Author interview with M.L. Eaton
The wild and haunting Romney Marsh in the South of England
It’s the beginning of a long hot summer when Hazel Dawkins, a spirited young solicitor, takes maternity leave anticipating a period of tranquillity. Instead, the dreams begin. In them she encounters Annie, a passionate young woman whose romantic and tempestuous life was adventurously lived, more than two centuries previously, in the cottage that Hazel now occupies.
As their destinies entwine, Hazel not only confronts a terrifying challenge which parallels history, she finds herself desperately fighting for survival in a cruel and unforgiving age. Even more disturbing is the realisation that her battle will affect the future for those in the past whose fate is, as yet, unwritten.
Her only ally is Annie. Together they face events that echo through the centuries, events that are as violent and compelling as they are unexpected.
And, as the past collides with the present, the time for the birth of Hazel’s child draws ever nearer.
Stephanie: Hello Marion! Congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion and thank you for chatting with me today. First off, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.
Marion: Hello Stephanie! Thank you very much for taking the time to interview me. And thank you, too for the congratulations. It was a delightful surprise.
I first discovered indieBRAG through an article on a blog – I’m pretty sure it was Joel Friedlander’s – that explained the difficulties self-published authors experience in being found in the first place and in showing the quality of their writing in the second. He explained indieBRAG’s premise of giving medallions only to those books which achieved their high standard. I entered my book, little thinking it would qualify, and forgot about it.
Several weeks later, much to my surprise I heard I had been granted a medallion. I was thrilled (and I still am!). I’d like to congratulate all those who have received one – I’m reading your books as fast as I can because I know they are great!
Stephanie: What an interesting premise for your story and I love the title! What is an example of the events Hazel encounters that is from centuries past? And how does she deal with it?
Marion: The title was my husband’s brainwave and I’m so glad you like it.
Annie is called to a tavern where her beloved husband (one of a band of ‘good’ smugglers) has been shot and is dying. Hazel wakes with a start, her heart pounding with Annie’s anguish. She soon recognizes that this is more than a dream – it’s a warning. As she begins to wonder whether there is a way to prevent this event from happening, she realizes that similar events are taking shape around her in the 1970s. She grasps the fact that, unless she can somehow change the events in the past, it is likely that she will herself face a similar violent bereavement. From that moment on, she determines to find a way to outwit the criminals with whom she has come in contact in her own time.
Stephanie: What made you choose the 1970 England as your period and setting for your story?
Marion: This question is easy to answer! I chose the time and setting for the story because I set up my own legal practice on Romney Marsh in the early 1970s and my fictional story is based on true facts.
In fact, I originally intended to write a memoir about my first days in practice as a Solicitor (Attorney) because legal practice and processes have changed hugely in the last 40 years. I wanted to celebrate the legal profession and its place in a small community – and also to record for my daughters a life that has changed beyond recognition since the advent of computers and the internet.
Stephanie: What is an example of the forensic techniques that Hazel uses?
Marion: (Before launching into my reply to this question I thought I should check the meaning of forensic! The word means ‘relating to or denoting the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of crime.’ This led me to question the meaning of scientific: ‘relating to a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject.’)
Hazel’s whole thought processes are forensic! But to take one example, she makes a systematic study the deeds and documents of title to Mrs Pendant’s property and her discoveries lead directly to the unmasking of a criminal.
Stephanie: What sets your story apart from others in this genre? And were there any challenges writing this story?
Marion: Where to start? My story is cross-genre. It started as a memoir, became a thriller and then all sorts of supernatural events started happening, including a time-slip when the heroines actually meet! So it’s a rollicking adventure yarn, as well as a legal thriller with a supernatural twist.
What sets it apart, I think, is that Hazel, our lawyer, is a young woman, happily married, very near term with her first baby and working at setting up a practice in a small country town. It sounds very cozy – until simple, usual events take an unexpected turn. Most legal thrillers feature men who work in litigation and in large corporations. I wanted to show how the ‘junior’ part of the profession could solve a crime through simple, unexpected means.
