A cuppa and cake with writer Imogen Robertson

Imogen on her way for a cuppa and a cake
Imogen on her way for a cuppa and a cake

Well hello there – you catch me just getting the cake iced. I hope Imogen likes it, it’s the first time I’ve used this icing and decoration before. This is thirsty work though this icing and cake baking lark – so much so that once I’ve got all the things in place and the table set, I have to make myself a sneaky cuppa before she comes here.

Waiting for the icing to set so I've had a sneaky cuppa before Imogen arrives
Waiting for the icing to set so I’ve had a sneaky cuppa before Imogen arrives

Aah right that’s better, so cups clean and I’m all set now. Ooh I see her now, coming up the path. Ding dong! Right coming!!!!

Several minutes later we’re sitting on the sofa, cake and tea all laid out nicely. We’ve had an emergency first cuppa as Imogen is parched just thinking about the tea and cake. So, of course I join her and we soon get tucked into the goodies and of course talking about her fantastic series of books set in Keswick!

So Imogen, I’m dying to know a few things about your books and in particular ‘Island of Bones’ –

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What gave you the idea to start writing about Crowther and Westerman?  They are such an unusual investigative duo. Unique of their kind.

Thank you! As with most things in writing it was a combination of books I was reading and situations I was thinking about. I was interested in the roles of Georgian women and the idea of Harriet, part of society but slightly at odds with it began to form. Crowther arrived fully formed in my imagination. I suspect the images of Joseph Wright of Derby, the faces in the candle light had a lot to do with it. I was also reading Wendy Moore’s biography of John Hunter, the father of modern surgery. They are very different men, but Hunter’s relentless curiosity and single-mindedness are certainly part of Crowther’s make-up.

The map of mystery
The map of mystery

What gave you the idea to set the books in Keswick?I don’t know of many books set there. And what kind of research did you do?

I’ve known Keswick and Derwentwater since I was a child, my parents use to take us there a lot and I remember running through the woods that border the lake much as Stephen does in the book. I’d rather arbitrarily said that Crowther was born in the area in an earlier novel, and as I realised I wanted to write something that explained more of his upbringing and history, it became clear the book had to be set there. Turns out to have been one of my better decisions. It is a wonderful place, incredible scenery of course, but also so rich in history, folklore, tradition and legend I’m surprised more people don’t set their books there!

A lot of my research takes place in libraries, but actually spending time in the places where you set your book is vital. It’s especially true for Island where, I hope, the landscape is in a way a character too. Keswick has been through so many times of transformation and it’s fascinating to see what endures and what changes over time. My husband and I rented a little house in the town and we walked and walked until I felt I could write about it.

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What is the one place that you would recommend we visit there or a legend we should read more about?

My recommendations are probably pretty much the same as an 18th century traveller would give! Visit the Keswick museum, an extraordinary, eclectic collection that is the direct descendent of the museum opened in the town in the 1780s; climb the hill to see the Castlerigg stone circle and of course spend time out on Derwentwater itself. For the legends, if you look up the Luck of Edenhall you’ll find some of the inspiration for the Luck in the novel. It is an object of great beauty too.

Imogen researching her novel 'on location' - A book trail in the making!
Imogen researching her novel ‘on location’ – A book trail in the making!

Have you visited the sites in the book and can you tell us something that you maybe found out in your research but couldn’t use in the novel? You really create a great atmosphere of spooky goings on!

Yes, I always go to the places my books are set. The ideas that can be inspired by just walking the ground are often better than anything you come up with when stuck in the library. Some of the buildings in the novel I made up, but I still went and stood on the places they would have been.

I can tell you something spooky from the research I couldn’t use in the book actually! I arrived at the British Library for my first day of research and ordered up a guide to the lakes which was published just before the book was set. I wanted to hold in my hand the guide that Harriet and Crowther would have had with them. It arrived and my heart almost stopped when I opened in and found the original owner’s name inscribed on the inside cover in beautiful 18th century handwriting. ‘H. Crowther.’ I have to say, it felt like a good omen!

Spooky goings on in Keswick
Spooky goings on in Keswick

This is fascinating – can I offer you another piece of cake though? I made it myself, did I mention that? hehe Right now about the character of Casper, I found him  a very interesting person. Can you tell us more about him?

