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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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My mind flits from Clive to Dan, from Dan to Clive. Back to Dan, trying to make sense of it all. Dan seems such an innocent, but something I saw in his workshop tells me I should be wary.

I speak his name into the air, trying it out on my tongue: "Dan."

I listen to the sound of the word as it is carried out to sea.

"Dan, the Exmoor Harpmaker!" I assert, a little louder. But the sound echoes back into my skull with an edge of doubt. Slowly, as it continues echoing, I realize it has transmuted itself: Dan, the Exmoor Heart-Breaker.

Clive meets me at the door with a concerned kiss. "You took your time. Everything all right?"

"Fine," I reply. "I went up to Dunkery for some fresh air."

"No wonder you're looking so wild."

I prod my hair about.

"So you managed to return the harp?" he asks.

"Yup." I make sure my eyes meet his. This much, at least, is true.

He gives me a pat on the back. "That's my gal! I know you liked the look of it, but it would've been wrong to accept it—you said that yourself!"

I push past him into the kitchen. He follows me.

"And it wasn't exactly practical, was it, hon-bun?"

"No, not really."

"I expect the guy was pretty glad to see it again, once he realized how silly he'd been. Now he'll be able to sell it."

"Mm-hm."

"And he'll get a good price for it, and someone else will appreciate it. Someone who can make the most of it, someone who can actually play the thing. Like a properly trained musician."

I'm not enamored with those last three words.

Can I really see myself playing the harp? If I'm honest it was only on my before-forty list because it was a pleasing idea, an exotic image. One of those dreams that remains hazy and amorphous because you assume it will always stay just that—a dream. But now, if I'm not careful, that dream might just somersault into reality. And I have to say, I really, really don't want to be careful. I'm fed up with being careful.

"You should be careful, you know," Clive comments. "Wandering about on the moor by yourself. Meeting strange men with strange propositions . . ."

"Yeah, I know I'm a bit crazy. But you wouldn't love me if I was normal, would you?"

We've had this conversation before. And I know exactly what comes next.

"I'd love you whatever, El."

"Love you too, hon," I say quickly.

He helps himself to a beer from the fridge and opens it with care, savoring the prospect of pouring it down his throat during the highlights from Bristol City's latest game. I examine his profile; his long, aquiline nose, powerful jawline and sparsity of sandy-brown hair. His shoulders are square, his arms gym toned. His blue sweatshirt strains tightly against the muscles of his chest. He looks younger than his forty-one years. He is an attractive man. There's a determination and strength about him that has always drawn me. He is my rock and I am his . . . well, his limpet . . .

I need to broach the harp thing. Why is it so hard? Why is it that out on the open moor I was fizzing with joy, yet now I'm at home the whole situation seems fraught with problems? It should be easy to drop it into the conversation now: "Hon, I've decided to go up to the Harp Barn every so often to have a go at playing the harp. The harpmaker's quite OK with it—in fact, he seems to think I should."

But no. The words don't make it to the surface.

The Telegraph is lying on the chair by the window. The leading column is all about terrorist attacks. I listlessly pick up today's post that's lying on the table. Bills—I'll leave those to Clive—and a fund-raising letter from a charity. The letter is plastered with pictures of pale children behind bars and horror stories of people-trafficking. I hold it up for Clive to see.

"No, El, I'm sorry. We just can't afford to give to any more charities."

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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