Read Tremor Online

Authors: Winston Graham


hidden talent rediscovered

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Winston Graham

Winston Mawdsley Graham OBE was an English novelist, best known for the series of historical novels about the Poldarks. Graham was born in Manchester in 1908, but moved to Perranporth, Cornwall when he was seventeen. His first novel,
The House with the Stained Glass Windows
was published in 1933. His first ‘Poldark' novel,
Ross Poldark
, was published in 1945, and was followed by eleven further titles, the last of which,
Bella Poldark
, came out in 2002. The novels were set in Cornwall, especially in and around Perranporth, where Graham spent much of his life, and were made into a BBC television series in the 1970s. It was so successful that vicars moved or cancelled church services rather than try to hold them when Poldark was showing.

Aside from the Poldark series, Graham's most successful work was
, a thriller which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1964. Hitchcock had originally hoped that Grace Kelly would return to films to play the lead and she had agreed in principle, but the plan failed when the principality of Monaco realised that the heroine was a thief and sexually repressed. The leads were eventually taken by Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery. Five of Graham's other books were filmed, including
The Walking Stick
Night Without Stars
Take My Life
. Graham wrote a history of the Spanish Armadas and an historical novel,
The Grove of Eagles
, based in that period. He was also an accomplished writer of suspense novels. His autobiography,
Memoirs of a Private Man
, was published by Macmillan in 2003. He had completed work on it just weeks before he died. Graham was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1983 was honoured with the OBE.



Gwen, Robin and Tina

Some four thousand million years ago the Earth came into existence as a sphere of whirling gas and molten dust, circling its parent, the Sun. In the next thousand centuries it began to cool and form a crust, and in another thousand the crust hardened and came to contain within itself, and to suppress, the explosive gases, the white-hot fused rocks, the molten metal and the solar energies seething at its centre.

Passing millennia have strengthened and thickened the crust. But the crust is still only a thin shell relative to the size of the Earth. We build our flimsy structures of concrete and cement upon a frail surface. We strut on thin ice. Thirty miles down the temperature is still a thousand degrees centigrade.

Now and then the sedimentary rocks, with their covering of soil and vegetation, on which we live and on whose sustenance alone we depend to live, shift themselves under pressure from below. They buckle or slide. Small movements adjusting to a slow squeeze, settling or contracting, yielding to or resisting elemental force.

The human ants living and multiplying on the thin surface suffer and are disturbed or disorientated by these shifts. If the shifts occur in or near centres of population there is a heavy loss of ant property and life. To them it is a major disaster.

The most famous of these disasters, because it was the most publicized, occurred in San Francisco on the 18th of April, 1906. Most of the damage was caused here by the fire that followed the earth tremor. Deaths were minimal: fewer than five hundred. The worst earthquake this century was in Kwanto, Japan, in September, 1923, where more than a hundred thousand people died.

In 1960 Agadir, in Morocco, was almost levelled, with some twelve thousand killed, of whom two thousand were Europeans. Many of these were French residents, but many also were British, Americans, Swiss and Germans, holidaymakers who had come to escape the winter and enjoy the new hotels, the fine bathing beaches, the balmy sunshine.

It happened on the 29th of February, the day of the Leap Year and the third day of Ramadan.

Chapter One

There was no flight from London to Agadir. You took the 13.40 flight to Bordeaux, changed there and then again at Casablanca. On Friday the 26th of February, 1960, the plane was ten minutes late taking off.

News had reached Air France that a bus bringing eight of their passengers had been involved in an accident, but they would be arriving shortly. Had the plane been nearly full it is likely it would not have waited. But it was less than half full.

The eight relevant passengers had no means of knowing this, and spent half an hour in a fever of anxiety.

Among them was Matthew Morris. Tall, cheerful, notably good-looking, twenty-eight, artistic, unreliable, humorous, emotional, having just left his wife. Another was Jack Frazier. Tall, thin, thirty-six, nervy, chainsmoking, talkative, half-French, having just left his friends.