Casper is born out of the world of cunning men and women that has always existed in Britain. People tend to think of history in rather black and white terms: ‘This was how things were, then the Enlightenment happened and everything changed.’ People don’t really work like that and cunning folk were an important part of the community, particularly in rural areas well into the 19th century. They drew on age-old traditions, sold talismans, told fortunes and helped people fight off curses, illness and misfortune or recover stolen goods. Some were charlatans and I’m sure and many of their beliefs and cures will seem very strange to us now, but I’m equally sure many were a positive force in uncertain times. I highly recommend ‘Popular Magic’ by Owen Davies for an excellent study of cunning folk in England. Casper also hears voices, and I did a lot of research into experiences of voice hearing to understand that part of his character, then think how he might understand his experience in the context of his own time and culture.

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You’ve recently released your latest novel  – The Paris Winter – why did you decide to base your novel in this city and more importantly its dark underbelly?

I love Paris and in the time the novel is set, 1909, it was the most modern city on earth – a beacon of culture and consumerism. I wanted to look behind the curtain and see what else was going on. I’m always interested in what is happening in the places other people aren’t looking. I also wanted to write about art and women artists in particular and like many of them, I was drawn to the studios of Paris and the stories to be found there.

Say you’ll be retuning to Crowther and Westerman?

Island of Bones is followed by Circle of Shadows which sees Crowther and Westerman plunged into a world of alchemy, automata and poison in the Holy Roman Empire. The next Crowther and Westerman novel is ‘Theft of Life’, which is set in London and against the background of the slave trade. That’s due to be published in the UK in May 2014.

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Which 4 characters from literature would you have at a dinner party? 

Difficult question! Dorothea from Middlemarch, Prince Myshkin from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, then, because they might need some livening up, I think, Beatrice and Benedict from Much Ado About Nothing. Rats, out of room, I shall have to ask Lord Vetinari from the Terry Pratchett novels on a different day.

Thanks Imogen for telling me such fascinating insights into your novels! Off to read the next one now. Here, do you want to take some cake with you? You’re welcome back anytime. Thanks for writing about Keswick – it’s a beautiful part of the world and I have never read about it or been taken around it like I have with Crowther and Westerman! Amazing.

Imogen’s off home now but if you’re tempted to find out more then you can visit her at her house on line – http://www.imogenrobertson.com/index.html

I can’t promise there’ll be cake there though!

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The Island of Bones, The Lake District 1783

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A man in hanged for the murder of his own father 

A mysterious body is found  in someone else’s tomb.  

And that’s just for starters.

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Island of Bones was a lucky find for me. I came across it whilst looking at a friend’s bookcase one day and once I’d read the back and seen the map of Keswick where it is set – I knew I had to read it IMMEDIATELY. So I borrowed it (She has since gifted it to me – what a great friend!) and was immediately transported to the mysteriously spooky and grim Island of Bones.

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Sites 1.Crossthwaite Church         2 The Black Pig        3 The Keswick Museum   4 Mr Sturgess’s residence            5 CasperGrace’s cabins      6 Silverside Hall      7 Ruins of Gutherscale Hall        8 Tomb of the first Lord Greta

So, who fancies being transported into the middle of a gothic whodunit set in the 18th century?

On the Island of Bones lies the tomb of the first Earl of Greta. When the tomb is opened there is one body too many….and so the mystery begins…

Story in a nutshell – I don’t want to give anything away – you have to discover this for yourself. And experience the thrill of a location not often represented in literature like this. But what I will say –

Gabriel Crowther’s family bought the Gretas’ land long ago and it was his brother that was hanged for murdering their own father  – the Baron of Keswick. He returns to his old home, to try and discover the identity of the extra body. A secret that has been buried for 300 years resurfaces, and  Crowther’s family’s bloody history is exposed in this historical thriller.

 

So, are you ready to travel to the Island of Bones?

 

St Herberts Island as represented on a different cover of the book
St Herberts Island as represented on a different cover of the book

St Herbert’s Island on Derwentwater

 

He thought of the skeleton recently discovered in the tomb on St Herbert’s Island

 

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wra-1356299840097/view-page/item400001/

 

Keswick and Derwentwater courtesy of Wikipedia
Keswick and Derwentwater courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Keswick

The little town of Keswick was becoming accustomed to the elegant coaches of approaching strangers appearing in its midst.

