I must admit when I offered to fill in one of the gaps with the Carrying the Torch posts, I didn’t choose Bexley. But, in beginning to read about it in order to write this post, I’m beginning to think it chose me.
Being from New Zealand, it’s fitting that I’m the one carrying the torch from Redbridge to Bexley as Bexley is also the name of a suburb of Christchurch. Several generations ago my father’s family emigrated from England onboard the Zealandia and settled in Christchurch. That family link between the two countries is one of the reasons I set my series ‘Hidden Places’ partially in England, in a village outside London. While Oakwood isn’t a real place, it’s definitely taken some inspiration from the area.
St Mary’s Church (caption)
Bexley is a place of interesting landmarks, and a mix of old and new, with Old Bexley still giving the appearance of a village from older times in contrast to the more recent suburban sprawl that is the main town centre.
Two in particular caught my attention. Firstly St Mary’s Church with its distinctive shaped spire, and the Red House which was designed by William Morris. Interestingly I’d already done research on the Red House as its providing some inspiration for a house set in another world further on in the series I’m writing.
It’s also home to several other stately homes, including Hall Place, itself a mixture of two different time periods. Again, very apt considering much of what happens in ‘Hidden Places’. I do love it when research comes together like this.
To finish I’m sharing an excerpt from Cat’s Quill – as the railway station in Bexley, reflects perfectly just how I imagined Oakwood Railway station would look like…
TOMAS watched the train pull out of the station, his eyes following it until it was a memory under the glare of the sun. The platform was almost deserted, save for two old ladies talking, nodding, and laughing as they walked toward the ticket office, disappearing through the old wooden doors into the unknown of the outside world. A breeze ruffled his hair, and he swatted at the invisible hand, tilting his head in response to a whisper just out of reach, a feeling of almost déjà vu. There was no one there. He was alone.
This holiday had been his sister Kathleen’s idea, a chance for him to get in touch with his inner self and find the elusive muse which seemed to have deserted him for a better place. Tomas was a writer, but he hadn’t written anything in months. He’d start, type one or two lines, delete them, and start again, repeating the process for hours at a time. Nothing felt right; the magic was gone. Two bestsellers and a publisher who wasn’t taking too kindly to the non-appearance of book number three. Yes, Tomas knew it was a three-book deal. Yes, he knew he hadn’t decided what this last book was about yet. Actually, that wasn’t exactly true, but the idea was only a seed, a kernel just out of reach, a rainbow with colors misty after rain, not quite solid, not quite real, just frustrating as hell.
Not quite real because he didn’t want it to be. This book would come from the soul, his soul, and he didn’t want that on display. The muse could go to hell. He was not writing this.
He shivered as a chill ran up his spine. Sighing, he bent to pick up his backpack. It was old, tattered, and comfortable, yet still large enough to carry everything he needed; with each journey he picked off more threads which had come loose, yet the fabric still managed to hold together. It had accompanied him everywhere over the last ten years and was something familiar to hang on to. He needed that right now. Tomas liked the familiar; it made up for the feeling of not belonging, of being on a journey that he wasn’t sure was ever going to end. He traveled light, and always had; it made leaving easier. If he left first, others would not leave him. Not that that was exactly a problem these days. He had very few friends; his habit of switching off and ignoring what he didn’t want to answer had alienated most, but he liked his privacy, and if people couldn’t deal with it, that was not his issue but theirs.
One last glance at the platform and he walked through into the ticket office and out the far door. Kathleen was wrong. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere was not going to do anything. However, it was a way of avoiding his publisher, especially as Tomas’s mobile was still broken and he had not bothered to get it fixed. Hopefully, Fraser would give up and find someone else to hassle. The man was persistent, if nothing else, and while Tomas had not exactly been averse to their few meetings over coffee, he also felt bad in having to tell Fraser he was still not writing. Tomas took his commitments seriously, but this was different, and a matter on which avoidance could only work for so long.
The street outside the station was empty apart from a long-haired grey cat which was lazily washing itself. It stopped, looked Tomas up and down, and then returned to what it was doing, obviously deciding that this human was not worth the effort. Tomas wasn’t sure whether that should be taken as a compliment or not. Not worth the effort also meant he was not considered a threat.
Tomas preferred animals to people. They didn’t bother hiding under a façade of polite disinterest while nodding and pretending to care about what he had to say. Expressing himself through the medium of print meant that he did not need to deal with people directly but could still speak his mind.
Dumping his backpack on the ground, the messenger bag holding his laptop still across his shoulder, Tomas found a shady spot and leaned back against the wall, arms folded. His ride was late. He would wait. It wasn’t as though he had a deadline to meet. It was quiet here. After London, the village of Oakwood felt like stepping back several decades in time to a world less complicated and slower. For the moment, at least, he’d embrace that illusion and focus on the thought that perhaps this place might have potential after all. He could just keep to himself, find a nice tree to sit under, and catch up with some reading.