"I am impressed by the way you so easily attach human emotion to what they eye is seeing – ‘a drop of fear falls to the mud beside a speckled blackbird foraging for insects,’ and admire the narrative instinct with which you end your scenes, weighing up what has happened and compelling us to read on. You have so many strengths, but perhaps the greatest of these is making the reader wonder what on earth is going to happen next.
It is a strong story."

Fay Weldon


Ladder to Freedom

If you've ever walked at Seven Sisters cliffs in Sussex, and back past evocative St Mary's Church at Friston, you'll have passed the grave of murdered Excise Officer, Thomas Fletcher. The injustice of his murder and how such brutality might have affected individuals in the local community was the starting point for this novel.

I thought about families who became caught up in the smuggling trade, and I imagined what it might have been like for a bereaved young woman, all alone, who arrives at her extended family's farm in the hope of being allowed to stay. Without her mother to guide her, how will she know who to trust? What if learning the truth about the past destabilises the fragile life she builds up for herself?

I am seeking representation for this coming of age story about secrets and loyalty. The novel is high end women’s commercial fiction and it's 96500 words long,

After the death of her mother, Martha Shaw returns to the family farm where she must learn to survive amidst the rural underworld of eighteenth-century Sussex. Her life is precarious and her inner thoughts in turmoil as she wrestles with the fact that the crime lord controlling the local smuggling trade is her father. She has conflicted feelings about excise officer, Ned and sailor, Michael, the complexity of her attraction to one and the apparent security offered by the other. This world of secrets and deceits is presented in contrast to the practical routine of a struggling farm, where rose hips must be picked before winter, where farm girls are treated as chattels and family affection has to be sacrificed to dire necessity.

All characters and events are fictional, except for Thomas Pain and his wife, Elisabeth, who appear in cameo roles. Pain(e) was a political writer who is well-known for influencing American colonists to fight for Independence. He was also an excise officer and he lived in Lewes for six years where he wrote his first pamphlet, ‘The Case Of The Officers Of The Excise’ (1772). My story includes a fictional element of how Thomas Pain might have influenced ordinary people such as Martha and Ned.

The fictional landscape is based on the downland cliffs of Sussex between Birling Gap and Exceat. Houses such as Crowlink were used as staging posts for contraband on its journey to London or Tunbridge Wells for dispersal. Ordinary people, such as Eliza’s family, were drawn into smuggling to augment their meagre incomes but there were also large, organised bands of smugglers who were quick to take advantage of opportunities for making money.  Both excise men and informers were treated with brutality. Corruption was rife. These were vicious times and this rural area of Sussex could be lawless.


"What a wonderful evocation of a rural underworld in the eighteenth century. You have painted a canvas full of incidents and details that make this world come alive.This is powerful writing, dense with incident and strong emotions. You have a gift for writing quite complex actions scenes, too"

Celia Brayfield


Fay Weldon is a prolific feminist author, playwright and screenwriter. Much of her fiction explores issues surrounding women's relationships with men, children, parents and each other, including the novels Down Among the Women (1971), Female Friends (1975), Praxis (1978) (shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction), The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983), The Cloning of Joanna May (1989), and Wicked Women (1995), which won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award. Recent works include the ‘Love and Inheritance’ trilogy, concerning the family and servants of the aristocratic Dilberne household, set around the turn of the twentieth century. 6th April is the publication date of her new book Death of a She Devil – a sequel to The Life and Loves…

Celia Brayfield is a novelist, journalist and cultural commentator. She is co-author of Writing Historical Fiction (Bloomsbury, 2014). Her most recent novel is Wild Weekend (Little, Brown/Time Warner Books) a comedy that transposes the 18th century play She Stoops to Conquer to a Suffolk village in heyday of New Labour. Previous novels include Getting Home and Mr Fabulous and Friends, Harvest and Sunset; and Heartswap. Her first three novels, Pearls, The Prince and White Ice, were international genre bestsellers.