I wanted something special for the end of a novel. I've been researching and writing this particular one on and off for over five years. I was pretty clear about how I wanted it to finish so far as the plot went. But there was one particular character who needed a special send off, and I hadn't nailed it.
But during this particular afternoon off I was actually thinking about the middle of the story, not the end. While I was enjoying the small, medieval churches of the Cotswolds I was wondering about surgical instruments on board ship after the Restoration, .
To my surprise, there was a model ship in Painswick church, along
with an unrelated and rather touching phrase from Spenser's Faerie Queene, scratched ontoa pillar in 1643 by an imprisoned soldier. "Be bold, be bold but not too bold." He must have been feeling pretty sorry for himself, locked up in the church at the end of a battle, not knowing what his fate might be.
It was tempting to find a place for him in my novel but his story was not mine, nor was the painted effigy of a gentleman, with feet resting on a goat eating a cabbage. These were of no use to me, although surely they all belong in somebody's fiction?
I hadn't thought of a monument. I had wanted something warmer than that, but a monument was what I found. In Miserden church, along with the cabbage eating goat, is an exquisite sculpture on a tomb chest. So many of these effigies are doubly cold in their alabaster perfection so why did this one speak so eloquently to me? With a sudden understanding I realised I had been concentrating on the wrong character. The ending needed to dwell on a person who featured hardly at all in the novel, and never when alive. She was lying here, waiting for me to find her.
Her effigy was beautifully done, carved probably by a local man, Samuel Baldwin. It was much finer than some other examples of his work in greater churches than Miserden. In life, my character had a habit of fiddling with the lace of her collar. In death, this beautiful young woman was shown playing with the delicately carved fabric at her breast. How much easier it would have been to carve her hand praying or at rest, as is usual. Why had Samuel Baldwin made such an effort to thread the carved lace so beautifully through her fingers? There was something so poignant about it, so very human and so utterly my character.
The photograph doesn't do it justice, but I shall revisit it again and again until the book is done. There she lies, totally unexpected. And what also surprised me was that against all the odds she was finally reunited with the husband she loved so much.