A Famous-Five style adventure for grown-ups – CARDIGANSHIRE / LONDON
Novel set in England and Paris (an absolutely charming read)
6th April 2016
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick, novel set in England and Paris.
“Why look back at the past if you’re happy with the present”. Why indeed….
This is the truly charming story of widower Arthur Pepper, who at 69 has lost the light and life of his life, his wife Miriam. It is almost one year since she passed away and perhaps now is the time to tackle some of her possessions and decide on their disposal.
As he is rummaging through her shoes, he comes across a gold charm bracelet, which, as far as he can remember, he has never seen and he is quite taken aback by its discovery. There is a mixed selection of charms and the first that catches his eye is a tiny elephant with an emerald coloured stone. On further inspection, he discovers a telephone number engraved into its tiny body.
Now, Arthur is a stickler for routine, so much so that his grieving has morphed into a lacklustre life of very little consequence and daily structure. The links to his children are tenuous. He has truly turned in on himself, there is no joie de vivre any longer as he has lost his soulmate and his direction. Forty years of marriage and now?
However, bravely he discovers the wherewithal to set himself the task of discovering more about this enigmatic piece of jewellery, and his adventures are only starting when he dials the telephone number engraved on the elephant. As he explores, he finds himself leaving behind his quiet life on the outskirts of York as he heads for Bath and London and Scarborough and even Paris, on his quest to find the clues that each charm – whether a tiger, a painter’s palette of a flower – holds. Why a palette? The flower charm appears to be acrostic, a Victorian tradition, whereby the first letter of each gemstone spells out a message.
The Miriam he discovers is a very different person to the one he thought he knew. Yet rather than allowing each new discovery to detract from their relationship, he actively embraces his the new knowledge of his beloved wife, which in turn bring an immense amount of colour and experience to his own life. It is truly a story of discovery. And beautifully told.
It is a delightful novel with a quintessentially British feel to it, and it is sure to do well and join the ranks of Harold Fry and Ove… (and if I am honest I think this book has the edge over the other two!)
Tina for the TripFiction Team
Over to Phaedra who has agreed to answer our questions:
TF: The use of a charm bracelet as the backbone in the book is an ingenious idea. What brought you to this idea and how did you choose the type of charms – elephant, tiger, flower etc – that motivate the central character, Arthur, to take off on his travels?
PP: My son is now 10, and when he was younger I showed him my own personal childhood charm bracelet (bought for me by my parents) and told him the stories behind each of my charms – none of which are exotic as Miriam Pepper’s stories!
I developed Arthur when my novels about young women were turned down by publishers. I thought that if I wrote about an elderly man then it would at least remove that reason for rejection! At first, I wasn’t sure if anyone would want to read a book about a 69-year old widower, especially a slightly bewildered Yorkshireman. But I think that Arthur could be anyone’s father, granddad or neighbour.
The tiger charm on Miriam Pepper’s bracelet was inspired by the tiger in A Life of Pi. I thought of the elephant charm after a holiday in India. A trip to Paris produced the idea for a wedding dress boutique and thimble charm. I’ve always been interested in antique jewellery and read about acrostic jewellery (where the first letter of a series of gemstones spells out a name) so I used that idea to create a flower charm. The ring and heart charm sprang forward as I wrote the book. The paint palette was inspired by my time as an art student, and the book charm represents my writing of the novel.
TF: Do you yourself have a charm bracelet and if so why is it special to you?
PP: I received a charm bracelet for my sixth or seventh birthday from my parents. I was fascinated by the empty silver links and the tiny keyhole in the heart-shaped fastener.
From then on, I received charms as presents. My favourites were the ones that moved, an acorn opening to reveal a tiny squirrel, the owl and pussycat rocking in their boat, and a penny dropping into a silver piggybank. I bought my own charms too, on a visit to the National Rail Museum in York and on holiday in Llandudno. I still remember the excitement of taking the charms to a jeweller to be soldered in place. You had to collect it an hour later, but it seemed to take forever. Afterwards I’d wear the bracelet, jangling on my wrist, and it would feel a little heavier.
TF: Arthur’s story is also a delightful story of someone learning to re-engage with life after the death of his wife of 40 years. He embarks on jaunts across England and to Paris and more… Location is, of course, our main driver at TripFiction, so how did you decide on the various locations?
PP: I like to write about what I know, so I chose three locations that I’ve visited before. My husband and I travelled to India in 2000 before we had our son. We visited Agra, Jaipur, Delhi and Udaipur, before moving onto Goa. It was a wonderful holiday and I knew that I wanted India to feature somewhere in my book.
We also holidayed in Paris once, and again the memory stayed with me. I’m a regular traveller to London, as two companies I previously worked for used to have offices there. So I’m used to hopping on the train there, from Manchester. It’s still a thrill to see all the sights and landmarks.
TF: Did you plan the plot or did you let the story unfold as you wrote?
I knew the start of the book and the end, so then I had a big chunk in the middle to complete. I’d say it was half-plotted and half written freeform. I do like to have some structure and key points noted down before I start. It’s a bit like having hangers in your wardrobe, to hang clothes on.
PP: What was your own journey to getting published and what might your top tips be for aspiring authors?
I wrote five novels before my sixth one, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, was snapped up in nineteen countries. I just kept on going. With this one, though, I wrote what I wanted straight from the heart, without thinking about what publishers or agents or the market might be looking for.
My advice to aspiring authors would be to, write when you can – before you go to sleep at night, on a train journey or on your lunch break…just get your words and ideas down. You’ll find that they really mount up. Then, when you do get more time, you can type it all up. I’ve published lots more writing tips to help aspiring authors on my website www.phaedra-patrick.com/writing-tips
TF: Where do you go from here with your writing?
PP: I’ve just returned from a pre-publication book tour of America, which was amazing. I’m just finishing my second book and about to send it off to my publishers in the UK and US. I’ve also been writing for a lot of lovely blogs, such as this one! The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper will be published in the UK on 7 April 2016 and in the US on 3 May, so I have my fingers crossed that readers will enjoy it.
Thank you to Phaedra. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and via her official website
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