I’m delighted to be back with you today – all now well again, thank you – to bring you news of a book that’s really got me rather excited. As soon as I heard about The Letter by Ruth Saberton – now available for kindle and in paperback – I knew it was one I just had to read. “Conflicted family loyalties, lost love, and the darkest of deceptions”, in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier and Rosamunde Pilcher, spanning the years from the First World War to the present day…how could I possibly resist?
A forgotten love story…
1914: In Cornwall, on the eve of the First World War, eighteen-year-old Kit Rivers has a bright future ahead. As the Lord of the Manor’s heir, Kit knows his duty is to the family estate – although he longs to become a poet. When he falls passionately in love, Kit is determined not to let parental opposition spoil an idyllic summer. Yet before the golden days can fade into autumn, war comes to change Kit’s world and writing forever.
The Present: One century later, widowed Chloe Pencarrow exchanges London for the solitude of a Cornish cliff top rectory. Haunted by memories, Chloe’s interest in obscure war poet, Kit Rivers, proves a welcome distraction and leads her to piece together a forgotten history. Faced with more questions than answers, her own life soon becomes entwined with Kit’s through love, loss, and the darkest of deceptions.
I’m so looking forward to this one, and rather sad I can’t fit it in until April when I’ll be sharing my review: but I am quite thrilled to welcome Ruth Saberton to Being Anne to tell us more…
The Letter isn’t a novel I planned to write. I was set to begin the next instalment in my Polwenna Bay series but one of the wonderful things about writing is that books never do what they’re supposed to! Being a great believer in trusting my intuition, I took a chance …
It was 2017 and I was staying with my parents. We were horrified by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and wanted to help by donating bedding. As Mum pulled blankets from a cupboard we came across some items that had belonged to my grandmother. Among these were sepia pictures and a small tin – a 1914 gift issued to the men fighting at the Front. My mother explained this had belonged to my Great-Aunt Ella who’d lost her fiancé, Arthur, at Cambrai in 1917. This tin must have once been his.
As I studied the photographs of Ella and Arthur I was struck by how young they were. I only remembered my great-aunt as a rather austere old lady. My granny once told me how Ella’s life had been spent hoping her fiancé might come back from the war. Arthur had been declared missing in action and his body was never found. Ella had no proof that her fiancé had died so no closure.
Ella refused to accept Arthur was dead and believed he may have been in hospital suffering from shell shock. She spent whole her life hoping she would find him, writing letters to the Red Cross and the War Graves Commission. She never married and she never loved another man. Like so many of her generation, the life she should have led ended on the battlefield. I was deeply moved by my great-aunt’s unwavering belief that her fiancé was still alive. I couldn’t find out great deal about him – Arthur has slipped from history – but he must have been very special to have held Ella’s heart for an entire lifetime. With little more to go on than a faded picture of a handsome boy in uniform and my imagination, I began to think about a love story that lasted a lifetime.
With this as my starting point, I began to research into the First World War and the lives of those who lived through it. I visited National Trust properties Lanhydrock and Cothele, both great country estates from where young men, servants and heirs alike, left for the Front. These houses have fascinating exhibitions about the war and many poignant tales about those who fought and died. Both properties feel as though the family members have only just left the room, the swish of a skirt of the ring of a bell for servants can almost be heard, and it’s impossible for a writer not to weave stories there. These settings were spring boards for the character of my 1914 hero, Kit Rivers.
I began re-reading Siegfried Sassoon’s Sherston Chronicles and Wilfred Owen’s poems, texts I knew well from my career as an English teacher. I imagined Kit Rivers as the heir to a big country estate like Lanhydrock. He was from a privileged background like Sassoon, dreamed of being a poet as did Owen and, like Arthur, had a sweetheart he loved dearly. Kit is at odds with his parents and longs to be a poet, setting the stage for tension and secrets.
I begin The Letter in the present day with the names carved on the war memorial feeling remote from the twenty-first century heroine and the reader before I take both back in time to bring these names to life and make the people behind them real. When we meet the 1914 characters we already know the fate of many, creating a sense of fruitless longing that maybe, just maybe, we have got it wrong. I wanted to make the past, and the people like my great-aunt who we only know as their elderly selves, vibrant and real.
The setting is key to this novel. Living in Cornwall, I’m surrounded by fantastic scenery; from the dramatic coastline, to smugglers’ coves, to skeletal engine houses, the past never feels far away. The Letter is set in Rosecraddick, my own fictional blend of Talland Bay and Fowey, where there are many hidden coves for forbidden lovers to meet. The cliff top war memorial in the novel can be found on the coast path half way between Talland and Polperro and the names carved on the cross are still borne by local people. It’s sobering to see how many families lost members. The waves rolling towards the cliffs create a sense of timelessness and I use this location to link the past and the present.
The Letter isn’t a war story or a historical novel but a story about loss, love, and the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of what seems like a hopeless cause. The First World War is the catalyst that divides characters in the book and the narrative is concerned with the impact of this rather than details of battles. My aim was to bring the everyday tragedies to the forefront and to explore the impact these had on those left behind even years after the Armistice. Through writing The Letter I hope I’ve reunited my great-aunt and her fiancé and made sure their story doesn’t fade away with the years and the photographs.
Now, it’s not just me, is it? I think that looks absolutely wonderful. Thank you Ruth (and to Christian for the excellent support) – wishing you every success with this one, and I’ll so look forward to reading and reviewing.
About the author
Ruth Saberton lives in Cornwall, close to the River Fowey, where she is constantly inspired by the surrounding seascape and countryside. The Letter is partly based on the true story of Ruth’s Great-Aunt Ella, whose fiancé was lost in action on the Western Front, as well as being an homage to the men and women who sacrificed so much in the conflict.
Ruth has been published by Orion, Pan Macmillan and Harper Collins, as well as writing under various pseudonyms with Working Partners and Little Black Dress. She has been a runner up in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s prestigious RONAs. Her debut novel was championed by TV’s Richard and Judy. Ruth’s novels have been regularly featured in the national and regional press. Ruth has written a regular column for the Western Morning News, featured on BBC Radio Cornwall, and spoken at writing and arts festivals. She is regularly featured in Amazon promotions and publicity.
The Letter is published independently in conjunction with Notting Hill Press. In doing so, Ruth has the freedom to have the paperback edition typeset and printed in Cornwall. Her books are stocked in a multitude of West Country outlets, from The Duchy Nursery to independent book shops, as well as more widely.
If, like me, you haven’t yet discovered Ruth’s writing, or perhaps haven’t ventured beyond Katy Carter or Polwenna Bay, you’ll find more details on her excellent website – I’ve already noted a few titles for a closer look. You’ll also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.