Writing is a solitary pursuit. All those hours and hours of listening to the voices in your head, all the staring out of the window as the story unspools in the air before you, and then the undignified scrabbling as you desperately try to capture it on the page. I’m lucky, I suppose, as, unfashionable as it appears to be in this age of social media, I enjoy being alone: there, I said it. And, as much as I love music, I also love the silence of writing.
However…staying in the bubble of your work can flatten your colours and foreshorten that horizon, making it necessary to step into a different space and observe the world through different windows, or maybe slip and slide through muddy woods, or (repeatedly) sit down by the river of your childhood and wonder if you really are brave enough to join that wild swimming group.
I always come back to my work with new thoughts tangled in my hair, and my body remembering exactly how it was to be under those trees, beside that rushing river, taking in those changing skies. My visits to the real world make the words come. They give life to the voices in my head.
And I get to call it research.
My novel has a old house as it’s beating heart. A large, empty, beautiful, and haunted, house. My main protagonist loves her house, loves the worn sandstone beneath her bare feet and the old oak against her tatty fingernails. She’s a strange girl, and can be tricky to be around, but we both agree on the strange magic of old houses: the way time settles in the corners; the feeling of eyes in an empty corridor; the fading threads of colour from lives lived, and loves lost.
And that’s what brought me to Haddon Hall in Derbyshire.
I won’t reel off a potted history or give the standard guide book blurb – the internet can do that for me – but what I will give are my important highlights:
- An old lady’s death mask (creepy, fairly undignified and awkward to place in a room – I’m thinking of having one done).
- The ghost of a fleeing bride (wise girl, I wish I’d done the same).
- Servants’ areas and kitchens that time forgot. You can almost taste the bitter resentment, sweat and tears (similar to my own kitchen).
- The sudden realisation that this is the house where they filmed the BBC version Jane Eyre. (My daughter and I went home immediately and watched the DVD. Very gratifying).
It’s a beautiful house in a beautiful place, and retains the feeling that the Lady of the house, with her long skirts and ring of keys, has only recently left the room – or is, perhaps, still there, as the Blue Lady at your shoulder, watching as you walk her halls.
I’m just going to leave this song right here…