The Resident Engineer accuses me of watching programmes like Escape to the Country and Location, Location, Location solely so I can scream abuse at the wannabe house hunters. I admit that there’s some truth in this: you’ll get some picky woman sniffing at a fabulous house and saying, ‘it’s not to my taste’. The proper answer to this is to yell, ‘We’ve seen your house, you have no taste!’ I love the way Kirstie Allsopp tries, and so often fails, to disguise her feelings!
However, I am genuinely interested in houses and like most women, can’t resist a chance to poke round in someone else’s, a trait shared by my female friends and family, particularly the daughters who, like Kirstie, are liable (as I am), to suggest knocking down walls at the drop of a hat. Mind you, we can do this confidently because the Resident Engineer is a whizz at d-i-y and particularly likes bashing down walls.
One of the joys of being a writer is that you can provide your characters with houses of all shapes and sizes and price range to fit any pocket. This is great for someone who was brought up in a red-brick semi; lived as a newly-wed in a terrace house near Uxbridge that had walls so thin we used to watch television with the sound down just so that we could laugh at the elderly brothers next-door as they screamed abuse at Jeux Sans Frontieres; a 60s house in Surrey, and now a relatively new house – it means I can let my imagination soar. It also means I can have ideas above my station, see my post Class and the Cozy Mystery (which you could see if I knew how to do the link!) So there are no peasant hovels in my books, just yer everyday castle or manor house – so much more spacious when it comes to murdering the unwanted guest.
My most recent mystery, A Crowded Coffin, has a house at the centre of the story and the lovely book blogger, Geranium Cat, had this to say about it: ‘Not listed in the Dramatis Personae is the Attlin family’s farmhouse, although you feel it should be there; once known as the Angel House, Locksley Farm Place dates back centuries, perhaps to a Roman villa on the same site. The author conveys the sense of the house’s age and antiquity seamlessly, as Rory learns its history and explores its nooks and crannies, and the reader is left with an impression of great solidity and warmth which permeates the whole book, transforming it from just another murder-mystery into an intimate experience.’
The house in my book was inspired by Stokeshay Castle, near Ludlow, but along the way I vandalised it so comprehensively that there isn’t the slightest resemblance, apart perhaps from the great hall, though my version also has echoes of the Brethren’s Hall at St Cross Hospital, Winchester. This was the inspiration for Trollope’s ‘The Warden’ and a great place to visit – where else are you given free bread and ale?
My first contemporary mystery, Murder Fortissimo, has a large Edwardian house inspired partly by a small hotel in Wales – sadly I can’t remember where it was, while Harriet’s cottage in a pretty Hampshire village could be any one of thousands round here. It’s a good job I made her comfortably off though, as house prices in this neck of the woods are terrifying.
My historical mysteries, featuring Charlotte Richmond, are set in a village just outside Winchester and the manor house she stays in when she arrives is a patchwork of real and imaginary buildings, but in the forthcoming third Charlotte book, The Dead Queen’s Garden, a neighbouring house is a late C18 mock Norman castle, definitely inspired by Penrhyn Castle in North Wales,but on a much smaller scale. (Here’s the cosy Great Hall at Penrhyn) I based the garden in the title on Queen Eleanor’s Garden at Winchester Great Hall but again, I’ve altered it to suit my requirements.
I also plead guilty to strewing corpses round these stately homes, just for my own amusement… because I’m worth it! (To quote an advert that also makes me scream abuse at the television!) (I’m very intemperate, perhaps you can tell?)