Rustington’s Wendy Hughes admits she has got a weakness for the quirky and the strange.
She has indulged it for a new book, The A-Z of Curious Sussex, newly published by The History Press (ISBN: 9780750956048)
“I think if I have got a talent, it is in looking for the quirky,” says Wendy, “and if I find anything quirky in a newspaper or a magazine, I jot it down. After a while, I could see that I had got a lot of unusual things that had happened in Sussex.”
And so the idea for the book was born – though the realisation was delayed. Wendy suffers from Stickler syndrome. The book was due out in 2014, then Wendy’s health deteriorated: “But The History Press were terrific. They just said to me ‘We will see the book when we see it.’ They have been really, really good to me.”
The book is Wendy’s 27th.
“I was medically retired in 1989. I started to write, and the rest is history. My first book was published in 92, and the was the story of Gower. I was brought up in Wales, and they tell you to write about what you know. And then we came to Sussex because of my asthma.”
And it is Sussex in all its strangeness that she celebrates in the latest volume: “I would see a snippet of a story and keep it and then research it and follow it up, and one idea would bounce off another. My husband Con took all the photographs.”
One of Wendy’s favourites is the story of someone being chased by a ghost with a bag of soot. She also likes the story of the woman who fell in love with a soldier and dressed up as a man to become a soldier herself.
“That really intrigued me! How on earth did she get away with it, and she got away with it for 16 years. He was injured and so she wanted to get back home, so she revealed who she was and she was honourably discharged.”
The book takes a trip through an alphabet of place names – though maybe calling it The A-Y of Curious Sussex would have been more accurate. There are no Zs in Sussex.
“I have tried to be informative and I hope I will be forgiven for choosing those versions of the stories that have appealed to me personally, the tales that made me question why a building was built or to seek out the curious story behind why something happened. I hope that each reader will discover between these pages something new and of interest to enjoy.”
You can read about the Alfriston Star – the hostelry for medieval package tours with its unusual ship’s figurehead, the Russian memorial to Finnish soldiers, Crazy Jack who couldn’t stop building and who is buried in a pyramid and the inventor of vapour baths. Along the way you will meet scandalous residents, inventors and smugglers galore.
For her next book, Wendy is very tempted to write about her mother. In fact, she has started: “My mother went totally blind. That was 1956, and she fought to keep the two of us together. They wanted to put her into a blind institute and hand me over to foster parents, but she fought to keep us together. My father had died when I was five, and there were just the two of us. Her story is remarkable.
“I wrote a little bit about it for an online magazine, and I had such a warm welcome.”
But Wendy has also been asked to write another book for The History Press.
“There have been quite a lot of murders in Sussex.... I wonder if I might do next a book about those!”