Three old houses that inspired the settings and parts of the plot of Treacle Moon: House No.1 is Chastleton House

I have to be quite careful with this, in that I do not want to giveaway any spoilers as Treacle Moon is not out yet. But I want to share some of the houses that inspired me to think about the lifestyle of one of the characters. I shall not say which character, because that may giveaway a plot line 😀 .

Having heard about the houses, though, you will be able to spot the connections to reality when you read the book.

The first house that began firing my imagination is Chastleton House . Chastleton House is situated in a very quiet, tiny, sleepy little village nestled amongst the Cotswolds hills and it has a rare and particular charm.

The National Trust only took over ownership in 1991, and when they took over the management of the property, they discovered a 400 year old time capsule.

The property does not belong to a stately family, it is basically a very grand Jacobean farm house. The family member who built the property was a wool merchant, and he had his eyes on progression. He built a huge country house between 1607 and 1612 to display his wealth and status in the hope that, as it had for many others, it would draw some recognition his way and he would acquire a title. He did not succeed in winning a title although the family mixed in such circles.

Then, later during the 1600s family members held noted positions in the Royalist army. They were so close to Charles I they have his bible in the house, as well as other memorabilia of that time that helps to teach children about Charles I’s martyrdom. But yet again, they did not receive any formal recognition for their service and dedication.

But at the end of the 1600s the family became impoverished. Yet their loss, is today’s gain. Most stately homes have had their Jacobean characters hidden behind Georgian facades, knocked down or stripped away. The Georgians were the most prolific for changing their homes; putting on new fronts, ripping off panelling and papering the walls instead. Taking out roofs and adding ornately decorated ceilings. I love the Georgian decors, and this is what I usually picture and describe in my books, but this house, with its lost-in-time charm, was something that captured my imagination in a different way.

It is so Miss Havisham. Yet, not.

All the rooms are as they were 400 years before, because no one has been able to afford redecoration. The furniture was bought 400 years ago, because the rooms are so large no one has been able to afford replacements. Even down to ornaments, dinning room chairs and wine glasses. You can imagine the cobwebs sweeping over the dining room table.

But, as I said, it does not really fit Miss Havisham, because it seems a loved and valued place. A home. A house that could speak a million stories if it could talk. Everything that is 400 years old has been used and treasured for 400 years.

The last family member to own it until 1991, was a spinster. She lived in the huge house alone, and her world had narrowed down to only a few rooms. With 15 cats for company, who kept the mice and rats under control. She lived her life tucked up under blankets in the huge house because she could not afford to heat the rooms. But she was still happy and proud of her family house.

So proud she gave it to the National Trust charity to preserve it.

IMG_1071One of the most special rooms in the house, though, is the long hall in the attic, that was used for exercise. I have often seen this in properties remodelled into a portrait gallery by the Georgian relative, and I have included such halls in other books. But this hall is in a farmhouse! Middle-class country families are not normally so extravagant with living space and the money it would have cost in the additional building of the space is exceptional for a merchant.

So, to me, Chastleton immediately became both a place and a way of life that I wanted to capture for a character in some way.  You will of course find out my twist on this in Treacle Moon…

I will tell you about the second house next week.

 

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Inspirations: From J. R. R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, John Fowles to The Brontë sisters and me

I never cease to be fascinated by the inspirations that send authors and artists imaginations spinning.

My own mind constantly absorbs information and I seek out opportunities for cropped-10562997_888718807805375_8533099977768604640_n.jpg inspiration and often write scenes that are set in real places. So, when I do things like standing on the harbour in Lyme Regis, I cannot help but image the moment when John Fowles watched the woman looking out to sea and the story of The French Lieutenant’s Woman began unravelling in his mind.

I particularly loved, discovering the inspirations behind Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, though. I didn’t know his inspirations at all until we visited The Vyne in Hampshire.