There were many challenges. Not least was the task of remembering and researching the law as it applied at the time, but I also needed to find a way to differentiate between the two time zones and still find a thread to link the two stories. I resorted to two very different writing styles. I hope it works!
Researching the history of smuggling was a challenge too – but very interesting.
Stephanie: Is there a particular character in your story that stands out to you the most? And why?
Marion: Annie stands out to me as a character. Mostly, I think, because she is such a feisty, determined young woman who feels things deeply and acts accordingly. Nothing deters her. I hope she serves as a representative of the wonderful, hardy women of that age whose resourcefulness, cheerfulness and hard labour is seldom recorded.
Stephanie: Tell me a little about The Eaglewood Gang.
Marion: The Eaglewood Gang is based on the historically well-known Hawkhurst Gang whose exploits caused mayhem on the south coast of England in the first half of the eighteenth century.
In his book Historic Hastings, J. Manwaring Baines FSA describes the Hawkhurst Gang as ‘the most notorious band of smugglers who terrorised the country but were finally brought to justice.
In the autumn of 1747 one of their cargoes of tea was seized and lodged in the Customs House at Poole. They attacked the building and took the tea away. As they rode away through Hampshire — for smuggling has no boundaries — crowds turned out to watch them and among them a shoemaker, Daniel Chater. A reward had been offered for information and Chater was overheard to say that he had recognised one of the smugglers. A Customs Officer, William Galley, was sent to question Chater and to take him before a Justice of the Peace. On the way they were captured by the smugglers and received such barbaric and inhuman treatment, before they were murdered, that the whole country rang with the news.
As a result, a huge reward of £500 was offered for information on the Hawkhurst Gang and seven of the ringleaders were brought to trial. All except one, who died in gaol, were hanged in 1749. Others were arrested and executed later.’
Stephanie: Please tell me about one of events in your story that take place in events of 1740 and how and why history tends to repeat itself.
For centuries, smuggling has been rife along the Southern coast of England, but in the 1740s the rivalry between the different gangs reached a violent pitch. The Hawkhurst Gang (on which the Eaglewood gang is based) terrorized the whole of the area between the coast and London: in particular, they used to charge other smugglers for taking contraband through ‘their’ land. In 1742 they decided to take over the region by stealing the goods brought in by the Owlers, as the Marsh smugglers were called. In my story I have graphically described one such confrontation and the resulting aftermath.
The reason history tends to repeat itself is because each generation produces people who seek money and power at any cost. While smuggling has always seemed a romantic crime involving individuals against the state, in reality it is heinous. It is about money and power: so it continues to the present day. The only difference is in the objects smuggled which change according to where the most money is to be made. By 1970 (and continuously to the present day) the tea, brandy, wool and silk which were the subject of smuggling in the 1700s had been replaced by drugs, weapons, refugees and dispossessed persons. Although modern methods are used to detect smuggled goods, the smugglers are not far behind in finding ways to outwit the Customs Officers.
Stephanie: Please tell me a little about the town that Hazel Dawkins lives in.
Marion: Hazel Dawkins lives close to the sea in a small country town named Rype. Now set in the middle of the fertile flat fields of Romney Marsh, it is an ancient settlement dating back to the time when it was a small island in the middle of a wide river estuary.
Rype’s glory is the beautiful church of warm grey stone known as the Cathedral of the Marsh. Around its churchyard, medieval buildings crowd together as though for warmth, while along the narrow High Street small shop windows beckon from their black-and-white timbered façades, punctuated here and there with a thatched cottage or brick-fronted public house. At its centre is a wide open space of green turf, once a common area grazed by the Romney Marsh sheep which are the area’s treasure, and now utilized by everyone from children to the very old. A carnival is held here once a year watched by the surrounding buildings: cottages jostling larger, detached, more modern buildings, Georgian, Victorian, nineteen-thirties, and post-war.
Rype is a friendly, self-contained community packed with authentic and endearing characters, unexpected romance and good old-fashioned country town drama. But beneath this warm façade lurks something dark …
Stephanie: What was the writing process for this story and how long did it take to write?
