Last Friday, I delivered copies of my two novels, I Am a Muse and The Book of Thoth to the bookshop at Athelhampton House near Dorchester, in my adopted county of Dorset. This is such an honour and for me, a dream come true, in a way. Growing up in a small town in the middle of France, I was in love with (English) manor houses and castles, books and the English language. Now I am the author and publisher of two novels in English which are on sale in a Tudor manor house! Result!
The current owner of the house, Giles Keating, is himself an author and has written the first in a series of historical books for young readers inspired by the history of the house (read more about Anne of Athelhampton HERE). Of course, the building has links to local literary hero Thomas Hardy, born almost literally round the corner from the house. Hardy was a frequent visitor to the house and was there for dinner when WWI was declared. Hardy wrote his poem “The Dame of Athelhall” about Athelhampton House.
This beautiful historic house is in many ways the ideal home for my books. It has had a long and eventful history, enough to inspire many novels!
I Am a Muse is a book about art and artists, and the house has many links to creative, literary and artistic endeavour. Between 1949 and 1957, it was the home of the dancer and actress Marika Rivera who had married the publisher Rodney Phillips and had trained under the famous pioneer of modern dance Isadora Duncan. Marika was the (estranged) daughter of the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera, but it is her mother, the prolific Russian painter Marevna, whose presence brought a genuine artistic cachet to the estate. Before moving to Athelhampton with her daughter, Marevna had been part of the Parisian artistic community in the Montparnasse neighbourhood where she befriended and worked with many famous artists and writers in the 1910s and 1920s, including Braque, Chagall, Cocteau, Gorki, Max Jacob, Léger, Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso among others.
I was then thrilled to see several pictures of Marika taken at Athelhampton by one of my favourite photographers, Angus McBean! Below is one of the pictures in the series taken by Angus McBean at Athelhampton. Credit: ARTSY.NET
Before the Phillips owned the house, it was purchased in 1929 by newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere for this ex-daughter-in-law, the beautiful Mrs Harmsworth, who invited a string of glamorous and talented individuals to stay with her at her rural retreat, including Noël Coward, Douglas Fairbanks and many more… This most glamourous of owners brought art deco (and electricity!) to the house, and you can still see her bedroom kitted out in that style then you visit the house.
But I do believe that out of my two novels, The Book of Thoth is probably the one most at home there. Whitemoor Hall, the main location of the book, is a manor house with a murky past… Just like Athelhampton House, it has a Great Hall and monumental fireplaces, service stairs, dark corridors, wood panelling, a rose garden with sun dials and, crucially, GHOSTS!
On Friday, we were invited to visit the house and gardens and stayed for hours – there are too many beautiful and interesting details in every corner of the house to mention – but I have to mention The Library. I just fell in love with it, and we spent over 30mn looking at the spine of all the amazing vintage and antique volumes on the shelves.
It was difficult to resist picking up the books and leafing through them! I could easily have spent the whole day in there, and therefore, I’ve decided to use the library at Athelhampton as inspiration for that of Genius Loci, the manor house in my work-in-progress The Right Place (oh yes, I love a manor house, and therefore there’s also one in my third book!)
Unfortunately, my phone is old and capricious and I couldn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked as my storage filled up rather quickly… You will have to visit the house yourself to really appreciate the building and get your imagination fired up by the history of this most beautiful building… Mine certainly was!
After two and a half years of lockdowns and playing hide and seek with a virus, it is a strange feeling to feel like things are moving again in the right direction, albeit slowly and in challenging conditions (there's a war on a cost of living crisis, which is never good for people who trade in "non-essentials"... selling books is very, very challenging!)
In other news, I have picked up the manuscript of The Right Place again and intend on completing Draft 1 on schedule by the end of December 2022...
I have also been looking for events to trade at - promoting my books and Arcane Publishing and selling some of my pre-loved, vintage and rare books... Watch this space, I might be able to make some announcements soon!
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