“What sort of place is Romney Marsh?” the monk asked. The words didn’t come easily; his lips only knew prayer, his tongue only the gentle rhythm of psalms.
“There’s nothing to speak of,” Brother Halig replied. “It is as bleak as one could imagine and will serve our purpose well.”
This conversation sets the scene for the latest novel from popular local author, Emma Batten.
Published this month, ‘The Pendant Cross’, set in Anglo-Saxon times, is the seventh book from the Dymchurch writer whose historical fiction novels, based around Romney Marsh, have attracted an enormous following, particularly among residents of the marsh.
Born on the Isle of Wight, a love of local history was inspired during a childhood growing up in 17th century Devonshire House. “I really love the stories of local people in history, not so much the historic events” she says.
The former residential social worker for the visually impaired moved to Romney Marsh twenty years ago. Fascinated by the evolution of the Fifth Continent and particularly the lost villages of the marsh, her first novel, ‘Secrets of the Shingle’, was published in 2016.
“I self-published using a process called ‘Lulu’ and used my own photo on the cover. I had no expectations of it being a success, or to attempt a career as an author” says the unassuming Emma. Sold in the Romney Marsh Visitor Centre and in local cafes, it has since become her number one best seller with over 1,000 copies sold, including online sales via Kindle.
Her next book, ‘What the Monk Didn’t See’ was quickly followed in 2017 by ‘A Place Called Hope’.
“My stories take the readers from the 13th Century, when a great storm destroyed the coastline and a river changed course overnight, through to life in Victorian and 1920s Dungeness, then on to the second world war. Although predominately fiction, I work very hard to give readers an accurate sense of Romney Marsh through the ages”, says Emma.
“I take local events and history, then add my own characters. My novels are never planned, they tend to take their own course as I write”.
“I’ve no great expectations” adds Emma. Housekeeping and home-help duties earn money to pay the bills, while she views writing as a semi-professional role, more than just a hobby. “The reality is, not many people make it as a best-selling author. Most books just sit on the shelf in Waterstones.”
A sea-change in 2018 saw the switch to a traditional publisher, a professional proof-reader, and the use of local artists and designers to produce the book covers.
“Proud to use local artists”
“I’m proud to use local artists” says Emma, “People buy in to ‘local’ and one of the most rewarding parts of my writing is mixing with local people”. Her 2019 novel, ‘The Artist’s Gift’, the third in a series based at Dungeness, Ashford and Lydd, was launched at Lydd Church, where the novel begins.
Her meet-the-author events have led to speaking engagements with local groups including the Women’s Institute and the Kent Wildlife Trust. She also hosts creative writing events for anyone interested in undertaking their own writing challenge.
“Talks are a great opportunity to sell books” says Emma, “And it’s something I love doing.” While more opportunities for writing workshops, public speaking and meet-the-author events will undoubtedly increase sales, Emma keeps her aspirations well grounded.
“My readers recognise the area. They have a relationship with me. They buy into me. I would hate to lose my local author tag. And I’d hate to lose the local people that have made it all happen for me”.
For more information, go to her website.
Image Credits: Chris Lawson .