Ideas abound in the English Country House

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I’ve already talked here about how cemeteries and graveyards start my imagination running, but if I’m really looking for inspiration it’s the big, old, crumbling, Victorian mansion that makes me want to write.

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And, lucky for me, we’re knee deep in them here in the UK. But the sad truth is that over the last century or so we have lost hundreds of them too. And there, in itself, lies a story, waiting to be found.

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The great country house has so often played a part in well-known English literature. Think Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Ian McEwan’s Atonement and Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger.

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And it’s these country houses that set the scene for change: change in our attitude to class, change in society, change in the economy. And these settings provide the stories about loss, failure and everyday human struggle, and because these tales are set in a big house, the stories seem bigger in scale, more enticing and more intriguing.

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But you don’t need to go to fiction to find these stories of loss and change. I’m currently reading Catherine Bailey’s Black Diamonds, a true story about the rise and fall of an English dynasty, with the family seat, Wentworth House, now a crumbling and forgotten palace in Yorkshire.

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Close by to where I live is Tyntesfied, an extraordinary gothic Victorian mansion, now owned by the National Trust. This house was left to the Trust intact, with nothing having been thrown away or changed much for over one hundred years. Here was a house waiting to be discovered, stories waiting to be told.

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It’s houses like this that let my imagination run riot. It’s particularly at Tyntesfield, with all the furniture, art, books and other items that all originally belonged to the house, where you get a sense of those that lived there before and where I begin to find snippets of ideas, stories and inspiration.

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This is the house that pushed my idea for the novel I am currently writing into the forefront of my imagination. This is the house that finally got me to sit down and write the story that had been in my head for years.

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