Inspiration for the Victorian Gothic manor in The Night Visitor

11 Aug 2017

Spooks, memories and visitors

Henry Fuseli - The Nightmare

When I was a teenager, growing up in a village near Lewes in East Sussex, I had a friend whose house was very different from everyone else’s. For a start, it had about five times as many bedrooms. It also had tall iron gates, a long, tree lined driveway and a haunted Minstrel’s Gallery. This place – which I now know to be a Victorian Gothic Manor – looked very grand on the outside. It had tall grey flint walls and grand, mullioned windows, but the inside told a different story. The house was in coming undone.

My friend’s family was not landed gentry, far from it. Her father, a drinker, keen on the races, had won the house some time in the 1970s in a bet. It was crumbling and damp, with rattling casement windows and no central heating. There was no money to fix anything. I got the sense that nobody really cared because the family was breaking down. The house was not just physically gloomy, but unhappy and troubled in a more profound, less tangible way. And I felt, instinctively, that it was not just the container of the family’s sorrows, but – somehow, inexplicably – feeding them.

I would go there from time to time during the secondary school years. I’d marvel at the grandeur of those iron gates and that long driveway; we’d climb the sweeping staircase to what is, in my memory, an endless procession of dark and musty rooms with plasterwork damp to the touch, old quilts, a pervading chill and flitting shadows. It was thrilling for a teenager. I remember one party – twenty drunk fourteen year olds screaming across the unkempt lawns, only to end up crammed into the (surprisingly tiny) kitchen, too spooked to venture further into the house.

My friend, a tall, loyal, bright girl with a hint of wildness behind the eyes, confided to me once that she sometimes had a ‘visitor’ in the middle of the night. She would wake in the small hours to find a shrouded and malevolent old lady sitting on her, pinning her to the mattress. She was paralyzed when this happened, she said, unable to even cry out for help. This terrifying apparition, she was convinced, meant to choke her.

The friend and I lost touch when I went off to university. Her life, I heard, did not unfold as happily as mine, she has had troubles. Her family broke up and the Manor was sold. But thirty years on, I found it again, in my imagination, a huge, neglected flinty beast set in an idyllic spot beneath the South Downs, a stone’s throw from the spot where Virginia Woolf drowned herself. The Manor – which I called Ileford –  became a key setting in my novel, the symbol of how the most grand and imposing façade can conceal rotten secrets. My friend’s ‘night visitor’ came to life again too. But that’s another story.

I still long for the Sussex countryside – the chalk paths up to the South Downs, pheasants panicking across country lanes in the early morning mist, and my hometown, Lewes, slotted in the cleft of the hills. I live in Oxford, now, and people tell me I’m lucky to be here but I still long to move ‘home’. I did go back to the Manor while researching my novel. I went up to the iron gates, held them and peeked through but I could see very little. I thought about going up the drive, knocking on the door and introducing myself, trying to explain who I was, what I was doing. In the end, I didn’t dare.

 

The Night Visitor launch photos

8 Jun 2017

with beetlesBook Launch night visitor launch crowd night visitor launch crowd 2 night visitor launch noodles 2 night visitor launch signing night visitor launch ted and prosecco night visitor launch with Helen nightvisitor cupcakes There were two parties to launch The Night Visitor. One in Blackwell’s Oxford, and another just a week later in Goldsboro Books, London. Night Visitor_launch invite_LondonIMG_1867 IMG_1848
IMG_1845 Quercus editor Stef Bierwerth
IMG_1844goldsboro cupcakes

Charleston Literary Festival 2017

30 May 2017

On Saturday I interviewed novelist Sarah Perry at the Charleston Literary Festival in Sussex, about The Essex Serpent. I grew up nearby in the nearby town of Lewes and it meant so much to me to be back on home turf. Here are some pictures of the weekend, which happens at the beautiful Charleston Farmhouse, home of Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister) and a Bloomsbury Group hub. The church is in the nearby village of Berwick and was decorated by Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Quentin Bell – it’s quite extraordinary.  Sarah’s event was packed but most of all I wish I’d taken a picture for you of the green room, which is the original farmhouse kitchen, with a decorated colander lampshade, and a scrubbed pine table groaning with scones and clotted cream, Victoria sponges, ginger biscuits, pots of tea…Hard to leave.