Marion: One Sunday morning, I was sitting up sharing coffee and croissants for breakfast with my husband and found myself complaining that I’d always wanted to write a novel but never had the time. His reply was: “Just do it. Make the time!”
We worked out a time-table and within three months I had completed the first draft and I thought I had finished. Silly me!
I started to read it and realized that it was dreadful. After all, I’d been a Solicitor for 40 years and all I knew how to write was ‘legalese’. I was so disappointed I cried and cried!
But I was determined, to ‘do it properly’ so I took myself off to my writing desk, asked my Muse to help me and rewrote the book in about six weeks. I had five copies printed, gave them to some friends for their comments and waited. They told me of typos but otherwise ‘damned it with faint praise’. I made the amendments and arranged to have 20 copies printed. I was thrilled when they arrived. Nothing had ever been quite so exciting!
On the same morning my cousin telephoned and asked if I would like her to suggest it as the subject for her reading group. I agreed, the group agreed, and I attended their next meeting. It was an amazing eye-opener. At last I had real criticism of my writing. I won’t pretend that it wasn’t painful, but it was the best thing that happened to the book. Once again, I made considerable alterations to the book.
I asked an editor to cast his eye over it. In my innocence I thought it would need little editing, but of course I was wrong. More editing ensued – and then more: it seemed never-ending. Eventually, I felt the book was ready for publication. My daughter suggested it needed a cover illustration and I had to commission and approve one. I won’t go into all the other steps that had to be taken, but it was finally ready for publication in July the following year.
So the short answer is that it took eleven months.
I’m pleased to say that my subsequent books have not taken nearly so long to produce.
Stephanie: Who are your influences in the writing world and how often do you get a chance to read?
Early influences were Dickens, Jane Austen, Chaucer, Shakespeare (yes, I know! But my parents were always quoting him) the Bible and most of the English classics, combined with Enid Blyton, Rudyard Kipling and Jeffrey Farnol. Now my taste in reading is catholic and I enjoy Dan Brown as much as Margaret Attwood. More recently I have been influenced by Manda Scott, Barbara Erskine and Diana Gabaldon, amongst others too numerous to mention. I also enjoy reading and writing poetry.
When I’m not writing, I read every spare moment. Often this is just a chapter or two before I go to sleep, but on holiday I will read every moment I’m not sleeping, eating or swimming!
Marion Eaton is a retired Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Judicature of England and Wales, a holistic health practitioner, and a writer. She is also a wife, the mother of two independent daughters, a keen gardener and maker of herbal and aromatherapy potions, and the owner and walker of a beautiful Saluki dog.
At the time Marion entered the legal profession in the early 1970s, it was still very much a male preserve, and she soon discovered that the doors too many clubs and associations were barred to her by virtue of her sex. This was a time when the Cold War was much in evidence and the fear of nuclear conflict was very real, but it was also a time when a young woman found warmth, friendship and laughter in a small community that was inordinately proud of its heritage.
40 years on, by way of acquisitions and mergers, the practice she originally set up on Romney Marsh has become a very large and flourishing concern, but has lost much of the personal element in which she took great pride.
In the early 1990’s Marion’s interest in complementary health led her to qualify in several alternative and complementary healing modalities including aromatherapy and Reiki, and to set up a Health Centre in Hastings, East Sussex. The Centre was sold in 2008 when Marion planned to retire but she found retirement impossible and still practises and teaches these subjects.
Having always wanted to write, she is delighted that she now has the space and freedom to give her imagination free range. Her first novel, When the Clocks Stopped, was self-published in July 2013 and was quickly followed by a second in the same Mysterious Marsh Series, entitled ‘When the Tide Turned’. Both include a good deal of local history, a sprinkling of the supernatural and a rollicking adventure. She has recently published ‘Soliciting from Home’, a memoir on which ‘When the Clocks Stopped’ was based, under the pseudonym Melanie Russell. And her most recent offering is a fictional memoir of a small girl in 1950s India entitled “The Elephants’ Choice’. In the pipeline now is a third in the Mysterious Marsh Series and an adventure set in colonial Burma between the two World Wars.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Marion Eaton, who is the author of, When the Clocks Stopped, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, When the Clocks Stopped, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.