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Excerpt from Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ellie and the Harpmaker

by Hazel Prior

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior X
Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior
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    Aug 2019, 336 pages

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1
Dan

A woman came to the barn today. Her hair was the color of walnut wood. Her eyes were the color of bracken in October. Her socks were the color of cherries, which was noticeable because all the rest of her clothes were sad colors. She carried an enormous shoulder bag, canvas. It had a big buckle (square), but it was hanging open. The woman's mouth was open too. She was shifting from one foot to the other by the door so I told her to come in. The words came out a bit mangled due to the fact that I was wearing my mask. She asked what I'd said, so I took it off and also took off my earmuffs and I said it again. She came in. Her socks were very red indeed. So was her face.

"I'm sorry to be so rude, but I'm gobsmacked." She did look it, to be honest. "Did you . . . you didn't, did you . . . make all these?"

I told her yes.

"Wow! I just can't believe it!" she said, looking round.

I asked her why not.

"Well, it's not exactly what you expect to find in the middle of nowhere! I've been past the end of your lane so many times and I just had no idea that all this was here!"

I put my earmuffs and mask on the workbench and informed her that indeed, all this was here. Perhaps I should have pointed out as well that this is not the middle of nowhere. Not at all. Exmoor is the most somewhere place that I know and my workshop is an extremely somewhere part of it. I did not say this, though. It would have been rude to contradict her.

Morning light was pouring in on us from the three windows. It outlined the sloping rafters. It floodlit the curls of wood shavings. It silvered the edges of the curves and arcs all around us and made strung shadows on the floor.

The woman was shaking her head so that the walnut-colored hair bounced around her face. "How lovely! They're beautiful, so beautiful! It is like a scene from a fairy tale. And how strange that I've stumbled across this place today of all days!"

Today is Saturday, September 9, 2017. Is that a particularly strange day to stumble across a Harp Barn? I smiled politely. I wasn't sure if she wanted me to ask why it was strange. Lots of people find things strange that I don't find strange at all, and lots of people don't find strange the things that I find very strange indeed.

The woman kept looking at me and then gazing around the barn and then back at me again. Then she pulled on the strap of her canvas bag to rearrange it in a different way over her shoulder and said: "Do you mind my asking, have you been here long?"

I informed her that I'd been here for one hour and forty-three minutes. Before that I was out in the woods, having my walk. She smiled and said: "No, I mean, have you had this place a long time? As a workshop?"

I told her I came here when I was ten years old and I was now thirty-three years old, so that meant (I explained in case her math was not very good) that I'd been here for twenty-three years.

"No! I just can't believe it!" she said again. She seemed to have a problem believing things. She shook her head slowly. "I think I must be in a dream."

I offered to pinch her.

She laughed. Her laugh was interesting: explosive and a little bit snorty.

The next thing that happened was I went across and shook her hand because that is what you are supposed to do. You are not supposed to do pinching. I knew that really. "My name is Dan Hollis, the Exmoor Harpmaker," I said.

"Pleased to meet you. I'm Ellie Jacobs, the Exmoor . . . housewife."

"Housewife" does not mean you are married to a house. It means you are a woman who is married to a husband and your husband goes off to work every day and you don't go off to work at all but embark on house dusting, house hoovering and various ironing and washing duties and other things that happen in a house, and in fact you aren't really expected to go out of the house at all except to get yourself to a supermarket and then you go up and down the aisles with a trolley and a list looking sad. What a lot of things are embedded in that housewife word.

Excerpted from Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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  Exmoor: Now and Then

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