 

http://www.keswick.org/explore/history-culture/

Derwentwater

http://www.keswick.org/what-to-do/attractions/derwentwater/

 http://www.visitcumbria.com/kes/keswick/ 

 

Druidic Stones nr Chestnut hill 

Druid stone circle near Keswick courtesy of Wikipedia
Druid stone circle near Keswick courtesy of Wikipedia

There Keswick sits and whistles and is busy and behind that rise there are the stones the Druids left to watch us

http://www.keswick.org/what-to-do/attractions/castlerigg-stone-circle/

 

This map can be found on www.lakedistrict.gov.uk  It shows clearly where Keswick is located in the UK
This map can be found on http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk
It shows clearly where Keswick is located in the UK

This is the third book in the series of Crowther and Westerman but was the first book I came across and nothing was lost because of this. It is certainly a stand alone novel  but one which makes you want to read the others in the series.

The author’s delicious descriptions draw you in to the mood and  atmosphere of the novel.

The book is  a gothic mystery with a difference. It has intrigue, beautiful yet spooky settings and a lot of history.

Here’s hoping that Crowther and Westerman maybe one day make it to the small screen. I would love to see the beauty as well as the mystery of Keswick show cased to the rest of the world. And for Imogen Robertson’s gothic thriller to be the literary path that we all take there.

Read more here – http://www.imogenrobertson.com/crowtherwesterman.html

I hear Imogen is stopping by tomorrow for some of the booktrailer’s famed cakes and tea. I’ll be sure to ask some questions about this book and more!

A cuppa with Judith Kinghorn – author of The Last Summer

A cup of coffee and book = perfect!
A cup of coffee and book = perfect!

Now then, I hope you’re sitting comfortably and have dressed for the occasion as it’s time for a cuppa and a chat about The Last Summer with the lovely Judith Kinghorn herself….

The Last Summer has been compared to the television series Downton Abbey and to the novel, Atonement. Do you mind the comparisons and do you agree with them?

I’m very flattered to be compared to such a well-loved and popular television series, and particularly flattered to be compared to such a great novel. But I’m not sure The Last Summer is like either. Any similarity between my novel and Downton Abbey is, I think, more to do with the period and the setting – the English country house. And comparisons to Atonement are perhaps more about the storyline of love between the classes: Atonement is set in WW2, The Last Summer in WW1; and they’re very different stories. But as I say, I’m very flattered!

In an interview, I remember you saying that reading Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca was an inspiration to you in writing the novel. What was it about Rebecca that inspired you?

It was really to do with the (unknown) narrator. I think this is a crucial element in Rebecca’s success and in the tension of the novel. After reading it, I knew I had to write a first person narrative; a story with an intimacy that would take the reader into the mind (and heart) of the narrator, and immerse them in a particular time and place… so that they could live it, see it.

Deyning Park
Deyning Park?

I loved The Last Summer. Was Deyning Park based on anywhere in particular? Even though I have imagined it via locations I’ve been to (see yesterday’s blog post) I would love to go to the place which inspired it!

The actual house doesn’t exist and isn’t based on anywhere in particular, but the location does exist – and isn’t far from where I live.

I knew before I began writing the novel where I wanted the house to be. So, in my mind’s eye, I laid out the grounds – the lake, the island, the walled garden and pleasure gardens – just as though I was painting a landscape, albeit one I knew, and then, finally, I placed the house there and gave it its name! It looks out over the South Downs, to the east of Midhurst in West Sussex.

Who  might play Clarissa in a movie?
Who might play Clarissa in a movie?

In a film of the book, who do you imagine playing your characters?

Oh my. I’ve been asked this before but I really have no idea. I think, I hope, that if The Last Summer were to be made into a film, the leading actors – Tom and Clarissa – would be English actors. And there are so many wonderful emerging young actors that I wouldn’t like to say which ones. Also, it would have to be two who could play the parts from youth through to middle age, so not easy. But I could easily see the likes of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith in the roles of Mama and Venetia!

If you could have dinner with 4 writers living or dead, who would you choose and why?

Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Jean Rhys, and Rosamond Lehmann: because they’re a few of my favourite writers and led such fascinating lives. I’d love to listen to Virginia on the Bloomsberries, and hear her gossip about the other writers and artists she knew; I’d love to hear Edith’s voice, her American accent and witty observations on New York society; I’d love Jean to tell me about her childhood growing up in the Caribbean and her early days in London in the 1920s; and I’d be able to ask Rosamond about her love affair with Cecil Day Lewis and her long and tumultuous life. And I’d have the opportunity to tell each of them how much their writing has meant to me.

