The House at Ladywell

Would you fall in love at first sight – with a house?

When my second Harriet Quigley mystery was published, blogger Geranium Cat said, in what is still my favourite review: ‘Not listed in the Dramatis Personae at the start of A Crowded Coffin 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… and the reader is left with an impression of great solidity and warmth which permeates the whole book…’

It’s such a perceptive comment and I hope readers will feel the same about this new book because – in The House at Ladywell – the house is clearly the main character. We first ‘meet’ it when Freya, the protagonist, goes to view her inheritance and falls head-over-heels in love with the house. As she settles in the reader gradually learns the history of both the house and the family down through the ages.

I’m delighted to be able to say that I’ve now signed a contract with Crooked Cat Books and they will publish The House at Ladywell as an ebook in the autumn, to be followed by the paperback.

For a change, this book isn’t set in Winchester but not far away in my fictitious town of Ramalley, the small market town where my first published novel, Scuba Dancing, was set. It’s not a follow-up but the town is recognisably the same. It’s also recognisable to sharp-eyed readers who contacted me when Scuba Dancing came out and said, ‘It’s Romsey, isn’t it?’ Of course it is – but it’s Romsey with added extras!

I usually have a picture of the characters inside my head and for some reason Richard Armitage popped up whenever I wrote about Patrick, the contemporary hero. I can’t imagine why but it’s true: that’s exactly how I see him!  (And because one of the historical ‘echoes’ in this book involves the Battle of Waterloo, here’s a gratuitous photo of Sean Bean as Lt Richard Sharpe. And why not?)

In case you’d like to see some of the other inspirations for this book, here’s my Pinterest board for The House at Ladywell. https://uk.pinterest.com/nicola8703/the-house-at-ladywell/I  (Oops, doesn’t seem to work, but here’s my Pinterest account and you’ll find the Board for The House at Ladywell there: https://uk.pinterest.com/nicola8703)

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A Tale of a Toad and a Train (& Richard Armitage)

richard armitage1(We’ll get to him in a minute but for the time being he’s just there as decoration.)

We have a model railway in our garden. ‘Doesn’t everybody?’ I (probably) don’t hear you cry. Not only that, we also have a model village.

I blame the Resident Engineer’s father who once concocted a plan with his Best Man to buy adjacent semi-detached houses so they could knock the attics through and have a massive railway layout. Inevitably, his son went in for the full Hornby but when he reached sixteen he sold his entire collection; he thinks he bought a tennis racquet with the proceeds.

Over the years the Engineer’s gradually bought new engines and track and so on, and tried, but failed, to get our children and grandchildren, (and me), enthusiastic about it. When we moved to Hampshire he decided to build a new layout and very few people believed me when I told them we had a twelve foot stretch of railway track running the length of our bedroom. Nor did they believe me when I said the track went through a hole in the wall, followed a loop in the attic above the garage, and returned to our room. Only those who know him well had no trouble in accepting this, particularly when I mentioned that in winter the hole in the wall was blocked up with a pair of socks.20160730_110847

After a few years I went on strike and insisted that a railway in the bedroom wasn’t acceptable so it was moved to the attic and abandoned until he had the idea of building a garden railway. The track now circles round the conservatory, crosses the (very small) pond via a purpose-built viaduct, follows the line of the path until it reaches the rockery which it meanders round. A recent development sees the track crossing the paving stones to join a new stretch that will eventually climb up another viaduct (no water under this one) and into the shed through a train/cat flap. When inside the shed, only the Engineer knows what mysteries will be performed. Lest anyone thinks I just poke fun at him and his trains, I can tell you that the track is 0-16.5 and the whole is a model narrow gauge railway. See? I do take in some of it.

As for the village, that’s my preserve – it started as a joke and is composed of more-or-less 0 gauge-sized buildings though that’s not a requirement. My criteria for purchasing are less exacting – most of the buildings started life as ceramic biscuit barrels in M&S and other stores, along with some stoneware buildings, the first of which was made by Duncan (our eldest) in Pottery class at school. Almost all of the buildings have come from charity shops and the animals that inhabit the village must have been genetically modified because a lot of them are nearly as tall as the buildings. (The Engineer is too laid back to be obsessive about it all and I still think it’s funny.) Since an oak tree landed on the village in an April storm 20160328_081841there’s been some renovation and rebuilding and the village is now sitting comfortably on its tasteful Astroturf village green. At Christmas, if I remember, there are lights strung round but so far I’ve resisted the suggestion from a daughter that we have a tape of carol singers playing, speeded up to suit the Borrower-sized villagers. (Not that we have any left, not since the nativity scene was ruined and Baby Jesus was washed away in a sudden downfall.)20160730_110911

Anyway, there’s still the toad. More complicated electronics are being invented/installed/cursed so the inside of the station is full of wires and plugs and things. It was also full of ants until recently; they colonised it and filled it with their recycled earth, which is when the toad moved in. We’ve always had at least one toad in the garden so I was delighted when it turned out he was living in the station until the Engineer lifted the building up and found one stuck toad! The innards (of the electronics, not the toad) had to be dismantled and one mildly irritated toad decanted into the crocosmia by the pond. We haven’t seen him lately so I suspect he’s still sulking under a stone somewhere. Pic: Front and back views – stuck toad.

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20160718_141643The railway was reopened a year or so ago – after years of neglect – when the Engineer’s birthday happened to fall on August Bank Holiday Sunday. (Can you believe that when I met him he had no idea his birthday was the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth? Unlike Richard Amitage who has the same birthday and knows all about it because he was named after Richard III.) And here he is again – just because – sometimes it’s nice to have wall-to-wall Richard Armitage.

richard armitage1