I am absolutely thrilled to be taking part in this blog tour today. ‘Echo Hall’ by Virginia Moffatt was published on the 28th November 2017 by Unbound and is available in paperback, eBook and Audiobook formats.
I would like to thank Emma Welton of Damppebbles Blog Tours for inviting me to participate.
I have an extract from ‘Echo Hall’ for all of you.
Set against the backdrop of three wars – the 1991 Gulf War, World War 2 and World War 1 – the novel follows the fortunes of three women who become involved with the Flint family, the owners of Echo Hall.
Phoebe Flint visits Echo Hall in 2014, where she follows in her mother’s footsteps to uncover the stories of a house ‘full of unhappy women, and bitter, angry men’.
Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall in 1990 – newlywed, pregnant, and uncertain of her relationship with her husband, Adam. Ghostly encounters, a locked door, and a set of photographs pique her curiosity. But Adam and his grandfather refuse to let her investigate. And her marriage is further strained, when Adam, a reservist, is called up to fight in the Gulf War.
In 1942, Elsie Flint is already living at Echo Hall with her children, the guest of her unsympathetic in-laws, whilst her husband Jack is away with the RAF. Her only friend is Jack’s cousin Daniel, but Daniel is hiding secrets, which when revealed could destroy their friendship for good.
Rachel and Leah Walters meet Jacob Flint at a dinner party in 1911. Whilst Leah is drawn to Jacob, Rachel rejects him leading to conflict with her sister that will reverberate through the generations.
As Ruth discovers the secrets of Echo Hall, she is able to finally bring peace to the Flint family, and in doing so, discover what she really needs and wants.
Echo Hall is a novel about the past, but it is very much a novel of the now. Does history always have to repeat itself, or can we find another way?
I should not remember this place, and yet every step towards the house unnerves me with its familiarity. The war memorial on the road from the village, the aromatic scent of the fir trees guarding the estate, the cawing of the rooks circling overhead, remind me that I have been here before. I was only a year old when I left. It should not be possible for me to remember this, and yet I do.
Perhaps it is because the stories our mothers tell us embed themselves so firmly in our DNA it is as if we lived the experience too. Or the location of our birth imprints itself upon our psyche, so that when we return it is as if we never left. Or perhaps it is just that Echo Hall has been on the edge of my memory for so long that being here feels like a homecoming.
Nonetheless, I hesitate before I pass through the large oak doorway, unsure whether I am prepared to become a tourist in my own life. Maybe it is enough to have reached its hard, grey walls, gazed up at the unforgiving windows, seen the skies louring overhead. And then I think how coincidental it is that I am visiting Sandstown on the weekend the National Trust has chosen to open the house. I realise the chance to visit my first home is too good an opportunity to miss; if I cross the threshold I might understand the past more fully.
So I enter, pay the fee and pick up a brochure describing the history of the Flints – a dry tale of dust and stone, slate and finance that misses the point entirely. Standing here, in the dark lobby, the grandfather clock in its rightful place, I am overwhelmed with a familiar sense of sadness. The ghosts may be long gone, but Mum was right – unhappiness seeps through the walls, even now.
I decide to begin at my beginning. I know exactly where to go: through the green baize door passing the old servants’ kitchens and turning right into the main kitchen. It has been reconstructed as it would have been 100 years ago, in my great-great-grandmother’s time, just before the war to end all wars. On the night Mum’s waters broke in here, there was an old gas cooker, an oak table and Formica cupboards on the walls. Now, the cooker has been replaced by a Victorian range; wooden shelves line the walls, piled with the cooking implements of the period; the table is laid as if the cook is about to prepare a meal, the walls adorned with recipes and household instructions relating to the Edwardian era. It is as if time has looped back on itself, returning the house to its starting point.
I wander back to the hall and enter the living room on the west side of the house – the site of my birth. An elderly couple are already there, examining the display of furniture separated from the rest of the room by a rope. The man is reading out a description of life for the lady of the house in a loud voice. The narrative grates; it bears no relation to reality – my great-great-grandmother was a dour woman, with no time for worldly distractions. It was her sister who enjoyed the finer things in life, although she lost them all in the end. The man finishes; his wife nods with interest, and they depart, leaving me alone.
I close my eyes, remembering Mum’s description of my delivery: how she crouched on all fours, gripping the sofa legs, grunting and screaming as I pushed my way from the silence of her womb into a dizzying new world. For a moment, I imagine I am there: the feelings are so strong my body shakes as if once more I am making that dark dangerous journey into life. I open my eyes, and steady myself on the wall. There is definitely something about this house; no wonder it had such a powerful effect on Mum.
My phone buzzes. It’s Dad:
How’s the revolution going , Comrade Phoebe?
He does love to tease. I’m about to text him an Emma Goldman quote when I remember it should be off. I shove it in my pocket. I will call him later for our weekly bout of political sparring, and tell him about this trip; but for now, I want to explore further. To my disappointment, most of the East Wing and the upstairs are still closed to the public. I glance at my watch. It is two o’clock; I have to be back at the conference by six. There is time for a walk, at least. I traipse back down the corridor by the kitchens, and out through the back garden. I climb the hill. I know instinctively where I will find the gap in the hedge, the gate through to the woods that will take me to Arthur’s Stone.
And, as I follow my mother’s footsteps, her stories lead me on.
About Virginia Moffatt
Virginia Moffatt was born in London, one of eight children, several of whom are writers. ‘The Wave’ is her second novel. Her previous publications are ‘Echo Hall’ (Unbound) and ‘Rapture and what comes after’ (Flash fiction collection published by Gumbo Press). She also writes non fiction. Virginia is married to Chris Cole, Director of Drone Wars UK. They have two daughters at University and a son still living with them in Oxford.
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3ggdZxJ
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/39IOFOn