I was lucky enough to get the topic of buildings and the role in which they play in a book. How they can almost become characters themselves within a story. The role of buildings and the secrets which they may hide is just such an interesting concept, especially in a book which takes place over along period of time so it has time to become a part of a story. I was so interested reading Law’s thoughts and I hope you will be too and hope you get a chance to enjoy her release of The Secret Letters.
Published: 6th October 2016
Genre: Historical, Romance
Rose Pepper has kept her wartime past a secret for decades. Forty years ago, she fled communist Prague and left behind the love of her life.
Now in her sixties and with two daughters, Rose discovers a bundle of unopened letters sent to her by her lost love, hidden beneath her home.
Confronted with the possibility of facing up to her past, she decided it’s finally time to go back to where her story began and uncover the truth buried for so long in Prague…
From the author of Map of Stars comes a heartbreaking story of love, hope, secrets and lies. Perfect for fans of Kathryn Hughes and Leah Fleming
In search of a story
By Catherine Law
Inspiration comes to me in many ways, from gazing out of a train window at sublime landscapes and overhearing intriguing conversations, to the places I visit and fall in love with.
Over twenty years ago, my sister and her family moved into a Victorian vicarage right next to the church in a Staffordshire village. From the first time I visited, I felt intrigued, as if the house was stirring my creativity. Imagine a classic Gothic-style property, double fronted and gabled, the front door opening onto a wide hallway with the original mosaic floor, an archway – gothic of course – leading to the back of the house. I have spent a lot of time there, from Christmases to birthdays and beyond and, slowly and surely, almost without me realising it, the old house has inspired me.
When I created the home of my character Rose Pepper in my first novel, A Season of Leaves (to be re-published as an e-book on 6 October 2016, with the new title The Secret Letters) I thought of the Staffordshire vicarage, even though my book is set in Cornwall. This style of building, frequently the biggest in the village, is quite common throughout all counties, often sold off when the church builds the vicar a brand-new bungalow next door, a detail I also included in my novel. And what most intrigued me about my sister’s house, apart from listening to the church clock close by strike the watches throughout the night and the sparkling peal of bells on Sunday mornings, was the view of the churchyard, with shadowy yew trees and leaning gravestones, from every bedroom window.
Houses are central to many stories. They are evocative, create a sense of place, ground the people in the novel and become characters in their own right. The most obvious one that springs to mind is Wuthering Heights, atop the windswept moor, and its counterpart Thrushcroft Grange, sedate in the valley below, both of which seem to embody the personalities of their occupants. And who will ever be able to forget derelict, haunted
Rebecca’s Manderley, the intriguing pile glimpsed at first in a dream, revealing its secrets one by one.
For me, houses – from a suburban semi-detached to a crumbling castle – are never just bricks and mortar. They contain memories, the fabric of history. The walls absorb conversations and mirrors reflect the goings-on, both every day and tragic, played out inside the rooms. I love to explore great country houses, courtesy of the National Trust and English Heritage. But the places that stay with me are the ones where you witness the ordinary lives behind the all the finery. Lanhydrock house in Cornwall is a favourite. Here you encounter Victorian life, from the lowly servants’ quarters right through to the private boudoirs. And Dennis Severs’ house in Spitalfields, London, is another. Here, the exquisite atmosphere invokes a feeling that the Georgian silk weaver’s family has just left the room.
But the houses that have had most impact on me are the tiny and downright mean Back-to-Back dwellings in the centre of Birmingham – just 12 miles from my sister’s vicarage – which were home to hundreds of families of factory workers and artisans throughout the Victorian Industrial age. The conditions of sanitation, lack of light and overcrowding must have been, at some times, unbearable. Despite this, the residents decorated their walls with stencils and kept their best china out on show.
Last time I visited my sister in her Victorian vicarage, we had a house-full, so I slept in a small box room at the back of the house. Used for a long while as a cupboard, it had recently been cleared out and had enough space for a single bed and a side table. I immediately guessed that it had once been the maid’s room. Looking out of the window straight on to crooked gravestones crowding the churchyard, I wondered about the many women who had once slept in this tiny room. And what secrets they may have kept.
If I listen hard enough, all of these houses - from the lowliest to the most grand - will tell me their stories and inspire some of my own.
About the Author
Have you read anything by Catherine Law? What are your thoughts about the roles a building can play within a story? Which books have a building which almost are a character themselves?