While I was writing Wild Designs I saw a small ad (a habit of mine) offering a course on ‘How to Look After a Great House.’ I was fascinated and intrigued but, being still quite inexperienced, I didn’t immediately drop everything and go on the course because I was busy writing another book. I assumed, in my naivety, that the course would be offered again and I could go on it later.
I had foolishly mentioned my plan to write about a stately home to my agent and she loved the idea, so much so that when I realised the course was gone forever I still felt obliged to write the book. It was hard, getting behind the scenes of a stately home. I had a friend who volunteered at Ham House and I got in there. I also went round a local stately home (Uley Manor, small and delightful) but being quite shy I didn’t dare say I was a local author and could they tell me a bit about running it. Nowadays I would write and ask and all would be well. I also went round Berkley Castle courtesy of a friend who ran the butterfly house.
Then I had to have a story. I gave my heroine a mother who, when being made aware that her daughter had been recently dumped, thought she might as well be useful if she was miserable anyway. Thus my poor Hetty was sent off to look after the house belonging to a distant uncle who was in hospital.
Fortunately for me, the poor girl was so busy she couldn’t stay broken hearted for long.