Yapton-based novelist Roberta Grieve is in print with her 19th book – a book she has long wanted to see published.
Roberta first wrote Song of Memories some 20 years ago, but put it aside after repeated rejections.Now it is having its day at last, released by Books We Love.
When Natalie Fisher arrives home one winter evening, she finds the place ransacked and her family arrested, a common experience for foreigners living in Stalin’s Russia in the 1930s. Pregnant and alone, she finds refuge in the British Embassy. In despair and thinking her lover Stephan has been killed along with his parents, she marries embassy official Laurence so that her baby will have a father. They return to England and Natalie tries to build a life with him. But she never forgets Stephan...
“I was still working at the library when I wrote it, based in Chichester in the bibliographical services section dealing with interlibrary loans,” Roberta recalls. “I heard on the radio a story about a couple that were separated because of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s in Moscow, this story about a brother and a sister. The brother was arrested, and neither knew if the other was still alive. They were actually reunited 50 years later… and I remember thinking what a good story. And while I was still at the library, I was dealing with interlibrary loans that were not just the West Sussex county stock of books. Somebody had asked for a book that was called I Was A Soviet Worker. The book turned up, and I was supposed to send it on to whoever had ordered it, but I took it home overnight and read it cover to cover and then brought it back in and sent it on the next day.
“That was how I found out why British people and Americans were working in Moscow in the 1930s at a time when I thought they didn’t really encourage foreigners. But they did actually encourage people with certain skills to go and work there and help them with their five-year plan. This chap who wrote the book – I think he was an American – found that he didn’t like the practices that were going on there, and he came to the attention of the authorities. But fortunately, he managed to get away. Sadly a lot of other people didn’t, and they were arrested.
“And this gave me the idea for the book – coupled with the story of the brother and sister.
“But I was very much a beginner when I started writing it. I had so many rejections that I just gave up. I thought it wasn’t good enough but since I have had so many books published now, I thought I might give it another go. Fortunately, I still had it. I went through it and gave it a drastic edit. I did have to change quite a bit. There were bits where I rambled a bit because I was a beginner writer. I wanted to put everything in because I had done all the research. But I realised it was too long. I pruned it a bit and tightened it up a bit and tightened the plot and shortened the time frame. I am very pleased with it now. It feels like the culmination of my writing career.”