If you have read Haunted or Lady in Red, you will probably have guessed that I love all things historical. One of my favourite jobs was working for conservation architects, who looked after historic buildings, particularly churches and cathedrals. I especially love visiting old castles, and ruined abbeys, where the ancient stonework seems to draw me back in time to scenes of Mediaeval banquets and Civil War sieges. It was the thirteenth century priory in our town, now open to the public as a museum, which inspired the setting for Haunted.
I have loved the Pre-Raphaelite artists ever since I studied them for A level Art, so creating a lost masterpiece by a Pre-Raphaelite artist was great fun. When Donna looks at Maude’s portrait and wails “Why can’t I have hair like that?” she is echoing my own sixteen-year-old self, who would have died for a similar head of lustrous auburn hair.
If you too love the way a good book can instantly transport you back into the past, here are two absolute classics.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Sixteen-year-old Kit travels from her home in the West Indies to the American colonies in 1687 to live with strangers. She is thrust into a world which is very different from the one she has known, and she must learn to obey rules which go against everything she has been taught. But it is her choice of friend that is most controversial: an old lady who the settlers regard as a witch. As a teenager, I loved this book. It seemed to speak to the rebel in me.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
This book is set in a moated castle in the period between the two world wars. It is written in the form of a diary kept by Cassandra Mortmain, and it tells of the family’s struggle to survive financially while her father’s career as an author is stalled by writer’s block. It’s about growing up in a eccentric, penniless family, falling in love for the first time, and learning some important life lessons. And it has some really funny scenes.