The stunning Northumberland coast
The stunning Northumberland coast

Being a fellow North Easterner, what do you miss most about the North East now that you live elsewhere?

I sometimes miss the space and, as I grew up on the Northumbrian coast, the empty beaches and the sound of the sea and all those ruined castles.  And I often miss the innate friendliness of northerners. But, truthfully, it’s a long time since I lived there and now I very much think of Hampshire as home.

Thank you very much Judith for taking the time to chat with me about your book and inspiration for it. It’s been lovely to meet you and to spend time at Deyning Park! 

Judith’s second novel The Memory of Lost Senses was released in the UK in May 2013. To find out more about this book and of course The Last Summer, please go to Judith’s website. http://www.judithkinghornwriter.com/

The Last Summer at Deyning Park

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Allow me to take you on a tour of Deyning Park -the world of Judith Kinghorn’s ‘The Last Summer’ –  to the world of Clarissa and Tom, to sumptuous parties against the backdrop of war.

Clarissa is a girl trapped in a gilded cage, who reads to escape her daily life and who meets a man who changes her life in ways she would never have thought possible….

Welcome to Deyning Park…..

Welcome to Deyning Park
Welcome to Deyning Park

I was almost seventeen when the spell of my childhood was broken

And through an opening line like that….I walked right into the world of Deyning Park. 

Deyning Park is the grand house where Clarissa lives with her parents and three older brothers, Henry, George and William. The house was ‘built in the neoclassical style from honey-hued stone’ and has ‘a multitude of tall windows’ . From her window,  she could look beyond ‘the six hundred acres of landscape gardens to the South downs in the distance. So I travelled to Deyning – the Deyning in my mind and took my book to soak it all up – literary style –

The tall windows...
The tall windows…

‘It was the only point in my vision that my father did not own, and I sometimes wondered who lived there,beyond my world, beyond Deyning.’

The gardens and the world beyond....
The gardens and the world beyond….

I meet Clarissa Granville aged 16 in the summer of 1914. The spell of her childhood has been broken by the arrival of Tom Cuthbert, who Clarissa immediately likes but who is considered below her social standing.

They first meet in a library – she often resorts to reading and spending time in the library to escape from what she considers to be her gilded cage.

Ooh to become lost as Clarissa did in those books....
Ooh to become lost as Clarissa did in those books….

‘When he appeared in the library that day, I was perched at the top of the library steps, reading a volume of Emily Bronte’s poems, and I can’t be sure but I think that I may have been reading aloud.’

Tom and Clarissa grow close but their relationship is both passionate and strained. They are often apart from each other and can only often meet in secret. When the war breaks out Tom and the men in Clarissa’s life are somewhat lost to her. This is where we see the changes in Deyning Park and the place of women and indeed men in society.

Factually accurate details of wartime and the class systems of the time have been woven into the narrative, and issues such as the suffragettes, the changing political climate of Europe and the threat of war are omnipresent.

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The Last Summer is a walk into the past – to Deyning Park and everyone who lives and visits there:

‘People had gone but an echo of their presence lingered; their voices held in the atmosphere , passed on the whisper of trees.’

‘A meandering trail of pale linen and straw hats…..’

While the love story of Tom and Clarissa’s relationship is weaved into each and every page, the last summer is so much more than a love story.

It’s a story about war time and how men and women had their independent struggles to contend with – the men were sent away to fight and often die whilst the women at home had to struggle on and mourn together, keeping everything together for the sake of their families.

It’s a story that immerses you in the time and place of  a young girl wanting to escape society’s expectations of her:

An orderly society for a young girl
An orderly society for a young girl

‘Like my mother’s orchids, I had been nurtured in a controlled environment, an atmosphere maintained at a consistent temperature, protected from cold snaps, clumsy fingers and bitter frosts.’

Judith Kinghorn has written a very visual novel  – full of mystery, hidden secrets, forbidden love and human emotions. She transports you to another time and place, sits you side by side the Granville family and hands you a glass of champagne when you join their friends.

Deyning is as much a character as Clarissa and Tom.

A gilded cage?
A gilded cage?

Immerse yourself into a world of: 

 

Sumptuous style mixed with war time rations 

Love and heartbreak 

Glittering parties amidst war time struggles 

A changing world and hidden secrets 

Welcome to Deyning Park 

I am very proud to say that I will be having a cuppa and a nice cosy chat with the lovely lady, Judith Kinghorn, herself tomorrow. Do dress for the occasion and join us won’t you?