I did manage to do a lot of this though:
The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (with some weak tea)
Kate Morton is now an 'Internationally Best Selling' author, trumpet her publishers. Her first two books also received the little golden 'Great Read' sticker handed out by the Australian Women's Weekly which usually guarantees mega sales. It also connotes girly chick lit whirlwind slightly bitter romance. And her work is better than that. Still pretty fruity in its language, perhaps searching for the less well known word when the ordinary one would do just fine, it's true, but I have loved all her books, resonant with secrets, dark English houses, overgrown gardens, pre and post War romances, and the tragedies and misunderstandings of family relationships.
Have you ever wondered about your mother's life before she married and had you? I have, and like most people I have never really broached the topic with her. The Distant Hours explores the life of the heroine's mother as an evacuee to a castle located (I think) in Surrey which was inhabited by three sisters and their mad brilliant writer father in the depths of World War 2 and the secrets the sisters then keep there for 50 years.
Here is Kate Morton at her desk at home in Brisbane. Yes she is Australian, but writes so well about England.
photo via The Australian
And most wonderfully The Distant Hours features a castle with a tower and a filled in moat. Kate Morton recently said in an interview 'I wanted to write something that made me feel so enveloped by a story that the real world dissolves around me'. I would say that is the secret to all great writing, that transportation into another world, and another point of view.
Whilst Kate Morton was apparently inspired by Sissinghurst Castle in her depiction of the fictional Milderhurst Castle, I pictured this castle as the home of the Blythe sisters, Juniper, Persephone and Seraphina. This is Herstmonceux Castle (Tudor, constructed from 1441) at Bexhill in Sussex, taken I suspect, before it was refurbished. It now houses an outpost of Canada's Queen's University.
How I wanted to live in a castle when I was little. And the Distant Hours made me think back to some other favourite castle books.
I read Dodie Smith's 'I Capture the Castle' many years ago, and when the film was released in 2003 I rushed off to see it by myself. The film was set here, at Manorbier Castle (Norman, constructed from 1140) in West Wales, a castle which has now, like so many others, fallen into disrepair.
No post about English castles in books would be complete without Malory Towers. I have read that the real life inspiration for Malory Towers, the four towered school in Cornwall, was this castle, Lulworth Castle (built in 1610) in Dorset. Isn't it funny that as a child I so fervently wanted to go to boarding school. I probably would have hated it, but the idea of school in a stone castle was just so exciting.
I do often wonder if Brideshead Revisited would have died a quiet 20th century death were it not for the BBC TV series from the early 1980s. After all, I have to say I found the book a bit turgid. Far away, at Melbourne University at the time of the TV series, people got up in boaters and blazers channeled Sebastian Flyte in their every utterance. But the setting, in this, the castle of all castles, Castle Howard in North Yorkshire (built from 1699 to a design by Sir John Vanbrugh), makes up for almost everything else.
Other castles of my dreams? I prefer them craggy and stormy, like this one, Eilean Donan Castle (originally built in early 13th century as a defence against the Vikings):
Have I missed any other great castle books?
(Photo of Manorbier Castle by Stephen J Franklin)