Monthly Archives: March 2017

Polesden Lacey – English Country House inspiration for my next book

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask, the forthcoming book in The Secret of the Tirthas, takes place in a fabulous country house based on Polesden Lacey, a property near Dorking that was almost bequeathed to the Queen but ended up in the hands of the National Trust.

My wife and I take our boys there on a regular basis, as they love amongst other things getting their hands on old stuff, grandfather clocks, the chickens when they’re not away on holidays, and, appropriately, the stone griffins. Plus the grounds are huge, and beautiful, so there’s plenty of space to run around.

I always wanted the series to be very diverse, with equal parts mystery and action, and a strong contrast between the exotic and well-known. After Lizzie’s harrowing ordeal in the Cameroonian jungle in The Dreamer Falls, I decided to revert to a gentler setting, with the emphasis once again on mystery and intriguing characters.

After watching an excellent BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (and then reading the no-less-brilliant book) I knew Lizzie’s story leant itself to the same kind of set-up. So I did some research and took a lot of photos of the building, uncovering more of the absorbing story of Margaret Greville, who bought the house with her McEwan’s inheritance (‘I’d rather be a beeress than an heiress’), and who held regular country parties for socialites from London and the wider Empire.

Portrait of Margaret Greville, Polesden Lacey

Margaret Greville collected ‘people with the unerring eye of a stamp-collector’ according to the Evening Standard, and her guests included European Ambassadors, Earls and Countesses, writers and poets – and Maharajahs. A perfect mix for an intense and suspenseful story, in which Lizzie is left wondering whether guests are who they say they are – or whether they are demons in disguise, come searching for a lost Artefact of Power.

The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask will be out in the early summer. The final book in the series (currently with numerous working titles!) will be out early next year.

Margaret loved her dogs, all of whom ended up in Polesden’s famous pet cemetery.

‘She being dead yet speaketh’

This poem was inspired by an inscription on a gravestone in Warwickshire:

‘She Being Dead Yet Speaketh’

just before I wake or when the dog
looks up suddenly from cracking its bone.
When my name sung by her voice
seeps through the wood in the house.
When I run to the phone,
thinking that it’s her.
Behind the confusion
of a stranger’s piped words.

In the blaze of the baby’s hair
as she sprawls beneath blue bay windows
I hear her still speaking
telling me always, telling me nothing,
making me feel, before it bursts,
like light.

Please, stop sending the cards.
She is still talking.
I am all right.

This was one of several poems I had published in the Belmont Art Centre’s Poetry File programme for secondary schools in Shropshire.

World Book Day & the ‘Magic of Children’

I’ve just spent the last two days being reminded of the magic of children.

Yesterday I attended a ‘Better Start’ conference in Blackpool, looking at the role the whole community plays in bringing up healthy children. There were some inspirational speakers, including Trevor Hopkins who spoke about all the things that make people feel safe and happy. His long list ended in spirituality, religion and magic. Remarking on how many in academic spheres often criticise him for adding magic he stated (here I paraphrase): ‘Well, you all know children. Children are magic.’

Today is World Book Day, and I was given an opportunity to see again the magic of children when I undertook my first Author Visit to Class 3 of North Wheatley Primary School. I did a short reading, after which I was preparing myself for blank faces – only to experience quite the opposite. For the next half hour – and then again after break – I was answering dozens of interesting and intriguing questions from these bright and lively pupils. Should Lizzie have gone through the portal? Would I have gone through the portal? (And then I was caught out by ‘what’s your favourite song’!) I was bowled over by the depth of thought that the children applied to their reading.

The morning finished with the children writing storylines for adventures through their own portals, and once again I was massively impressed by their imagination and creativity. Thanks to the Head teacher, Joanna Hall, for inviting me and special thanks to the class teacher, Kate Bailey, whose preparation made the session a real pleasure.