The possible perils of fact by Julia Jones

The stepmother in Pebble is not a bad person. Her name is Lottie Livesey.  She’s sensitive and caring (if occasionally a little too determined to do what she believes to be right) and there is never any doubt that she loves her stepsons (Luke and Liam) just as much as she loves her daughters (Anna and Vicky). She’s also far too principled and clear-thinking to allow her deteriorating relationship with their father to lessen her concern for his boys.

So, how to get her off the stage and allow them the freedom to get into jeopardy? The solution seemed delightfully simple…put her on it. 

Lottie is a folk-singer whose career is beginning to take wings. In The Lion of Sole Bay I dispatched her to a recording studio in Italy to make her breakthrough album. I thought she’d earned a holiday after her grim time as an invisible, illegal, worker in the early volumes, living  in a shipping container somewhere half-finished in the Ipswich docklands. Three of the four children were happy to go with her, leaving only Luke demanding quality time on his own with his father, Bill -- who was promptly crushed by a falling boat.  And the poor man had only just been released from prison…(I'm sorry, Bill – being a parent in a children’s adventure story is almost as bad as being the love interest in a Bond movie. It's not a shrewd life choice. )

All the Strong Winds series adults enjoyed an easy ride in Black Waters when it was the heroine (Xanthe) who was sent into exile – across the county border from Suffolk into Essex. Hic sunt dracones, as the early c16th cartographers might have phrased it. It’s an economical solution and one which I might be tempted to use in the future, if I ever pluck up the courage to trust my imagination again.

Meanwhile, back in the early months of 2018 and the first chapters of Pebble, when I was attempting to give Liam a little bit of unsupervised space (he didn’t want it but he wasn’t being consulted), I offered Lottie her big break. She could be the headline act at a new music festival and – in order to ensure all was as ethically pure and environmentally friendly as possible -- she could also take responsibility for aspects of the festival organisation.

Poor Lottie.  I’m not sure it wouldn’t have been more humane to have sent her back into the clutches of the people-trafficking Tiger (except he had meanwhile fallen victim to his own low standards of hygiene and died of a hospital-acquired infection.) All I can say is that I had absolutely no idea – then – what organising a music festival actually involved…
A ranching holiday in Alberta

I can’t now remember exactly when my daughter Georgeanna first began dreaming of Dixie Fields, the actual first time Country Music Festival coming SOON to an Essex field near me. She's always loved that easy listening style -- singing along to Dolly Parton in the car, cheering herself up with Dixie Chicks CDs,  sprawled in the sofa watching 'Nashville' on TV. She's visited Tennessee -- driven hundreds of miles to gaze at the Grand Ol' Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Country Music Hall of Fame. 

Did she share her own festival plans before or after I signed Lottie up for the Suffolk folk festival, Luminal? Dixie Fields puts Georgeanna's knowledge and passion and organising ability together with an actual  
empty field (formerly used for camping during Essex's iconic V-Fest) and the business acumen of her brother Frank. I can only hope that I was taking my creative cue from actual family chatter: far too many of Pebble's fictional incidents appeared to prefigure ‘real life’ happenings (those poisonings, for instance…)
the field

I was thrilled by the Dixie Fields concept (I still am) but when I sent Lottie up the coast to attend site meetings in Sizewell (and remove her from the action in Bawdsey), I had no idea that she’d need to be producing an Event Management Plan detailing her  missing person procedures and protocols for mass evacuation.  They could have been handy in Pebble. Lottie dreams of using her festival to welcome strangers to the Suffolk shores: Georgeanna has lead singers booked to fly in from USA. Lottie plans to sing from a lighthouse at sunrise before it's washed away by the sea: Georgeanna wants to sell enough tickets to establish her festival as a permanent summer event. She also wants to have fun.

I’m breathless with pride at my children's enterprise and achievement I'm also enjoying this (to me) unfamiliar style of music. Almost all the Country Music performers write their own songs. It's a bit like blogging, you find your material in the events of your everyday life.

Lauren Alaina
Dixie Fields headliner
I’m correspondingly appalled at the slog and the bureaucratic costs. My exhausted Lottie may have her children and step-children to care for (which she can't quite manage) but so does the Dixie Fields team and they all have full-time jobs.  When I staggered into Chelmsford City Council offices on their behalf, carrying the Dixie Fields Event Management Plan it was 180+ pages, weighing approx.2 kg. Last night Georgeanna and I were compiling a spreadsheet of trade stands and suppliers -- I was typing, she was assembling the information and checking all the relevant documents were in place. We needed columns for Risk Assessments, Food Hygiene Certificates, Public Liability Insurance  -- minimum cover £10,000,000. That was to be provided by a little local salon who were hoping to set up a stall on the festival day and plait people's hair.

Ten Million Pounds?!! I begin to have the unsettling suspicion that the Public Health and Protection Services Manager (or whichever department is demanding such a level of indemnity) has an even more lurid imagination that I have. All I was suggesting in Pebble was approximately twenty miles of beach contamination with deadly radioactive isotopes, together with an attempted child-abduction plus an unstable Strontium-90 battery, stolen from a former USSR unmanned lighthouse beyond the  Arctic Circle then concealed in a Cold War bunker. All my skulduggery is properly managed by a morally ambivalent post-Glasnost billionaire and various highly trained SVR agents answering to sinister instruction from the Kremlin. Not a couple of girls offering an afternoon's hair-braiding while singers sing and strummers strum and the occasional audience member lets fly with a yee-haw and the wave of a stetson .

Clearly I need to give up fiction and face up to the possible perils of fact. Lottie Livesey can count herself well out if it.

I have to pinch myself to believe it's real
(Attested here by the Daily Telegraph 3.5.2019)
£77 is for a weekend's camping. Do come.
I'll be there, looking amazed


Griselda Heppel said…
Crikey, appearing as a character in your books is positively dangerous! I love your assertion that 'being a parent in a children's adventure story is... not a shrewd life choice.' You put it in a nutshell. The parents have to be got rid of either before the story begins, or very early on, or present a problem themselves (illness, addiction etc) to the young main character. Giving Lottie a nightmare music festival to run looks like kinder treatment but I'm not so sure....

Lovely post, thanks for making me laugh!
Sandra Horn said…
You never cease to amaze me, Julia! Such energy...obviously passed on in the genes too. I love your treatment of Lottie - made me smile.

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