Daphne has lived in Mulberry House for decades and is terrified of losing her home. Alison has inherited the property and has no idea why. Thomas resents leaving the medieval world he has created to deal with the will’s increasingly complicated bequests. Bryn is escaping from the mess his life has become.
We rarely understand the complex reasons behind the actions of others.
This novel is a why-dun-it? The story brings together four very different characters whose lives intersect on Romney Marsh, a place where wetland becomes field, field becomes coast. Each of them must deal with the past before the past deals with them.
Extract from The Mulberry Fugue
[Alison has inherited a house on the south coast of England from a woman she has never heard of. At a point when things are going very wrong in her life, Alison travels from her home in Derbyshire to Kent, to view her inheritance.]
‘No roses round the gate then,’ Alison said when the taxi bumped to a stop in front of Mulberry House.
The driver eased himself out of the car and waddled to the boot. Puffing with the effort, he heaved out Alison’s suitcase and dropped it onto the pavement. ‘Mrs. Kulman preferred trees, I reckon,’ he said.
‘Did you know Mrs. Kulman?’ Alison said.
‘Comes in from the continent you know,’ he said, looking towards the sea. ‘The rain. Just the one bag is it? You’ll not be staying long then.’
A slammed door, a revved engine and a squealing of tyres left Alison alone, facing the rendered garden wall of Mulberry House. Behind her, beyond the road and a low fence, the sea whispered and lapped up the shingle. Squawking gulls, silhouetted against the sky, wheeled and circled above her. It was getting dark.
Why, she wondered, hadn’t she considered what this would be like? Across the networks of travel, in trains, buses and taxis, from a landscape of moorland and dales, to this wide-skied, open flatness, the situation had remained unreal. The house had been an idea, a refuge. But now, the dim shape was waiting to confront her, a property which, for some undiscovered reason, was a stranger’s legacy.
Alison grabbed the handle of her suitcase. She would go back home right now, put the wretched property on the market, take a holiday, buy some clothes, have fun.
But taxis weren’t exactly ranked along the kerb nor was there a bus stop in sight. To the right of the house gleamed a row of stuccoed bungalows, like a curving string of square beads in pastel colours. To the left, tattered RNLI posters obscured the windows of a narrow, Georgian building.
The gate to one of the bungalows creaked open and a small white poodle trotted out followed by a man carrying a dog lead. When he saw Alison, the man’s mouth tightened and his eyes slitted with consternation. Scooping up the poodle, he scurried away.
‘The natives are friendly I see,’ Alison told her suitcase. She dug in her handbag for her mobile. But whom could she phone? She needed a bed for the night but options were limited. Trudging back along the coast road to book into a hotel did not appeal and the strung-bead bungalows showed no sign of hospitality. Anyway, now she was a only a step away from Mulberry House, curiosity had sneaked up on her.
‘I’ll just stay one night.’ Alison decided, ‘if there’s anything to sleep on that is.’ House and contents the solicitor had said but what did that mean? She opened the gate and stepped into the garden. The taxi man had been right. There were no flowers. Of the mulberry tree, after which the house was presumably named, there was no sign. She’d been imagining an orange-brown trunk with wide, sinewy crevices in the bark, twisty branches, pale green leaves and fruit with sweetness oozing from claret-red clusters. All she could make out were stunted Monterey pines straining away from the harshness of a marine climate towards the comforts of home.
And so they faced each other, Alison and Mulberry House. Set back from Marine Drive, on a corner plot, the house offered white, weather-boarded walls for inspection while Alison’s was an appearance crumpled by recent emotional turmoil and creased by today’s travel. The house’s asymmetry was pleasing. On the left, two dormers sat above multi-paned, ground floor windows with the third above a porch, formed from ivy-covered trellis, around the front door. To the right of the front door was what looked like an extension to the original building. She craned her neck to look up at the steeply-pitched roof of terracotta tiles stretching between brick chimney stacks. ‘How long have you been here?’ Alison said under her breath. ‘And why are you mine?’
If the house voiced an answer, it was drowned by a screeching of gulls.