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What a ridiculous time to publish a book, you might think: businesses furloughed, bookshops closed for months, libraries mothballed, deliveries delayed. Yes indeed, but also: readers looking for diversion, people desperate for any printed material, an artist with time on his hands, a publisher who takes an interest, and a printer who carries on printing!

Copies of Dissenters reached me on 15 May – a little later than expected – and my marketing and distribution plan was activated. My non-Frome contacts were notified of the great event and invited to contact Hunting Raven/Winstones or Amazon for copies, but my cunning plan to circumvent the Coronavirus’ plot to impede publication of my novel was: the local delivery scheme.

Publicity emails went out to all my friends and associates in the Frome area – my bookclub, writing group, Nordic walkers, family history group, health walkers, fellow FROGS (Frome Recreation and Open Ground Supporters), and so forth, offering a special discount and free delivery. The free delivery was me, on foot taking my daily exercise, so the last week has seen me enjoying walks in parts of the town I’d not previously visited, street map in hand, and also in areas I knew well, to drop books off to old and new friends.

When I walk through some of the older parts of town, I tend not to look where my feet are going, which is sometimes a mistake! Instead, I study the buildings: the line of a roof, the style of a window or door, gables, stonework, ghost windows and door lintels. I am now always on the lookout for 17th century buildings, trying to catch a whiff of Molly-Ann’s Frome. Keyford has a surprising number of such houses, from tiny cottages like Old Sarah’s – identified by its gable which fronts onto the street, and its stone mullioned windows, while more modern properties have a roofline running parallel to the road, and sash windows – or substantial buildings, like Master Coombs’ farmhouse in Lower Keyford, with all the alterations and additions of centuries still visible in its fabric. Bricked-up windows, rounded arches or lintels in the middle of blank walls, varying strata of stonework – ragged, squared-off, massive stones amongst smaller ones – all are evidence if only we could read their story.

As well as making a number of book sales, I’ve greatly enjoyed the opportunity for two-metre distanced chats with many of my customers. There’s been a lot to catch up on after eight or nine weeks or more – email isn’t the same, and even a phone call isn’t as good as a face to face conversation. Mostly it’s been about missing our relatives, but also speculation about whether we can travel anywhere this summer, and the best way to do so. It has been lovely walking around town in the sunshine, and now further afield too, though Bradford on Avon is the furthest I’ve ventured so far. My sympathy lies with those who’ve been trapped within their four walls all this time – they must be desperate to escape, or maybe they’re now too fearful to do so?

On my travels I’ve found many excess plants being given away for free, and come home with cherry tomato seedlings and bedding annuals (I don’t know their identity yet – a surprise is in store!) It seems that people have been so enthusiastically propagating fruit, vegetables and flowers that they have run out of space to plant them in their own gardens. I’m very happy to be the lucky recipient!

I have to admit that I’ve also got lost in the black hole that is Mendip Drive – and not for the first time. I can find Mendip Drive easily enough, but I always struggle to leave in the correct direction for wherever I am heading next. I have given up three times so far, and resigned myself to going back to Bath Road and starting afresh each time, which is so embarrassing.

I should have been in Cyprus this week, but it’s been an interesting alternative I suppose!

©Liz Hutchinson