An Imaginary Seaside Town
I love inventing fictional places, and so when I started to invent Helmstone, the seaside town of my novel, I pictured my home city of Brighton, on the south coast of England, but with a sandy beach and a cliff rising up from the seafront. I saw the town during its heyday, in a languid summer of the 1920s, and later on, rundown and somewhat seedy in an out-of-season week in the 1960s.
An old house packed full of secrets
I adore the old Regency buildings of Brighton and Hove, and they really helped me to imagine Castaway House. I’ve always been fascinated by what life must have been like when these buildings were owned by one family, with servants toiling in the basement kitchen – and the secrets the walls of the house must contain.
But also fascinating to me is what happened later on, when these houses were broken up after the war, and became poorly-maintained bedsits. My parents lived in one such bedsit, in London’s Notting Hill in the 1960s, and their stories made me wonder what it must have been like, to be young and independent, living in a once-elegant room with high ceilings and large windows, the walls running with damp.
And so my cliff rising up from the seafront became a terrace of Regency-era houses, and the last house at the top, larger than the others and painted buttermilk yellow, the colour of summer, became Castaway House. I planted secrets within the building, mysteries that gradually reveal themselves the further we go inside the true heart of the house.
Literature, Music and Fashion
While I was writing each section I plunged myself into each era: I read novels of the time to capture the voice and attitudes, listened to some great music, and absorbed myself in the fashion of each era. You can see some of the cultural artefacts and images that inspired me on my pinterest pages for the book here, along with quotes from the novel itself.
I had so much fun writing The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House, and I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it too.