It’s been five years now since I wrapped up the Pink Carnation series with The Lure of the Moonflower, which sometimes feels like the blink of an eye and others like an awfully long time.
For the most part, the Pink characters have left me be while I’ve been writing other things. Every now and again, I’ve entertained the idea of writing a series about Aunt Arabella in her youth in the 1940s or the Marquess and Marchioness of Uppington in the 1760s, but, for the most part, the original cast of Pink have stayed demurely in their books, closed behind the covers.
Until lockdown. In March, New York locked down. I found myself in my apartment with my husband, kindergartner, toddler– and Eloise. Who was suddenly talking in my head again. But this wasn’t 2006 Eloise. This was now Eloise. This was an Eloise with two kids– older than mine– in an apartment in London under lockdown, too. And she was dying to tell me all about it.
There was also a young woman with her hair smoothly parted in the middle and a very round hoopskirt named Flora Selwick who appeared to be nursing with Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War– and doing it rather badly.
At the time, I was on deadline with my upcoming standalone book, Band of Sisters– and now I’m deadline with the prequel to Band of Sisters (untitled) and the next Team W book (also untitled), but whenever I can grab a moment, I scribble down that Eloise voice in my head.
I call it Pandemic Pink, and I thought it might be rather fun to share on a gloomy, rainy October day. This is just a little snippet– but for everyone who wondered what Eloise is up to these days, here she is!
On the first day of quarantine, my true love gave to me—a Nespresso machine and a large collection of pods.
“I wasn’t sure which ones you would like, so I just got them all,” my husband said.
Fifteen years of marriage had added some gray to his blond hair. Two children had contributed the lines around his eyes and mouth. And all those years of living with me had taught Colin that it was best to keep me caffeinated in his own self-interest.
“Thank you,” I said, hugging an armful of pod packages. I would have hugged the machine, but I was afraid of dropping it and breaking my toe, or, even worse, the machine. The orders had just come down from Downing Street. We were housebound for the foreseeable future. No Costa. No Café Nero. No walks around the block to get to Costa or Café Nero.
Housebound was a misnomer. We weren’t so much housebound as flat-bound. Lockdown had found us turfed out of Colin’s ancestral home in Sussex by a group of builders who had confidently assured us the roof would be back on in a month or so and where was that kettle again? The roof was apparently being rebuilt one cuppa at a time.
And it wasn’t just the roof. Don’t even talk to me about death watch beetles and dry rot and the Green Mold (I think they might have made that last one up, but I wasn’t prepared to stand my ground on it, just in case they hadn’t). Ancestral homes might sound grand, but they were hell on upkeep. Colin’s attempt at sustainable farming and my income from a series of mildly successful historical adventures were just a drop in the bucket. The estate had to pay its own way.
So we did what every landowner does eventually. No, not give the house to the National Trust. We weren’t quite there yet. We thought of trying to marry off our daughter to an elderly industrialist but Tosh pointed out that a) she was too young, and b) no one did that anymore. We were forced to agree on both those counts. So we were left with just one choice: close off the bits we preferred to live in and turn the rest into a tourist attraction: Disney with more crown moldings; Downton Abbey with spies.
That meant things like making sure the roof didn’t cave in on paying guests and bringing the building to code on things like, well, everything. Apparently the codes had codes. Colin and I had hired a firm of builders, asked what we hoped were intelligent-seeming questions, pretended to have a say in what was happening, and promptly fled to London and the flat of Colin’s ninety-nine year old great-aunt Arabella, who was only too delighted to have us to stay, particularly since it meant she could give the sack to the carer for whom she didn’t in the least care.
“The woman treats me like I’m old,” Aunt Arabella had commented in disgust, and no one who knew her would have been surprised by her indignation. Aunt Arabella was a walking advertisement for the benefits of clean-living, regular exercise, and a nightly jot of gin.
Happy weekend, all!