IMG_1962 IMG_1946 FullSizeRender IMG_1941

Run up to publication of The Night Visitor

18 Apr 2017

The-Night-Visitor_Twitter-Cards_Cannon

 

The Night Visitor with its smart new jacket heads out into the world for reviews and endorsements….just over a fortnight till publication.

Oxford Literary Festival 2017

23 Feb 2017

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 18.01.15I’ll be interviewing some terrific authors at the Oxford Literary Festival next month (and seeing a few as an audience member too – Elif Shafak, Paul Auster among others).  We’ll be in the beautiful Corpus Christi College, which is having its 500th birthday and has opened its doors to the festival to celebrate.

I’ll be talking to Jo Cannon, author of the Sunday Times bestselling novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a beautiful book, just out in paperback.

Then there’s Clover Stroud, whose memoir of her mother’s catastrophic riding accident, The Wild Other, is extraordinary and captivating.

I’ll be interviewing Victoria Hislop about her new book, Cartes Postales From Greece (she’s bringing a slide show!)

and finally I’ll be talking to the famous Louise Doughty about her fascinating new novel, Black Water. Louise’s previous book, Apple Tree Yard, was recently made into a gripping BBC Drama (I’m sure we’ll talk about that too).

Tickets are on sale HERE now, for these and other Festival events.

Psychologies Magazine How to Write a Novel column

23 Feb 2017

Here’s my first column for Psychologies magazine. I’ll be writing one a month for a year.

Tips and discussions of techniques, overcoming blocks, facing fears and all that…. Have a read of column 1 here. 

proofs TNV

The Night Visitor – coming 1 June 2017

3 Feb 2017

The Night Visitor

The Night Visitor cover reveal

3 Feb 2017

double click on this blank page….
Night-Visitor_Animated-Cover-Reveal_v1

Bestselling Crime Author Peter May

24 Jan 2017

Peter May at Waterstones Oxford

It was such a pleasure to spend an hour grilling crime author Peter May at Waterstones Oxford​ last night about his new book Cast Iron, the final in his acclaimed Enzo series. The most fascinating revelation, for me, is that, after many months of deep research, Peter spends an intense week writing a detailed storyline and then writes the entire novel in only about *seven weeks*. He makes Peter May Oxford 2017himself write 3,000 words a day, without fail, and will stop practically mid-sentence when he gets to his daily target.

He also talked about the wrench of saying goodbye to his beloved character Enzo, after six books. Incredibly, he started writing the Enzo books after his novel The Blackhouse was turned down by every single UK publisher. It was eventually picked up in France, became a huge bestseller, then had British publishers bidding like crazy to buy it. The madness of subjectivity. He chose Quercus Books​ (a publisher we share) because they were small, supportive with an immensely clever and talented staff. The Blackhouse (which became the first in his famous Lewis Trilogy) went on to sell millions worldwide.

This is the part of my job that I really love – the chance to learn from a pro (who also happens to be a lovely person).

 

 

An evening with Peter May at Waterstones Oxford

19 Jan 2017

I’m interviewing the great Peter May at Waterstones Oxford next Monday night about his new crime novel, Cast Iron. He’s a brilliant talker, with so much to say about writing, the writer’s life, crime fiction, Scotland…. Cast Iron is one of his ‘Enzo Files’ novels. Here’s a bit about the book:

THE NEW THRILLER FROM THE MILLION-SELLING AUTHOR OF COFFIN ROAD AND THE BLACKHOUSE

In 1989, a killer dumped the body of twenty-year-old Lucie Martin into a picturesque lake in the West of France. Fourteen years later, during a summer heatwave, a drought exposed her remains – bleached bones amid the scorched mud and slime.

No one was ever convicted of her murder. But now, forensic expert Enzo Macleod is reviewing this stone cold case – the toughest of those he has been challenged to solve.

Yet when Enzo finds a flaw in the original evidence surrounding Lucie’s murder, he opens a Pandora’s box that not only raises old ghosts but endangers his entire family.

peter may Oxford Flyer 1

← Older posts