70192667528+RESIZED_thumb_460x00There, we discovered the gold ring with the Roman inscription, that had been found locally and shown to J. R. R. Tolkien. I could imagine him holding it and it did have a sense of glowing, with the mystery letters inscribed in the gold a bold statement. The 4th Century ring turned up in a ploughed field locally. It was not found as part of a planned excavation, it was just found, as though it wanted to be found. I wonder if you could see Tolkien’s mind spinning in the way he looked at it when he held it?

But it was not just the ring that he knew about and saw. Something else is held at The Vyne. A distance from where the ring was found, a Roman temple was excavated. The temple was built over a spring, so the spring itself was excavated. As part of their devotions, Romans would write down their prayers on small pieces of lead, mostly asking the god to do things. Then they would roll the soft lead up into a tiny scroll, so their words remained private, and throw their scroll into the holy spring. with an offering. One of these tiny lead rolls revealed a request to find a lost ring, and a curse on anyone who had stolen it. Sound familiar at all…

I love these little facts. There is no way anyone can prove that the ring and the scroll have any connection, but both ended up at The Vyne Tudor Mansion and because they were there they created such a fabulous idea for a series of books.

cropped-horse-from-bridge.jpgLike me, Tolkien was also inspired by places. The Wiltshire Downs with their undulating bare hills and the White Horse, that I grew up in the shadow of, sitting on my bedroom windowsill and staring at, appear to have formed the setting of many scenes in J. R. R. Tolkien’s books.

cropped-img_3802.jpgI won’t say anything about Jane Austen’s inspirations, because, as you know, I was so fascinated by that discovery that it became the inspiration of a whole book for me, in Jane the Authoress. But as much as she was inspired by some of the history of her wealthier relations, the Brontë sisters were inspired by the dark and brooding moor on their doorstep and by the wicked and sad life of their brother.

In the Lake District recently, when we went out for a boat trip on Coniston Water, as we cruised around the lake the guide pointed out sites that were the settings for the adventures of The Swallows and Amazons. I could clearly see that John Fowles was painting a picture in his books of a life he knew very well.

Beatrix Potter, though, is my favourite for inspirations in the Lake District. Her inspirations are easily relatable because she not only wrote them, but painted them. The paintings in her books, beyond the characters, replicate the places around where she lived. What is even more fascinating about her inspirations is that this year, I discovered that Beatrix did not live in the house where she depicted her characters in her books.

Hill Top Cottage in Sawrey Village, in the Lake District, was initially Beatrix’s holiday home. She spent a couple of weeks there at a time, but she couldn’t live there because it was not appropriate for a woman to live alone. Then she married and moved to live somewhere else in Sawrey with her husband and kept Hill Tip Cottage as place where she wrote. It makes it far more fascinating when you walk around the cottage just as she established it, with the understanding that it was created to be an inspiration for her books. What a wonderful novelty. It is also extremely brilliant that in her will she left the property and all its contents to charity with the stipulation that it must remain exactly as it was.

When we were walking around the house, because we have recently bought a IMG_4792grandfather clock, my husband now looks at them wherever he goes, and he said, ‘Has that clock always been on the stairs? I’ve never noticed it before.’

The answer is obviously yes…

I wonder if David Williams is doing that with his house for the characters for his children’s books? 😉 If not, he’s not as dedicated. Tee Hee.

The advantage, though, for todays authors, is that we have the internet. If we cannot go somewhere, we can find pictures and descriptions online. But perhaps if we do that, we miss out and our readers lose something.

My preference is still to use experiences, and I venture out to find experiences that spur my imagination. I explore what if feels like and sounds like to be there doing that. Physically being somewhere does help to get the words and images flowing. Although you know from this blog I read a lot of other peoples descriptions of life too. But, I also often share my inspirations in images on Pinterest and Instagram  if you want to take a look at the places and things that inspire me.

I will only mention one of my own inspirations in this post. A particularly special inspiration. Pepper, our Patterdale Terrier, has been an inspiration for every dog that I have written into my books. But Pippin who is in Treacle Moon that is released in June is the most Pepper like dog that I have written. Sadly we lost Pepper last month, so it seems fitting to mention him here.

Thank you for all your inspirations, Pepper.

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