Today, we’re just a stone’s throw away from our previous stop on our literary journey through the pages of my novels, but this time we’re catching up with Laura from The Silver Locket.
Here we are at one of the entrances to Princes Park, another of Liverpool’s urban oases, and a location mentioned in both You’ll Never Walk Alone and The Silver Locket. Time-wise, the books are set a few years apart, with You’ll Never Walk Alone being set sometime in the mid 1980s and The Silver Locket in 1989. Maybe one day, the paths of some of the characters from the two books will cross!
In the excerpt below, we join Laura who’s travelled from Rufford on the train to Liverpool to meet the reclusive Ceridwen, who is something of a specialist in strange objects like the locket that Laura’s found under the floorboards of the house she’s inherited. I decided to put Ceridwen in a flat overlooking Princes Park, based on a place I’d have loved to have lived in and so fictionally I could go back and spend a little more time there.
Back in September 1984, I was looking for a new place to stay after I’d graduated and left the house I’d shared in my final year. Of course, back then there were no online sites on which to seek a flat, nor were there any mobile phones, so I was armed with a copy of the Liverpool Echo, folded to the ‘flats for rent’ section, and a pocketful of 10 pence pieces for a public phone box.
I’d already decided I wanted to move across the city to South Liverpool, where a number of my friends had flats. I’d been kipping on the ‘imprompu chaise-longue’ in a friend’s house for a week or so and it was high time I moved on. Having narrowed down my search, the first flat I viewed that afternoon was on the first floor of a huge high-ceilinged converted house on Devonshire Road, right next to Princes Park. The large bed-sitting room, with its curtained-off kitchen, was at the back of the house. The bathroom was down the hall, but only shared with one other flat, which was across the landing. But what really impressed me was the view over the Park. It was stunning! And the room was even within my price range (just).
I still had another place to view, which wasn’t far away, so off I went, telling the landlord I’d phone him straight afterwards, because I was very, very keen on his place. Sadly, however, by the time I found an unvandalised phone box, the ‘room with a view’ had already been taken by someone else. The flat I ended up in was that second one. It was, of course, in the house that belonged to a Chinese landlord – my Tony Wong, from You’ll Never Walk Alone. Who knows what would have happened to that novel without him in my head!
But back to Princes Park and the view from Devonshire Road. From here you can almost see the grave of Judy the Donkey, who was buried on the site of her favourite grazing spot back in 1926. Judy worked in Princes Park for 21 of her 26 years. Not just a donkey for children’s pleasure riding, she was a working animal helping the gardeners by pulling a cart for them.
It’s such a lovely little memorial that couldn’t resist mentioning it in the book. A tiny reference to Judy’s grave appears a few pages further along from today’s excerpt where we catch up with Laura on her visit to the mysterious Ceridwen in that lovely ‘room with a view’.
Excerpt from The Silver Locket
The following afternoon Laura was in a black taxi cab heading from Lime Street station to the southern suburbs of Liverpool, clutching a local address in her hand. The locket and an envelope containing forty seven pounds, were tucked into the inside packet of her handbag.
The taxi slowed and turned into the broad driveway of a large double-fronted Georgian house. Laura paid the driver and walked up to the front door. The house had been divided into six flats; she pressed the buzzer for Flat 4. Laura still didn’t know the name of the woman she was about to meet. The jeweller’s friend had arranged the appointment for three o’clock, but had only passed on the address. The woman was apparently very nervous about giving out any personal information.
“Yes,” a low voice answered the intercom.
“It’s Laura Peterson; I have an appointment at three o’clock.”
“Come up, Laura. My flat’s on the first floor landing, on the right.”
The front door unlocked and Laura went in. The entrance hall was rather grand, if somewhat dilapidated. There was a large table to the side of the door with the usual mixture of circulars and uncollected post, common to shared houses. A bicycle was chained to the iron balusters at the foot of the stairs.
The door to Flat 4 was standing slightly ajar. Laura knocked gently.
