Beyond the Samovar is a gripping, engaging story of escape, love and loss. In 1919, a young English couple, Livvy and Peter, leave Baku, which the previous year became capital of an independent Azerbaijan. While Livvy is reluctant to leave her home, Peter sees no future for Britons in the new country and treats their escape as an adventure. With their baby, they bluff and bribe their way across Bolshevik and White Russian territory to Archangel on the north coast of Russia hoping to board a British ship. Only two of them reach an England little recognised after an absence of more than five years.
Born and brought up in Worcestershire, Janet trained as a teacher in Oxford. She worked in Warwickshire, France and Hampshire and has lived in Dorset since 1991.
Although history remains her first love, for many years she taught English in the south of England to military officers from the Middle East and Francophone Africa. She has travelled in Russia, North Africa and the Middle East.
Janet has had competition successes with short and long fiction, and short stories published online and in anthologies, including Dorset Voices (2012) and the 2018 Wimborne History Festival competition.
Beyond the Samovar, set in early 20th century Russia and England, is her first published novel.
Janet reviews for the Historical Novels Review, and enjoys walking with others in the timeless Dorset countryside, choral singing, choosing books for young members of her family, and growing vegetables and salads in the walled courtyard garden of her Victorian house. She is working on a novel exploring exile and ambition in a Russian family during the decade after the Great War in Russia, Persia, Constantinople and Paris.
Extract from Beyond the Samovar
This extract takes place in 1919 in Baku, centre of the Russian oil industry. Livvy and Peter, a young English couple, are with their baby on a journey that will take them the length of Russia. Livvy is reluctant to leave her home. Peter sees necessity as an adventure.
She sets off into hot north wind, the dust fine, penetrating. She settles the muslin shawl, same blue as her skirt, over her head and the lower part of her face: a combination of protection from the elements, and eastern modesty, for since Azeri independence last year people do stare at a bare face. Peter’s in working things: black jacket, cap askew. He’s worn the jacket nearly every day of the twenty months she’s known him, except for their wedding day and Sundays when they used to go to church. It makes him look shabby, ordinary, what everybody strives for since the revolutions a couple of years ago. The only way to stay safe on the streets, he’d say.
Look ahead, not back. Think of survival. Yes, but is it wrong to take with you memories, things you won’t, can’t, forget? She will always remember the wind in Baku. For three quarters of the year it howls round the city like a genie out of a bottle, bringing a little relief from the heat. But this late afternoon there is no respite. She passes curlicued, wrought iron balconies and shuttered windows of sandstone apartment blocks like the one she’s left. Not even cinnamon water sprinkled on her shawl can mask smells which for her will always be part of Baku: oil, spiced cooking, the perfume of acacia; and fear.
She holds George to her chest to guard eyes tight in sleep and calm her shaking hands. A dog is barking, a baby crying, the city waking from its second slumber of the day.
Peter strides towards the tram stop. Against his legs bounce the bedrolls. Into them she has wrapped muslin squares for George – how soon, where, will she be able to change him, wash them? – one set of clothes each, drawings by Peter’s brother and his diary, photographs of her own brothers with her mother in Norwich, both Princess Royal hatbands, some valuables for barter, with the few Kerensky and tsarist roubles they managed to hoard. And the white silk stockings she wore the day she married Peter. On a string round her neck, beneath the top button of her blouse, hangs the ring, a Russian triple knot in three shades of gold which he placed on her finger a few minutes after six o’clock on a July evening last year in the English church a mile down the coast. The ring had belonged to the baboushka where he’d been lodging, and fitted as if made for her. Without it, the finger feels empty, increasing her sense of vulnerability. She is a few days into her twenty-fifth year.