Do you think a house can have a troubled personality?
My latest novella, The Man in the Woods, is set in the Surrey Hills. It’s a landscape of rolling pine-clad hills and gentle valleys, a place where it doesn’t take long to find deep stillness and magic, belying the fact it’s less than an hour’s drive from London.
I’ve been living on the edge of the Surrey Hills for 13 years now and love the place. But, as is common with creative writing, the house that inspired The Man in the Woods was somewhere else altogether. It was a house on the edge of a woodland in Kenilworth, a small town in Warwickshire, where I lived for a couple of years as a teenager.
An unhappy house
It’s an odd thing to say, but that house in Kenilworth was not a happy house. Whilst I loved Kenilworth itself, and had plenty of good times there, I never really liked that house. Strange things used to happen there.
Little things lost would be found days later, in the most obvious places – absurd things like a toilet roll holder, which turned up the week after in the middle of the bathroom floor. My stereo would whisper and hiss for some time after it was switched off. We were burgled in broad daylight, the dog emerging cowed at the top of the stairs when we got home and found everything in disarray.
My mum and stepdad’s relationship broke down while we were there. But he didn’t move out so we had to walk through ‘his’ rooms to get to ours, which was very uncomfortable.
One day, a woman appeared at the front door and told my mum the house was cursed. She said she’d fallen down the (very steep) stairs while she was living there, and her partner had fallen down a hole nearby and died.
I met one of my best friends from school recently, who I hadn’t seen for a while. He’s certainly the most practical and sensible of all my friends and he worked for years in the car industry. He visited our house in Kenilworth a few times and admitted how much he hadn’t liked it. He confessed he’d always thought it was us, our family, who caused the troubled aura. But then, when we moved to a new home, he started coming round all the time. He realised it hadn’t been us. It was the house.
Do you know a troubled house?
So that’s how the setting for The Man in the Woods came about. I put together a beautiful wood and a house which, despite its idyllic location, I honestly never liked. It felt like the perfect match for my sinister story.
I’m still inclined to think that the feel of that house was more to do with the troubled relationships in it, and that there was some practical explanation to the weird little things that happened. After all, it’s just possible that a dog could have got hold of a toilet roll holder and played with it for a while before dropping it a few days later in the bathroom. But despite that, I keep an open mind. Perhaps there really was something bad that had happened there, something sinister that seeped into the walls.
I’d be really interested to hear if you have any similar stories of a house with a troubled personality, or of any other troubled places? Let me know in the comments below.
If you’d like to read The Man in the Woods, here’s the link:
(Incidentally, there’s a poem about that period of my childhood in my collection, The Things We Thought Were Beautiful – you’ll know which one it is when you see it, the title gives it away!)