“Come in,” said the low voice.
Laura pushed open the door. The room was large with a high ceiling. The blinds were closed and the room was warm and rather stuffy. Laura closed the door gently and peered into the gloom.
“Come, my dear.” The voice came from a chaise-longue which stood next to the empty fireplace. Laura saw a slight figure, dressed in flowing garments, rising to greet her.
Laura crossed the room, the heels of her shoes noisy on the wooden floor.
“Hi, I’m Laura,” she said holding out her hand. “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
The woman made no attempt to take Laura’s outstretched hand.
“Please sit down, Laura,” she said, indicating a low armchair on the opposite side of the fireplace. My name is Ceridwen. I must apologise for not taking your hand just yet, but you will understand why presently.”
Laura sat down.
“Can I bring you some tea, Laura?”
Laura nodded. Ceridwen disappeared behind a curtain on the far side of the room. Laura heard her filling a kettle. Something brushed against Laura’s knee. She looked down and saw a green-eyed cat looking up at her. She stroked the cat’s soft grey head.
Ceridwen returned carrying a tray which held a painted china teapot and two matching mugs. “I see Cullen has introduced himself to you.”
The cat stood up, stretched and walked off. Laura watched as he jumped up onto the windowsill, nosing his way behind the drawn blind.
“Keeping a look out, eh?” said Laura.
Ceridwen said nothing. She poured the tea and handed a mug to Laura. The brown liquid had a pungent, slightly antiseptic smell.
“A herbal mixture of my own. It aids precision of thought and clarity of understanding. I think you’ll find it refreshing.”
Laura sipped the tea; it actually tasted rather pleasant.
“So,” said Ceridwen, pushing back her long red hair, “you have something to show me.”
Laura reached into her handbag and drew out the locket. She slipped it out of its wrapper and held it out to her.
“I found it…” began Laura.
Ceridwen held up her hand. “No, don’t tell me anything about it yet. May I hold it please?”
Ceridwen took the locket, as she did so she avoided touching Laura’s hand. She drew in a sharp breath and closed her eyes, running her thumb gently over the face of the locket. She sat there, motionless for several minutes, then clasping the locket in her fist, she opened her eyes, leant over and switched on the lamp which stood on the table beside her.
“Now Laura, I’d like you to tell me all you can about the locket. Where you found it, what you’ve observed about it, what it means to you.”
Laura paused. “It’s complicated.”
“Take you time, my dear. Start with the facts. Don’t worry if your story seems strange or fanciful. That’s why you’re here with me now.”
Laura recounted all she could from finding the locket to the most recent dream in which the little face had been different from the one Laura knew. While she was speaking, Ceridwen was carefully examining the locket. As Laura finished speaking, she was studying the oval mark intently.
On the windowsill, Cullen uttered a low, menacing sound. Laura could see his silhouette through the blind, his back arched, head erect.
“Would you mind going to see what he’s growling about? It must be something in the park outside.”
Laura went to the window and raised the edge of the blind. A solitary figure in a brown coat was looking up at the window. The figure was too far away for Laura to make out her face, but it looked awfully like the old woman from the churchyard; the same woman who had appeared outside the jewellers and whom Laura had seen leaving the station earlier.
Cullen continued to growl. The woman turned and hurried away. Cullen sat back down on the windowsill and was quiet again, his fur settling back into place.
Laura returned to her seat. “It’s strange; I keep seeing this woman in a brown coat. It’s as if she’s following me. But when she realises I’ve seen her, she rushes off. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I’m sure that was her again, just standing there looking up at the window. I couldn’t see anything else which might have disturbed your cat.”
“She could be following this.” Ceridwen held up the locket.
The Silver Locket
(written under pen name Holly Atkins) is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk (Welcome to Princes Park)
Colin Lane (aerial view of Princes Park) on http://www.nearlythereyet.co.uk
Rodhullandemu (Devonshire Road) Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.