Hannah Dennison and I didn’t connect before her recent appearance at The Poisoned Pen. So, I asked her to follow-up on her visit with a discussion of the inspiration for her Honeychurch Hall mystery series. Thank you, Hannah!
Thank you for inviting me to talk about the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries today. As you know I’m a huge fan of The Poisoned Pen Bookstore!
In a nutshell my protagonist Kat Stanford stars in a hit road show called Fakes & Treasures. Weary of being permanently in the public eye, Kat switches careers initially to set up an antique business with her newly widowed mother, Iris. Kat’s mother, however, has other ideas and Kat is horrified to learn that not only has Iris secretly purchased a dilapidated carriage house on a crumbling country estate several hundred miles away from London, she’s actually an internationally best-selling author of erotica, writing under the pseudonym of Krystalle Storm. Kat sets off to make her mother “see sense” and ends up staying herself.
The inspiration for this series came from my own mother’s rash decision to purchase a highly impractical wing of a country house in Devon, after my Dad passed away in 2002. She was 73 at the time. As you can imagine, my sister and I were really worried. It wasn’t so much the isolated location with a mile-long drive, no local shop and no public transport. The house was a money drain, with a roof in need of mending, heating and plumbing breaking down constantly and generally, the whole estate was falling apart.
Then we realized that it was what Mum really wanted. Although my parents had shared 54 years of marriage together, it had been in a different time when the man ruled the house. Suddenly, she could do exactly what she liked.
Of course I’m no former TV celebrity—although I have had some experience in the antique world—and my mother is definitely no romance writer nor does she have a brother who has spent a career in various establishments at “Her Majesty’s Pleasure” —although my relatives did box with the notorious Kray twins back in the 1960s.
Honeychurch Hall itself is based on two private houses. The first is Dundridge, near Totnes, where my mother lives and the second, where I grew up.
We used to live in the converted gatehouses at the bottom of the main drive of Hillersdon House near Cullompton, Devon. I was always fascinated by the “goings-on” at the big house. When Hillersdon came up for sale in June of 2009, I discovered that it had had a reputation for holding wild society parties during the 1890s or “naughty nineties” as they were then known. Elinor Glyn, who was rumored to be one of the first writers of erotic fiction, was a frequent visitor.
Men were to say: “Would you like to sin with Elinor Glyn on a tiger skin? