. “They promised.”
William, worried by this, had a conference with his mother. This took place when they were alone together, eating supper. Before his father died, he used to have high tea with Miranda and then watch television for a bit, but now, at twelve years old, he had been promoted. So, over the chops and broccoli and mashed potatoes, William said, “She thinks she’s getting that doll’s house.”
“We must give her one.”
“They’re dreadfully expensive.”
“I know. And he’d have bought her a beauty, no expense spared. But now, we don’t have that sort of money to spend on presents.”
“What about a second-hand one?”
“Well … I’ll look…”
She looked. She found one in the local antique shop, but it cost more than a hundred pounds. A second-hand dealer produced another, but it was so tatty and shabby that the thought of actually giving it to Miranda for her birthday was somehow an insult to the child’s intelligence. Together, William and his mother cased the toy shops, but the doll’s houses there were horrible plastic things with pretend doors and windows that didn’t open.
“Perhaps we would wait another year,” his mother suggested. “It would give us more time to save up…”
But William knew that it had to be this year. If they let Miranda down now, he knew that she would probably never trust an adult again. Besides, they owed it to his father.
And then, the answer came. By chance he saw the advertisement on the back page of the Sunday newspaper.
Build your own traditional doll’s house from one of our kits. Full instructions, so simple a child could follow them. Special offer, open for only two weeks. £19.50, including post and packing.
He read this, and then, more carefully, read it again. There were snags. For one thing, woodwork was not his strong point. Top of his class in English and history, he nevertheless found it well-nigh impossible to drive a straight screw. For another, there was the question of money. His pocket money had been severely cut since the death of his father, and this he was saving to buy a calculator.
But needs must when the devil drives. The instructions were so simple, a child could follow them. And he could probably manage for a bit longer without the calculator. He made up his mind; wrote out the order form, withdrew his savings from the bank, bought a postal order and sent away for the doll’s-house kit.
He did not tell his mother what he had done. Each morning he got up early and went downstairs to intercept the postman before she should see the parcel. When at last it came, he carried it straight up to his bedroom and hid it under the wardrobe. That evening he shut himself away and ceremoniously unwrapped the package, to be faced with a confusion of oddly shaped pieces of board, a polythene bag filled with very small pieces of plywood, a tube of glue, some nails, and a closely typed instruction sheet. He took a deep breath, found a hammer, lighted his lamp and set to work.
To begin with it wasn’t bad, and he got the main bits of the house together. But then the problems started. There was a diagram for fitting the windows into their apertures, but the instructions might have been written in double Dutch.
Glue jambs to inner head cills, making a complete L frame all around the window.
He made a sound of disgust. It was impossible. Before breakfast, it was even more impossible. William turned from the maddening object, got dressed, and went downstairs to find something to eat.
As he crossed the hall, the telephone rang, and as he happened to be alongside, he picked up the receiver.
“Yes.” He made a private face. It was Arnold Ridgeway, and Arnold, he knew, rather fancied William’s mother. Although William could understand this, he found Arnold’s company fairly heavy weather. Arnold ran the big hotel on the far side of town, and he was a widower, and very cheerful and noisy in a hail-fellow-well-met sort of way. Lately, William had begun to suspect that Arnold had private plans to marry his mother, but he hoped very much that this would not happen. His mother did not love Arnold. There was a certain private look about her that only happened every now and then—a sort of secret radiance—and William had not seen this since his father had died. It was certainly never evident when she was in Arnold’s company.
There was, however, always the possibility that Arnold might wear her down with the sheer force of his personality, and she would marry him for the comfort and security of his wordly goods. She would do such a thing for his sake and for Miranda’s, he knew. For her children she would be prepared to make any sacrifice.
“Arnold here!” His voice fairly carolled over the phone. “How’s your mother this morning?”
“I haven’t seen her yet.”
“Such a lovely day. Thought I might take you all out for lunch. Drive over to Cottescombe, have lunch in the Three Bells. We could go and look at the Game Park. How does that sound to you?”
“It sounds great, but I think I’d better get my mother.” Then he remembered the doll’s house. “But I don’t think I can come. It’s very kind of you, but I’ve got … well, lots of homework to do, and things like that.”