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The Spirit of Mathilde by Pamela Barnett The Spirit of Mathilde

Written by Pamela Barnett

ISBN: 978-1-901253-42-9

(Old ISBN: 1 901253 42 2)

180 pages, paperback, 146mm x 208mm.
1 colour photograph, 3 B&W photographs

Published by Leonie Press, Nov 2004.

Price: £ 8.99 Postage and Packing:

About the Book

When Clifford Keating, a young British liaison officer, stumbles across a French village where reprisals have taken place after D-Day, he becomes haunted by the memory of a traumatised speechless girl who has been brutally raped by the German troops. He vows to go back after the war and find out what has happened to her...

So starts "The Spirit of Mathilde", which tells the story of Clifford's return to the Limousin community of St André and his part in its reinvigoration, under the wise influence of the elderly Mathilde - who seems to be able to read his thoughts and to predict the future.

The book has a remarkable provenance. In 2001, the author Pamela Barnett and her husband were househunting in South West France, and sleeping in a converted dairy. Suddenly Pamela awoke to see the figure of a smiling black-clad woman at the bottom of the bed. Next day she had the story of Mathilde in her head and she wrote busily for months afterwards whenever she felt the presence and inspiration of the mysterious woman.

The book is set in the Corrèze, a part of France the author doesn't know, although she has French roots. Her grandfather was French - possibly from Mauritius - and she was moved to use her maiden name, Lalande, for one of the families in the story. She has no idea if the tale is true, but she believes that the 'very real' person she saw in the night came to help her at a time of personal difficulty. "All I know is that I feel very much part of Mathilde's family and the village of St André. I seem to know them intimately," said Pamela.

About the Author
Pamela Barnett
Pamela Barnett is now in her 70th year and this is her first novel. A committed Francophile, she fell in love with France 25 years ago when she and her husband Tony started holidaying there. They have lived in the Lot et Garonne since 2001 and, although she still struggles with the language, the couple are well integrated in the little community where they have settled.

Pamela's paternal grandfather was French and spoke little English when he arrived towards the end of the 19th century in the port of Barry, South Wales, where he met and married her grandmother. Nothing much is known about him except that he was probably a ship's carpenter.

For 18 months she worked hard to write down the first draft of the book. She said later: "I really felt somebody was doing that for me and I had to get it down as quickly as I could. There is still a presence with me; I only wish I could identify her. She isn't old, yet she always wears black. I feel she is in her late fifties or even sixty, but she could be younger - the clothes make it very difficult to put an age to her but she has a lovely smile and gives me confidence."

After the bare bones of the story were recorded, Pamela's daughter sent the manuscript to Leonie Press for an opinion, not knowing anything about the book's origins herself. Anne Loader was so touched by the first few chapters that she felt sure there was a more to the book than pure fiction. When she found out the background she was quite convinced of the influence of the woman in black, having had positive personal experiences with the spirit of the former owner of the family house in France. She encouraged Pamela to continue and to add much more detail in the second draft.

The main mystery is why the book was set in the Limousin, a region with which Pamela is not familiar. She has no idea if the story is true, but she believes that the 'very real' person she saw in the night had come to help her.

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