New Saskia Sarginson novel inspired by the mystery of Suffolk's many airbases

PUBLISHED: 14:36 24 May 2019

The bomb stores at Bentwaters Park.
Picture: BENTWATERS PARK LTD

The bomb stores at Bentwaters Park. Picture: BENTWATERS PARK LTD

Bentwaters Park Ltd

Catherine Larner talks to Saskia Sarginson about her chilling new novel set in a fictional US airbase in Suffolk in the 1950s

Bentwaters may no longer be an functioning airbase but, with its perimeter fence, hangars and runways still intact, it's not difficult to imagine the time when it was active, shrouded in an air of fear and foreboding, secrets and perilous missions.

Novelist Saskia Sarginson grew up in nearby Rendlesham Forest. She can remember the huge, heavy planes looming overhead, and recalls peering in the entrance to this strange other world of uniforms and big cars.

"It was the `70s, the time of the Cold War and there was a tremendous feeling of paranoia," she says. Inspired to use this setting for her latest novel, her imagination took hold as she began to research US activity after the Second World War.

Sakia Sarginson's book How it EndsSakia Sarginson's book How it Ends

She discovered a terrible secret project and, although there is no evidence this controversial programme took place other than in America, Saskia felt it would make a powerful element of her new book. "The base was this little bit of America in a corner of Suffolk," she says, "so it could have happened."

She created How It Ends, an astonishing novel set in the 1950s in a fictional air base in Suffolk. The book tells of a family, who have been moved from the US as the father is enlisted for important and confidential work at the Suffolk base.

The children are excited at exploring their new home and making friends, but there is a sinister backdrop and tragic consequences for all members of the family. "Their relationships fall apart through this thing they can't voice," says Saskia and, indeed, the reader isn't made aware of all that is going on in the base until the conclusion of the book, with a devastating revelation based on real events.

Bentwaters Open Day in 1979 Bentwaters Open Day in 1979

"I hope readers will be shocked and horrified, that the rug will be pulled from under them," she says."One of my characters says that when it comes to the government and military, secrets come out slowly like rats out of holes, and I really felt that was true, and is true. There is a lot of stuff we don't know and which remains as a darkness under the surface. We are being lied to all the time."

Although this aspect of the book is haunting and troubling, the novel is a delicately drawn period piece of family and community, in the air base and in rural life. Saskia immersed herself in films and books of the time, and also met with two women who lived on the base in the 1950s to ensure her descriptions were authentic.

But the setting was very familiar to her. She lived here as a child and has set two of her other five novels in the county.

Bentwaters Park Picture: MEGAN ALDOUSBentwaters Park Picture: MEGAN ALDOUS

"Suffolk is a very particular kind of countryside and is rich in myth and story. I love the flat, watery landscape and the big skies. I know it so well, it is etched into my bones. It's a sense of being at home, I suppose. I had a very happy childhood." Saskia's first book, The Twins, was based on her memories growing up in Rendlesham.

"It was partly autobiographical, as I think most first novels are," she says. "I have twins and I really wanted to write about their co-dependence and the way they respond to each other. And I wanted to write about my wild childhood.

"We lived in a tiny, tiny cottage with no indoor loo, in the middle of nowhere. We had ponies and cats and chickens and goats, and my brother and sister and I had total freedom. We just went off into the forest. My mother had no way of contacting us. She just hoped we'd come back."

Rendlesham Forest - Picture: TIM DENNEYRendlesham Forest - Picture: TIM DENNEY

Saskia moved to London to study fashion and then work in women's magazines as a health and beauty editor, but she has regularly returned to Suffolk. Now she stays with her sister near Orford, often choosing to lose herself in the vast, open landscape when she's writing. Walking her three dogs through the forest often brings ideas bubbling to the surface, she says.

Saskia has always written - for work as a journalist, ghostwriter and PR copywriter, and for pleasure composing poems and short stories. But it was when she took a degree at Cambridge as a mature student and found her tutors were encouraging her to write creatively that she decided to start a novel.

"Ultimately I got hooked!" she says. "I have loved writing, everything and anything, I have enjoyed the challenge of it. But when I started to write novels, I found my medium.

Saskia SarginsonSaskia Sarginson

"It's a really long haul, it's like being a long distance runner, but you get immersed in your own story, with the characters, you live in that world. I knew that even if I never got published, I would go on writing books because I love it. I have found my place."

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