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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I have a little room upstairs, which is quite comfortable and warmer than the rest of the barn. I suggested that, if she saw fit, she could use that little room to practice her harp while I was busy making more harps. I would not even hear her from downstairs. I have a few books on learning to play the harp, which I could lend her. I knew a harp teacher and I could lend her too. All the right ingredients were there. I had made my choice about giving her the harp. She only had to review her choice about accepting it. I hoped she would think again. I would be so happy if she would think again. I had now said what I wanted to say. So I stopped talking.

The socks were very still. I could hear the rumble of a distant tractor and the chattering of swallows as they flew over the roof of the barn. The sun shone through the middle window a little brighter than before. It shone onto the harp, so that the cherrywood glowed.

Finally Ellie Jacobs said: "If the harp stayed here and I came to try it out once in a while . . . there would be no harm in that . . . would there?" It sounded as if she was talking to herself, not to me. So then I did look into her face, properly, to try and work out if she wanted a reply or not. She had little water droplets stuck along her eyelashes. I decided that a reply was possibly required and might even be helpful. I decided to do that thing where you ask a question to which the answer is so obvious nobody needs to give it. Only she'd already done that, really, so all I had to do was repeat certain words, just to make it quite clear.

"Harm?" I said. "In playing a harp?"

She smiled then, and turned, and without another word she walked to her car. She got in and drove away.

But I had a feeling she would be back.


The car jolts down the lane. The world reels. I'm all over the place—full of streaming tears one moment and manic bursts of laughter the next. I'm driving completely on autopilot. I probably shouldn't be driving at all.

This isn't the kind of thing that happens to me. I must have fallen through a magical portal into somebody else's life. My existence has somehow transformed itself into something bright and light, filled with frolicking colors. Life was nothing like this when I woke up this morning.

There's no way I can go home yet and face Clive. A walk in the wilds is what I need. Somewhere high up. High places always help me think, which is what I need to do right now. I put my foot on the accelerator and launch into the road that leads up to Dunkery Beacon.

I leave the car in a lay-by and stride up one of the rocky paths to the cairn at the top. The wind whips my hair and sweeps across the purple tufts of heather. I breathe in cool sea-tang and the fresh, peaty scent of moor.

If I've decided what I think I've decided, how can I possibly explain it to Clive? I love Clive, of course, and Clive loves me, but there are lots of things we don't quite get about each other. I don't get his fascination with football or with finance. He doesn't get why I take myself off onto Exmoor with my notepad and write poems—poems that nobody will ever read—about bark and clouds and spiderwebs and running water.

Clive likes things to be straightforward. Clive likes things to fall within certain guidelines. My poetry doesn't really fall within those guidelines. My current issue—being given a harp by somebody I've just met—is way outside them.

I walk faster and faster, swinging my arms. I reach the summit in record time. The views on every side challenge me with their rugged beauty: green pastures alternating with patches of tawny moorland, stubby hawthorns, distant hills that melt into the sky, jags of coastline that climb, fall and reach out to the sea. Today the sea is slate gray, laced with a thousand dancing threads of blue and silver. It seems to reflect my overwhelming sense that wonderful things are possible in this world after all.

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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