February’s Guest Storyteller, Geoffrey Gudgion
Geoffrey Gudgion started writing in warships during the Cold War, and afterwards consistently failed to reconcile writing with a business career. Following a row with his boss he took a career break, wrote Saxon’s Bane (Solaris, 2013), and didn’t go back. His second novel, Catherine Bonnevaux, is now with his agent. His third is “cooking nicely”.
The novel in brief — Six hundred years ago, the village of Halgestede was swept away and the Bonnevaux dynasty born with a terrible oath. Today the Halstead Hall estate is crumbling and the Bonnevaux have forgotten the oath, but the oath may not have forgotten the Bonnevaux.
Intro to extract — Most of Saxon’s Bane was in a masculine voice, but the plot for Catherine Bonnevaux challenged Geoffrey to write some tender moments from a distinctly feminine perspective. Here’s a short sample:
CATHERINE BONNEVAUX (Extract)
“In a moment, darling. Shut your eyes. Tight shut. Let them adjust to the darkness. I’ve something to show you.”
Catherine obeyed, smiling to herself at this child-like complicity. Somewhere nearby a blackbird sang into the gloaming, filling the air with swirling trickles of sound. Faintly, from down in the valley, came the sound of piano music.
“You can open them now. Look around you. See, darling? The daylight stays in the blossom.”
Catherine opened her eyes. Above her, a lattice of branches and blossom screened a sky that darkened to purple in the East, and softened to the West where the Evening Star hung over the hill. Below the horizon the branches were almost invisible against the dark backdrop of the woods. In this near-darkness, the pear blossom appeared to float, unsupported, glowing white as if illuminated from within. Thousands of points of light, dabbed onto the night by a fine-point brush, so they sat within a galaxy of petals that moved almost imperceptibly on the night air.
Strange how you can grow up in a place and not notice something so beautiful, that you can live thirty years without being in this spot, at this time, at this season, with eyes that were not blinded by a torch. Catherine reached for her grandmother’s hand, and squeezed.
“Thank you, Granny.” Her voice caught.
“It’s always best at pear blossom time. There’s more leaf on the trees when the apple blossom bursts.”
“It’s wonderful.” She knew she’d always remember this moment. Her grandmother, birdsong, a distant piano, and blossom, fragrant and pure. A moment of communion that makes all else insignificant.
“I was wooed in this orchard. I was a young nurse, just nineteen. Your grandpa was such a dashing young man, a decorated officer, and yet he brought me out here and showed me the pear blossom at twilight.” Catherine gripped her grandmother’s hand again. As the light faded, the blossom was dimming, so that already it was brightest at the edge of her vision, but the scent remained, cascading its sweetness around them. Catherine felt her hand being lifted and shaken in emphasis. “There are things you wish you’d asked, and there are things I’d like remembered. So when you have children, bring them here, and tell them that your Granny fell in love under this tree.”
Catherine stood, swallowing, and stepped away from the seat, holding out her hand to feel for a branch she knew was there. The bark was coarse and damp, and lichen crumbled under her fingers. At the edge of her vision, a hint of blossom swayed to the movement in the branch. The moon was rising above Brambledown, bathing the valley below in a gentle, monochrome glow. Yellower lights shone in The Old Dairy, silhouetting Fiona in the picture windows. Her outline looked huddled, even at this distance, perhaps folded over her arms, tense. Piano music spilled past her through open French doors, and carried faintly up the hill. Rich, classical music, played loudly and furiously, and too heavy for the moment that she and Granny had just shared.
“Rachmaninoff,” Granny said, coming to stand beside her. “The C Sharp Minor Prelude. Not an easy piece.” They were quiet for a moment, listening, until Granny sighed. “He’s better at Chopin. That’s much too angry.”
Below them, the hunched figure stepped inside, and the music stopped with the shutting of the door.
“Don’t get too fond of him, darling, will you?”
Catherine didn’t answer.
“Only, things are complicated enough already. And I’m getting cold. Where’s that torch?” In an instant, a pool of light beside them turned the night fully black, shrinking the moon glow until only the lights of The Old Dairy were visible beyond the tracery of branches.
Sarah says: Geoffrey, thank you so much for your return visit to my blog, this time as a guest storyteller. I love this extract from Catherine Bonnevaux, where you’ve captured with such authenticity and atmosphere that special female intimacy between Catherine and her grandmother. I can’t wait to read the whole novel.
For those who missed Geoffrey first time round you might like to read Interview with Author Geoffrey Gudgion, in which we discuss his first novel Saxon’s Bane, and my review of the book on Goodreads, where I awarded it five stars.