Finding Inspiration in Place


A little while after Bitter Orange was published in the UK, the author and blogger, Isabel Costello asked me to write something for her ‘literary sofa‘ website. If you don’t know it or her, she hosts a huge number of fascinating posts, author interviews and book reviews. This is the piece I wrote, republished here, about the inspiration for the location in Bitter Orange.

There’s a place not too far from where I live called the hangers. It’s a short range of wooded twisting hills, so steep-sided that they haven’t been cultivated or much changed by humans, and the trees that cling there – beech, lime, yew and ash – are ancient. I regularly walk the footpaths snaking through these woods, and when I was looking for a location for my third novel, Bitter Orange, the hangers’ ghostly beauty seemed perfect.
Bitter Orange is set in a dilapidated country house called Lyntons, and deciding which house it could be based upon was never going to be a problem. About ten miles from my house in the opposite direction to the hangers is The Grange, is a neoclassical property managed by English Heritage. In the grounds there is a lake and a small flint grotto, but most of the surrounding countryside is undulating farmed fields, beautiful in their own way, but not dramatic enough for what I had in mind.
So, I shifted my house ten miles east and set it down right at the foot of the hangers. That’s one of the perks of being a writer – I can move anything to anywhere else, even whole country houses. Now the hills and woods corralled the house, keeping whatever was there isolated and contained.


The original (real) house was built in 1660, red-brick and square, but in the early 19th century it was transformed into one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Europe. The land around it was built up so that the basement floor was completely underground, and at some point all the windows in the attics filled in so the servants mustn’t have got much daylight unless they went outdoors. In its hey-day The Grange had 24 indoor servants, while the estate supported 100 households.

But two world wars changed life for many English country estates and due to death duties their owners could no longer afford their upkeep. Many houses fell into disrepair and were consequently abandoned or demolished. (In 1955 England lost one house every two and a half days.) And The Grange was no different. It was last inhabited in 1964, and in 1972 it was almost demolished by the Baring family who had bought it, until the government got involved and the house was preserved.

And so it still stands today – preserved but unrestored. The outside is open to visitors (and free) all year round, but the inside is only accessible on certain dates for tours. And if you get to go inside you’ll understand why. Most of the interior has been ripped out, and many of the ceilings have gone (netting hangs under them to collect the falling debris). Plaster has gone from many of the walls, but enough remains to give this house an eerie atmosphere of a place kept in suspended animation. A house stopped in the final moment before disintegration.

Once I’d decided that my characters would live in a house inspired by The Grange for the summer of 1969, I visited the outside often, walking around the huge cedar of Lebanon trees, and down to the lake. The orangery (once renowned for its innovative system of channelling rainwater down its interior pillars to water the plants) now houses an opera company – The Grange Festival. The Festival hosts open days and the house is usually open as part of England’s Heritage Open Days scheme.

I visited the interior on as many occasions as I could, and I also wrote to English Heritage to ask if someone could show me around. Richard, the caretaker kindly took me into every room possible (there are still stairs up to the attic, but there are very few rooms that are safe) including every room in the basement. Here, the opera company stores its costumes and props, and so illuminated by bare bulbs I saw dummies and masks, brooms and top hats. As we walked around, Richard told me about the ghosts that haunt The Grange and confessed that sometimes even he (a down-to-earth type) doesn’t like to be there alone. I could see why. At least one of those stories made it into the finished version of Bitter Orange.

In the novel there is a bridge over the lake and follies in the grounds that Frances, the protagonist is commissioned to examine, including a mausoleum, obelisk and ice-house. It took me two years to write Bitter Orange and the landscape surrounding the house is so firmly fixed in my mind that when I go back there now, I look around and always think, but where is the bridge, where are the follies, and why aren’t there any hangers surrounding the house?

House photo courtesy of http://www.alresfordheritage.co.uk

 

Bitter Orange is Published in the UK

 

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My third novel, Bitter Orange was published in the UK last week. It was a crazy and exciting week, with a launch in London at Waterstones Covent Garden (they have lots of signed copies), and another in my home town of Winchester. I also went on a walk around London signing copies in other bookshops including Daunts, Heywood Hill, and Hatchards. It was hot! DSCF9056

The book has been getting great reviews:

“Fuller is an accomplished and serious writer who has the ability to implant interesting psychological dimensions into plotty, pacy narratives.” The Observer

“It is rare for me to put down a novel and then immediately consider rereading it to see what cleverness I might have missed. This time, though, I am tempted.” The Sunday Times

“Fuller is a master at summoning the atmosphere of a heady, hot summer, that thrums with tension.” Stylist Magazine

HatchardsRead more reviews here.

Bitter Orange has been longlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. Which books are shortlisted depends on a public vote. If you’d like to vote for Bitter Orange, you can do that here. (And thank you!). Voting can be from anyone anywhere in the world, and closes at midnight on 6th August (UK time).

If you’d like to buy a copy of Bitter Orange it’s available in most UK bookshops now, or online as an audio, e-book, and hardback. Click here to see options.

 

Bitter Orange: A Week To Go

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My third novel, Bitter Orange, will be published in the UK in hardback a week today. The ebook and the audio version are already available to buy. So right now it’s that exciting and nerve-wracking time when people who have had an early copy are starting to talk about it online. So far, the talk, and the reviews have been good.

“In the vein of Shirley Jackson’s bone-chilling The Haunting of Hill House, Fuller’s disturbing novel will entrap readers in its twisty narrative, leaving them to reckon with what is real and what is unreal. An intoxicating, unsettling masterpiece.” Kirkus (starred review)

“The real interest lies in the fascinating gaps and contradictions, the complexity of the characters and the thematic richness. It is rare for me to put down a novel and then immediately consider rereading it to see what cleverness I might have missed. This time, though, I am tempted.” The Sunday Times

“Bitter Orange is undoubtedly a modern classic that defies categorisation but is just wonderful to read. It’s subtle, unnerving, intelligent and a supreme example of the written craft.” Linda’s Book Bag

Read more reviews.

If you have read an early copy I’d love to know what you think, or please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or just tell your friends about it.

The hardback is available to pre-order from all bookshops – independents and chains – or online. The ebook and audio book are available to buy now.