The bus had hit a taxi, or the taxi the bus, and a steering track put out of alignment. After the usual exchange of insults, a long and exasperating wait for a relief bus. When it came, the too slow change from one bus to another, then the luggage, and finally they had lumbered off on what seemed certain to be a lost cause. The two men, sitting next to each other, had got into conversation. Then the older man, in an obvious fever of impatience, had left the bus and taken a taxi, but in fact had arrived at Heathrow at almost the same time, to discover, as Matthew and the others discovered, that their plane had not yet left but was about to take off.

So a sprint down endless corridors, and they had all gasped their way onto the plane, with the doors slamming behind them, and the engines instantly started.

At Bordeaux Matthew found that his solitary bag was missing and it took twenty minutes to locate it. It was retrieved just in time from a plane about to leave for Nice. Not a propitious start to a holiday. The two men had not shared seats next to each other on the first leg, but Frazier dropped into the adjoining seat on the flight to Casablanca and Matthew, explaining about his bag, said he thought there must be a voodoo on this flight. Frazier, too talkative most of the time, grunted and coughed at this and kept his eye on the
défense de fumer
sign, waiting to light a cigarette. He carried a small suitcase which he kept on his knee all the time.

Rona. It was a funny old thing, Matthew thought, to leave your wife. Rona Ellison, she'd been; twenty-eight now, with dark, short cut hair, trimmed to chin level; a round face; pretty and full of common sense. Abounding with common sense; a solicitor's daughter; qualifying herself; a good brain. They had married four years ago, just before his first novel was published. So her husband was a rising young novelist of twenty-four, who already had one book in production and a brilliant future.

It hadn't quite worked out that way.

All the same, it might have worked. Incompatibility? Did the lawyers still use that dreary term? A £500 advance hadn't lasted long. He'd spent freely and enjoyed it, and hadn't bothered about another novel, expecting much of the first. Anyway, music was his chief love, the basic love of his life. But you couldn't live off it. Two years in Paris – he'd squeezed the concession out of his mother – had proved that. Played the piano well – always had – but not good enough. Played the bass sax well, also the guitar – not good enough. Sang moderately – not good enough. He'd had a talent with words, quite amusingly, so he wrote a comedy thriller about his years in Paris.

Third publisher took it. ‘Refreshingly different', he called it. So had some of the reviewers. But not the public. If they wanted thrillers they went to Chandler, if comic they went to Wodehouse. Never the twain should meet. Or so it seemed. The book hadn't earned its advance.

It hadn't been an angry parting yesterday. He still found her attractive, and she him. But a second novel written and published last year had hardly sold as well as the first, and he was discouraged at the thought of trying a third. For three years they had received a subsidy from both fathers but that had dried up. Now that she was qualified she was keeping him. Not a happy situation.

He knew she was mainly in the right. It seemed likely that had he beavered away in fairly regular hours scribbling away like Mr Gibbon, or even tapping away like Mrs Christie, Rona would have given him all the support she could. She didn't like, and she made it plain she didn't like, coming home to find him plucking at a guitar or moodily preoccupied reading an article on Diatonic Harmony, and to be told without apparent embarrassment that he hadn't done any work, any real work, that day.

The tiny flat in Hampstead was hers. Aside from a piano, a mass of records and a lot of art books, so were the contents.

He didn't know what to do now. Most of his clothes he'd left with his mother. ‘ Two weeks in Morocco?' she'd said. ‘Will that solve anything?' ‘ Not much. But I need a holiday. Maybe something will happen. Inspiration – I'm thin-blooded.' ‘But it's really over between you and Rona?' ‘I reckon so.' ‘Pity. She's such a nice girl.' ‘I think the same.' ‘Your father doesn't want me to lend you any more money. Says it's unfair on Dorothy and Jean.' (His half-sisters.) ‘Thanks, no, I've an overdraft that can still stretch a bit.'

This second Caravelle was nearly full, passengers almost all French. The hum of talk matched the hum of the engines.

Last Tuesday, he'd supposed, had helped him to make up his mind. He was not a quick mind-maker-up, and without it he might have dragged on a while longer.

Rona knew Eileen Patterson, the successful woman novelist, and at a recent meeting of something called the Women's Guild had scraped an acquaintance with the famous Hannibal Scott, who was there as a guest speaker, and had invited them both to dinner. At it there had been much talk of writers and writing: of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, of dear Morgan Foster, of Tom Eliot, of Aldous and Wystan, of Christopher Isherwood and Marcel Proust.

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