A story of loss, love, guilt and ultimately hope and redemption, Miller Street SW22 follows a year in the lives of five neighbours who move into the street in the autumn of 2005, each brought to south west London for a new start. Catherine Wells, recently widowed, Sam Gough and his invalid wife, Lydia, and Violet Lawrence find themselves drawn together by Frances Chater into preparations for a centenary street party. The indomitable organiser, she compels them onto a committee and thus they begin to forge cautious friendships.
What they share with each other of their past lives, however, is limited. Both Catherine and Sam feel guilt for actions that haunt them whilst Frances has created a lie of a life, a substitute identity, in order to help her navigate the breakdown of her marriage. Only Violet, youthful and unfettered, is free of self-recrimination and duplicity. Meanwhile, in Brighton, Andrew Chater, Frances estranged husband, negotiates his new life in Pilgrim Square with his lover, Charlotte Prideaux, unaware that Frances is intent on destroying this relationship and regaining her place as his wife.
As the months pass and the date of the street party grows closer, Catherine, Sam and Frances are unaware of what lies ahead. For the past, they are to discover, is not as fixed and immovable as they have assumed. It can beguile. Ultimately, what is uncovered in the summer of 2006 offers each of them a future unimagined and an entirely new understanding of the past.
Away from these dense, dark days of English winters, the endless wait for signs of a reluctant spring. Over there, sun is mandatory, an obligation, blue skies greeting each dawn as if contracted to the job. He anticipates such a climate, sitting in the darkness of the car’s interior, trying to coax the engine, resistant, coughing bronchially into life. His contract is lucrative, audacious, even, given his scant qualifications, his inexperience. But he has youth to his advantage. It’s a young man’s world out there, he has said several times, to his parents, to friends dubious of his decision. He has even said it to himself in moments of doubt and honest reflection. It’s a chance to find a different sort of life. Abroad. New developing lands and territories, emerging industries. That’s the future. We’re pioneers for a new age. He revs several times, encouraging the engine’s hesitant fire, thinks of that word, Pioneers. He likes its suggestion of the frontier spirit, wagons set to forge westward in hope of more. Except he is going east, he reminds himself. To a landscape of sand, new concrete cities being carved out of desert wastes, a place of unrivalled opportunity for the bold. Rapidly, he pulls away from the station forecourt to avoid stalling, heads towards the crossroads to turn left for the short drive home.
Woods of evergreens border one side of the narrow main road. On the other, detached, comfortable houses, heavy curtains tightly drawn against the moonless night, stand discreetly behind cultivated, neat front gardens, high brick walls and picket fencing. This place seems to hover as if confused by its identity, he thinks irritably. As if an absence of decent street lighting and the lack of proper pavements bestow a rural gentility that is entirely at odds with the commuter trains connecting it to its source of income and sustainability. He has grown to despise it. Or at least he used to summon up sufficient cynicism to mock at its sedate, self-satisfied demeanour. Now he is not so sure. His attitude is beginning to slide, he suspects, into a slow acceptance of the insulation it provides and he fears he could slowly be devoured by the ease and complacency of the place, succumb to the prescriptive sort of life it has on offer. And he despairs of that. He glances now to his right, to the row of square and solid houses, built thirty or more years before for people secure in their belief of being kings in their own castles. And he suspects there has been little change. In spite of Nuremberg and Dachau and Dresden, names that now defeat even the power of language to explain, they go on, these houses, these people. This place. Smugness survives against all odds.
But he is getting out.
He is not giving in to the hooks that bind. He glances one way to the dense border of tall evergreens, turns his head for a moment towards those self-satisfied houses. He thinks of the slab of solid sideboard in his parents’ front room, the heavy oak dining table in the back, utility furniture acquired with foolish gratitude at the end of the war and is exasperated by knowledge of these objects as if he is implicated simply by living alongside them for so long. His parents are biddable, pleasant people, of course, obliging neighbours, lawful and cautious. And he loves them, inevitably. They give him no particular reason to do otherwise. Except for their lethargy, their compliance with lives that appear to him to offer little more than continuity, survival, ticking off the days, into months, years. Decades.
He speeds up. The road is deserted and he is tired. Besides, a certain recklessness tonight seems appropriate. He is not entirely drunk, but certainly a little affected by the excess of alcohol. And he wants to get back, dispense with his final night at home, fall asleep for the last time in the bedroom that has been his since childhood. He knows this road with a familiarity that allows for risk in spite of its lack of adequate lighting. He takes the slight bend in third gear, accelerates out as he straightens, loses the string of houses on his right as a couple of fields replace them, running down towards the new private housing development under construction. He places his foot down firmly to conjure more speed. Yawns. Leans forward to wipe mist from the windscreen.
And that is when it happens.
The explosion of sound rips through the silence of the night like ferocious gunfire.
Thank you, Jude Hayland and Random Things Tours
About the author
Jude Hayland started her writing career as a commercial short story writer for women’s magazines. After over 25 years of being published widely both in the UK and internationally, she graduated with an M.A. in Creative Writing and switched to full length fiction. She has now written 3 novels and is working on her fourth.
Born in London, she now lives in Winchester although also spends a lot of time at a family house in a village in North West Crete. She is the proud mother of one adult son and, in addition to writing, blogging, tutoring and reading, is attempting to learn to speak Modern Greek.
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Miller-Street-SW22-Jude-Hayland/dp/1800462387/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1HOUG8PZN0SQ9&dchild=1&keywords=miller+street+sw22&qid=1623838571&sprefix=miller+street%2Caps%2C198&sr=8-1