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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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It seemed to me that the thing her father had said must be very important or she would not be acting so strangely. But I didn't need to ask what it was because that was exactly what she told me next.

"He said I sometimes gave him the impression I was drifting, just drifting along. And he said that wasn't surprising, as he'd done a good bit of drifting and dreaming himself. But it might be an idea to clarify and think about what I wanted. I should pick a dream, any dream, any one of the hundreds, and just try and see if I could make it come true. Just one. Realistically, one could be possible, if I tried hard enough. Because he didn't want me to come to the end of my life full of regrets. And I shouldn't leave it too long, because you never knew when . . . he was talking about himself, you see . . . So after that I made my before-forty list because I had a whole load of dreams and needed to narrow them down a bit. I was remembering and pondering it this morning, and then, just as I was thinking about the list and how I hadn't done a single thing on it . . . I stumbled across your lovely barn."

Her voice sounded odd, as if she had stuffed rags down her throat. "I probably won't call in again," she said.

Sometimes I do the things I am not supposed to do. Sometimes I say the things I am not supposed to say, even when I realize.

I pointed at the harp. "Play it," I said.

"I can't," she murmured. But her hand stayed hovering by the strings.

Harps each have their own unique voice and I knew that this one was a powerful one. It could charm and enthrall, it could plead and it could command. People say that certain sounds can melt a heart of stone. If there is anyone who has that sort of a heart—which I doubt (as far as I am aware hearts are made of fibrous materials, fluid sacs and pumping mechanisms)—if anyone does have a heart composed of granite or flint and therefore not at all prone to melting but just conceivably meltable when exposed to very beautiful sounds, then the sounds made by my cherrywood harp, I am confident, would do it. However, I had a feeling the heart of Ellie the Exmoor Housewife was completely lacking in stony components. I had a feeling it was made of much softer stuff.

"Play it!" I repeated, and I managed another quick glance into her face. Her eyes looked soft and dewy. She stretched out her index finger and ran it across the strings. They rang out with a cry, pure and wild, just as they had done the first time from the back of her car.

I waited. An echo of the notes shimmered in the air between us. But Ellie the Exmoor Housewife still seemed to need persuading. Persuading is not a thing that I normally do, but I set myself the challenge of doing it.

I carefully addressed her socks. I told them that I didn't mind if she went away and came back later because sometimes it takes time to make decisions. But whether she came back or not, the harp belonged to her, Ellie Jacobs the Exmoor Housewife. It was her harp, and always would be. I never took back a gift. The harp would sit here in my barn and wait for her. It would sit and wait until all the cows had come home. This did not sound like a very long time, so I made it longer. The harp would wait, I told her, until the sea dried up (which someday it would if you gave it long enough) and the stars dropped out of the sky (which someday they would if you gave them long enough), but nevertheless this harp would never, ever belong to anyone else. I would never, ever permit another person to play it. So if she did not come back it would sit here unplayed until the world ended (which someday it would, but it was likely to be rather a long wait). Which was a sad thing. However, if she did come back and did play it, that would be a lot less sad. I added that she could even play it here if she liked, if that was better for her and she did not want to take it home. Perhaps, I reflected, a harp does not fit into the home of an Exmoor Housewife all that well; perhaps it gets in the way of the dusting and hoovering. Harps do that, sometimes.

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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