Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Inspiration for The Night Visitor: Guest Post by Lucy Atkins

Lucy Atkins:
Inspiration for The Night Visitor

When I was growing up in a picture-postcard village in the south of England, I had a friend whose home was nothing like my own. It was huge, for a start—a Victorian Gothic Manor House with ten bedrooms, a sweeping staircase, a ballroom, and a minstrel’s gallery. To get to the house you had to pass through tall iron gates and travel down a long, tree-lined driveway, at the end of which loomed the grey flint house, magnificent but also kind of terrifying.

The interior was in a state of creeping dilapidation. There were cobwebs in the corners, damp shadows on the plasterwork, rattling casement windows with cracked panes, and a pervasive smell of mildew in the air. It was always cold and dark inside, even in summertime. It turned out that my friend’s father, a gambling man, had won the house in a bet some time in the 1970s and, with no money for repairs, upkeep, or modernization, it was stuck in time, a flinty Miss Havisham, hell bent on decay.

I remember crazy teenage parties where we’d run screaming across the tattered lawns, sure that we were being pursued by something ghoulish. I remember everyone cramming into the kitchen because a ghost had been spotted in the minstrel’s gallery. My friend, a tall, blonde, loyal girl, told me that she would often wake in the night to find an old lady sitting on her chest, pinning her to the mattress. My friend was paralyzed when this happened, unable to move or cry out for help.

When I began to research The Night Visitor, two elements of my childhood memory resurfaced: the malevolent old lady “night visitor,” and the Manor. That house became “Ileford Manor” in my novel, a grand place that is stuck in time, hiding complicated secrets. I updated things a little: my housekeeper, Vivian Tester, is proud and competent; she lives alone in the manor with her rescue dog, Bertie, and works hard to keep the damp at bay, dealing with spiders and dust and falling roof slates. What I did recreate though, was that “unheimlich” feeling in the house, the sense of uncanny unease, the knowledge that things are just not right there.

The Night Visitor is about two very different women: Olivia, a glamorous British historian in her forties who makes TV shows about Victorian women, and Vivian, the housekeeper, in her sixties and definitely not glamorous. When Vivian finds a Victorian diary in the house, she takes it to Olivia and the two women begin to work together on a book about the diary’s author. As the novel unfolds, and events move between the manor house and a glorious vacation rental in the South of France, it becomes clear that Vivian is not what she seems.

In my novels, settings are crucial for building tension. I loved the contrast I could draw between the sunny French villa and my threatening, Gothic English house. I have no idea what made the Manor (and its unsettling old lady) resurface in my mind after so many years, but I’m so grateful that it did. I don’t know if I could have written The Night Visitor without it.

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Lucy Atkins is an award winning British author and journalist. Her novels The Night Visitor (2017), The Other Child (2015), and The Missing One (2014) are all published by Quercus. She has also written seven non-fiction books, two of which have won national awards.

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