Tired of her life in London, freelance illustrator Rachel buys the beautiful but dilapidated Clematis Cottage and sets about creating the home of her dreams. But tucked away behind the water tank in the attic and left to gather dust for decades, is an old biscuit tin containing letters, postcards and a diary. So much more than old scraps of paper, these are precious memories that tell the story of Henrietta Trenchard-Lewis, a love lost in the Great War and the girl who was left behind.
Knowing the books I love to read, I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that I had an e-copy of this book in my hands long before getting involved with this blog tour, organised by Brook Cottage Books. That’s one of the nice things about blog tours sometimes though – they provide that sometimes much-needed impetus to read and review rather than just adding “I’ll read when I can” books to an overloaded kindle. While I Was Waiting by Georgia Hill, published by Harper Impulse, has been available as an e-book since July last year and in paperback since September, and it’s available in both formats from Amazon in the UK and US.
So – particularly as it had already caught my eye – did it live up to what I’d hoped for? Of course it did! I really enjoyed it, every moment of it – and both threads of the story enchanted me to the same degree.
The modern story of Rachel’s life change, moving to Clematis Cottage, learning to live like someone from the country, over-run by workmen, making new friends (and more) is really well told. And when she’s handed the Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit tin filled with letters, the book becomes simply perfect as it moves quite seamlessly between Rachel’s life and Hetty’s letters and diary entries.
We read Hetty’s personal story, brought up by her maiden aunts with the occasional visits from her remote father, her first visit to Delamere House in 1903 and her entanglement with the Trenchard-Lewis family, through her growing up years then through the early years of the First World War. But the story abruptly ends in 1916, and Rachel sets about uncovering the rest of Hetty’s story – I shared her fascination, however much there were others who felt it became an obsession. I also really liked the way that Hetty was a benevolent presence in the house, gently urging her on.
It’s quite difficult to convey someone’s personality through letters and diary entries, but the author does it really well – she comes across quite clearly, likeable but also wilful and stubborn. The other personalities in her story are really well drawn too – Richard as a boisterous child and a damaged adult, the slightly more sketchy and less sympathetically drawn Edward, the teacher at the village school where she helps out. The story is – as the author describes it – the story of the affair of her body, the affair of her expectation and the affair of her soul, and it was heartbreaking, joyful and wonderful.
Rachel has a great story too – what with Neil the estate agent, the suitor her mother would approve of with his solid reliability (and unfortunate obsession with triathlons), and Gabe the builder with his hidden gentle depths and rippling muscles. There are some equally perfectly drawn characters in her part of the story – I particularly loved her friendship with Ned the gardener in his string vest and with his liking for milky sweet instant coffee and appreciation of “owl frisky” living, and with Gabe’s lovely mother Sheila. I laughed at her interactions with the less savoury members of the building team, and her London friend Tim is great fun (I just loved the birthday present…!). Even the less central characters leap into life – menopausal Rita at the village shop, Kit the vicar, Alan at the pub, and the ominous presence of Dawn the barmaid.
Georgia Hill writes wonderful descriptions – the views from Clematis Cottage would have made me want to get my sketch book out and draw them too, and there are some lovely set pieces like the “morning washed clean” that prompts Rachel to don her wellingtons and slip out “into the magic”. Clematis Cottage itself, and the garden being worked on by Ned, became totally real to me. She does ugliness well too – the modern story introduces the impact of the foot and mouth crisis on the countryside, and the images she conveys are vivid, real and upsetting.
This was really excellent story telling, full of love, loss, sadness and joy, with perfectly judged gentle humour – I really enjoyed it very much. And the ending – simply perfect. If you enjoy dual time story telling as much as I do, I’d highly recommend this lovely read.
With thanks to Brook Cottage Books, the author and publisher, I’m pleased to offer the chance to win a paperback copy of this lovely book, open internationally. Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
About Georgia Hill
I used to live in London, where I worked in the theatre. Then I got the bizarre job of teaching road safety to the U.S. navy – in Marble Arch!
A few years ago, I did an ‘Escape to the Country’. I now live in a tiny Herefordshire village, where I scandalise the neighbours by not keeping ‘country hours’ and being unable to make a decent pot of plum jam. Home is a converted Oast house (Old agricultural building used for drying hops), which I share with my two beloved spaniels, husband (also beloved) and a ghost called Zoe.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely, though prefer to set my novels closer to home. Perhaps more research is needed? I’ve always wanted to base a book in the Caribbean! I am addicted to Belgian chocolate, Jane Austen and, most of all, Strictly Come Dancing.