House of Silence
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A Kindle bestseller, HOUSE OF SILENCE was selected by Amazon UK as one of its Top Ten BEST OF 2011 in the Indie Author category.
"My friends describe me as frighteningly sensible, not at all the sort of woman who would fall for an actor. And his home. And his family."
Orphaned by drink, drugs and rock n' roll, Gwen Rowland is invited to spend Christmas at her actor boyfriend Alfie's family home - a ramshackle Tudor manor in Norfolk.
Soon after she arrives, Gwen notices something isn't quite right. Alfie acts strangely toward his family and is reluctant to talk about the past. Alfie's mother, a celebrated children's author, keeps to her room, living in a twilight world, unable to distinguish between past and present, fact and fiction.
And then there's the enigma of an old family photograph...
When Gwen discovers fragments of forgotten family letters sewn into an old quilt, she starts to piece together the jigsaw of the past and realises there's much more to the family history than she's been told. It seems there are things people don't want her to know.
And one of those people is Alfie...
"Where do you get your ideas from"
It's a question every author is asked and it's sometimes difficult to remember the exact moment an idea is conceived. For me a novel is always a collection of ideas and themes, woven together to make a story, but HOUSE OF SILENCE had a particular genesis.
It arose from a poignant story my mother told me about her own mother. To go into more detail would spoil some of the surprises of HOUSE OF SILENCE, but that sad episode of family history with its unanswered questions lodged in my memory. Many years later, I began to wonder, "What if...?" and a plot gradually formed in my mind.
After STAR GAZING - a very Scottish book set on the Isle of Skye - I wanted to try my hand at writing an English country house mystery, something like REBECCA. But I also wanted to make it a love story, with an element of rom-com - and just a touch of Gothic!
HOUSE OF SILENCE belongs to no single genre of fiction and that proved a stumbling block for publishers. Mine turned it down and so we parted company. My agent tried to sell the manuscript to other publishers, but although editors liked the book, they said they couldn't see how to market it as it wasn't a straight love story. As my readers had been pleading for a new book, I decided to self-publish. The genre conventions of traditional publishing were putting up a barrier between me and my readers.
To my astonishment, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller. The novel was tremendous fun to write and, for all their faults, I grew to love the fictional family I'd created. It seemed fitting that the novel should be dedicated to my mother, who told me the story which became the genesis of HOUSE OF SILENCE. So the dedication reads: For my mother, Margaret, who loves a mystery.
Family and Friends
One of the themes of HOUSE OF SILENCE is the relationship between mothers and children. I examine this and compare it with the relationship authors have with their "offspring", ie their characters.
The matriarch of the fictional family in HOUSE OF SILENCE is a famous children's author, adored by her young fans, but not so popular with her own adult children. Any resemblance between my imaginary author, Rae Holbrook and Enid Blyton is not coincidental. I've always been intrigued by the fact that one of Blyton's daughters said she was a wonderful mother, while the other claimed she neglected them.
Rae's son, Alfie, a 29-year old actor, finds his personal life and career dogged by his mother's celebrity and her claim that her fictional boy super-hero, Tom Dickon Harry, was inspired by her son. Imagine if the baby who slept in a buggy while J K Rowling drafted HARRY POTTER had been a son rather than a daughter. Might that have been a rather heavy burden for a boy, then a man to bear?
Alfie isn't the son Rae wanted and Rae isn't the mother Alfie would have chosen. "Humankind cannot bear very much reality", as T S Eliot said, so we use fantasies of all kinds to protect ourselves from the brutality of truth. For Gwen's mother it was drugs. For Rae, it's writing fiction.
Alfie tries to turn his back on his family, carving out an identity for himself as an actor. But as an actor, he assumes other men's lives and personalities. Who is he, really? Gwen, the orphan outsider, watches the family carefully - even fearfully - and wonders what is true? What is real?...
Friendship, perhaps. After all, friends are said to be "God's apology" for our relations.
A Footnote - ENID BLYTON: two very different views
Since the death of the popular children's author in 1968 and the publication of her daughter's autobiography (A Childhood at Green Hedges by Imogen Smallwood), Enid Blyton has emerged as an emotionally unstable, selfish, even malicious figure.
By 1939 her marriage was in difficulties, and she began a series of affairs. During her divorce, Blyton blackmailed her first husband, Hugh Pollock into taking full blame for the failure of the marriage, knowing that exposure of her adultery would ruin her public image. She promised that if he admitted to charges of infidelity, she would allow him unlimited access to their daughters. However, after the divorce, Pollock was forbidden to contact his daughters and Blyton ensured he was unable to find work in publishing. He turned to drink and was forced to file for bankruptcy.
Blyton's daughter Imogen has been quoted as saying, "The truth is, Enid Blyton was arrogant, insecure, pretentious, very skilled at putting difficult or unpleasant things out of her mind, and without a trace of maternal instinct. As a child, I viewed her as a rather strict authority. As an adult, I did not hate her. I pitied her."
Blyton's elder daughter, Gillian Baverstock, did not hold the same view and Imogen's biography of her mother contains a foreword by Gillian to the effect that her memories of childhood were mainly happy ones.