FROM THE BOOK OF FIRES, CHAPTER ONE
‘My name is Agnes.
I live in a cottage on the edge of the village of Washington, at the foot of the Downs where the greensand turns into clay. The lane that leads past the cottage is narrow and muddy, and floods with a milky whiteness when the rain pours down from the hill. Above us the scarp is thickly wooded, up to the open chalk tops where the sheep graze. My father’s family has been in Sussex for years. I am seventeen, we are quite often hungry, I work half of the day weaving cloth for the trade. And for the remainder, I do what girls do; stir the pots, feed the hens, slap the wind from the babies, make soap, make threepence go further…
My brother is whetting the blades by the back door. I see the knife catching the shine of the orange sun as he works, a sharp flash of blinding light.’