Murder in the House!


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.’

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe 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)penrhyncastlegreathall 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?)


7 thoughts on “Murder in the House!

  1. How lovely to wander around looking at houses, especially when you have no intention of purchasing. We (hubby and I) often spent Sunday afternoons – if we had time off – taking a drive around new constructions in Pasadena and Sierra Madre, as there were some wonderful houses being built in leafy streets with English names. If daring enough we would park and then get the keys and ‘view,’ the property of choice – such fun. It fueled my imagination and helped pass the time. When trying to imagine the type of residence my characters might choose, these little trips often provide hints and ideas. Although of late our little ‘viewings,’ of village cottages and country houses back in the UK has been a great resource. Houses and homes are such fascinating places, especially those belong to someone else. The older the better – I prefer older houses. I am enjoying your blog Nicola as you seem to like all the things I like.

    • One of the nicest outcomes of blogging and FB is the discovery that there are so many kindred spirits out there, Jane! I’ve been prowling round the streets around Winchester Cathedral lately and have found a couple of suitable houses for the WIP (at least a couple of £million, of course). It also turned out that we needed to research the posh pub round there too – and I feel this will need even more research soon!

  2. Great posting, Nicky… I’m busy hunting down abodes for my new novel. It’s fun isn’t it. I found a lovely village in North Yorkshire called ‘Stonegrave’ . Couldn’t make it up if you tried 🙂 It has just the house I’m looking for too.
    Good luck with your new book.

  3. Ah, your article made me think of Norah Loft’s House at Old Vine series and so many others because I love old houses–and books about them–too. Then I saw the comment about Elizabeth Goudge–another favorite. I’ll definitely be looking for your books.

    • Funny you should mention The House at Old Vine, Donna – I’m part-way through writing a book in roughly the same format – historical ‘episodes’ – but it’s currently shelved while I hunt for a nice new way to kill someone in a different book! I love Norah Lofts’ books, time for a revival of interest in her, I should think.

  4. The Rosemary Tree? Well, if I didn’t already know that you’re a kindred spirit, Jodie, that would clinch it! It’s my absolute favourite Elizabeth Goudge book, and that’s saying something because I love them all.

  5. I’m immensely flattered that you quoted me, and I can absolutely see the resemblance between your description and the picture you show because you gave exactly the impression of weight and welcome that the photo gives (reminded me rather of the house in Elizabeth Goudge’s The Rosemary Tree, a huge favourite, precisely because of the description of the manor – different architectural style but the same very English quality). The new book will be the first time I’ll have know the inspirations for the settings in advance – I’m very much looking forward to it!

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