Authors: Posie Graeme-Evans
Tags: #General Fiction
The Last to Know
Also by Posie Graeme-Evans
The Island House
The Uncrowned Queen
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The Last to Know
An eShort Story
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Posie Graeme-Evans
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Atria Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
First Atria Books ebook edition May 2012
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In this ebook you will find a Reader’s Companion of additional content, including a sample chapter from one of Posie Graeme-Evans’s previous novels, plus a free and exclusive sneak peek at her next absorbing historical novel,
The Island House
coming June 26, 2012.
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The Island House
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The Island House
At least once in any lettered career, a writer will be asked, “So tell me. Where do the ideas come from?” It’s certainly happened to me, and not just once either.
And what do I say in reply? As little as possible, and that in a mumble. At this point, too, I shrug. (The word
just came to mind, sticking its hand up at the back of my head. It wants to be included after
Adjectives annoy me. They’re so often right.)
The point is, I don’t know. Writing is a cloudy process, at least for me. But something begins, or turns up, or glints unexpectedly in sun or shadow, and then, infallibly, whole chains of words begin to assemble themselves inside my fingers; I can feel them, swelling and joining up and itching just beneath the skin. They occupy my head, too, to the point I find myself muttering, often to the alarm of strangers, “Coruscate” or “panne velvet” or “papal infallibility.” If I don’t say them out loud, the words can be persuaded to wait—but only for a short period, and mostly with no manners at all—until I invite them to appear on the page. I won’t say it’s an easy process or even well-controlled when the torrent is finally let loose, but some things do seem to write themselves.
That’s pretty much what happened with “The Last to Know.” It was like turning on a tap where words gushed out instead of water because, one day, the voice of a rather spoiled young woman turned up in my head. Her language and her manners were both so formal I knew she just couldn’t be from our time. But I’ve always adored words, and I liked the length and convoluted complexity of her sentences. Convoluted complexity! Ah yes, lots of syrup and fluff in this story, the one sticking to the other (if you see what I mean), but underneath, and this was a surprise, there was a hint of quite engaging malice among the flummery. (There! Who ever uses
these days? Or indeed, “quite engaging malice”?) The problem, for me, is that this kind of writing is addictive. Elaborate phrases are just like the very best olive oil. Thick, satisfying, mouth-filling, and with just a hint of pepper or unexpected bite. And they enhance the flavor of so many other things, depending on where you put them . . .
And what I didn’t know then was that this short story, which was such fun and so fast to write, would give me a way into the world of
If you’ve read any of my other books, you’ll know it’s not hard to see that I love frocks and fabric. And “The Last to Know” gave me such an opportunity to use the clothing of the time—the 1850s in England—not just as a way to decorate the story but also as a way into understanding the character and place in society of our heroine. Elinor Fairfax is not as insensitive as she might first seem, just young, but her short, sharp lesson is that life is not about the surface; the fabric can, quite literally, be ripped apart to expose what’s underneath. And the diversion of the clothes described in the story can, in my terms, be quite poignant. From time to time they’re my way into the rigid class system of the era, a class system that stifled so many lives.
And, as it turned out, that element was taken up and amplified in
. For some reason I don’t understand, I’m drawn to “against the odds” stories. And Ellen Gowan’s story—she being the dressmaker herself—tracks her rise from poverty to success and much more, through the clothes she learns to make and sell to the aristocrats of England. Learning to use her talent, persevering when all seems more than lost, brings her through to happiness at last. So though I do not plan these things, certain themes turn up quite a bit in my stories. It seems I’m fond of people—women, really—who just keep going, who survive through persistence and the sheer tensile strength of their will. Ellen is that kind of person. So, too, in the end, is Elinor Fairfax. She won’t settle for second best, and that’s a tough call in her society and ours, but I actually quite like her for making that choice.
I think she became quite a formidable old lady. I find I like formidable in women. There’s not enough of it around.
All Hallows Eve—October 31
My dearest Louisa,
Forgive this directness in writing to you of tragic events from long ago, but I am close, now, to the natural term of my days. That being so, there are matters of which I wish to dispose, and this letter to you is one of them.
Further, I have chosen this day of all days in the year, for, traditionally, the Eve of All Hallows is when the dead are said to rise from their graves to haunt the living with knowledge of past sin.
I shiver when I think of such judgment, for once I was forced to become part of something that the world would certainly consider sinful. However I now believe that I have come to a different understanding of what transpired then, though, sometimes, when I am alone and the night is very dark, I still experience doubt. Perhaps this letter will allow me to resolve my lingering uncertainty . . .
Do you recall, dear Cousin, the question so persistently asked of me at our second London season? I am certain that you do. My friends, and you were amongst them, implored me to say why I had changed so suddenly from the carefree, ardent spirit I had once been to the quiet, reflective person I became, the girl who no longer cared to dance. And I have always resisted giving an answer—which you must have wondered at.