I’ve lived in America for most of my adult life but there are things I still miss about England. I suppose some of this is a longing for a time more than a place. I have happy memories of my childhood, of the innocence of life in the English countryside, off on my bike for the day to splash around in a stream, to pick fruit, to have adventures in the woods. Summer seemed endless and so free.
I also miss the foods that evoke my childhood: tea on the lawn in summer with cucumber sandwiches, freshly made scones with strawberry jam and sometimes with cream too; fish and chips eaten out of newspaper on a cold evening; Cornish pasties… I could go on and on but I’ll make myself hungry.
So writing about England of long ago in the Royal Spyness novels is a permanent trip into nostalgia for me. Not that I was around in the nineteen thirties, but the British countryside was still pretty much the same when I was growing up. There were people in my village whose family had lived there for generations, who had never been to London. This all changed in the nineteen sixties. Cheap travel opened up the Continent to those who had never gone abroad before. London commuters bought second homes in the country. The village shop suddenly started stocking pate and French cheeses.
But in my books most people in a village worked either on the land or at the big house. There was always a big house somewhere close by and being a servant there was a coveted job. In my new book, HEIRS AND GRACES, I’ve created a fictional stately home called Kingsdowne Place, near Eynsford in Kent. I chose the setting and the name because I spent happy hours of my childhood riding my bike to Eynsford and I learned to swim at Kingdown pool (not heated and freezing in the cold English summers). My cousin and I played in the woods where I have set my stately home, on a slope of the beautiful north Downs of Kent. There was a Roman Villa nearby and a silkworm farm and it was always fun to watch the cars going through the ford and getting people wet. So this has been a great excuse to revisit my childhood and to increase the pleasure I’ve also used names from my past life too.
The Butler is Huxstep. He’s prim and haughty and he’s named after my own headmistress at school. She was more terrifying but I think they look similar. The cook at Kingsdowne is Mrs. Broad… and the real Mrs. Broad was the cleaning lady who looked after our house. We lived in a big, rambling old place called Britomart, after a naval captain’s ship and the acre of ground was full of exotic plants he had brought back from his travels. I spent my summers happily playing and exploring there, making tree houses, adopting wild kittens and being completely free and unchaperoned.
It’ s no wonder that I’ve enjoyed recreating that era for myself, is it?
HEIRS AND GRACES comes out in hardcover, e-book and Audible audio on August 6th. It is the seventh in the Royal Spyness series featuring Lady Georgiana who is 35th in line to the throne but absolutely penniless in the 1930s.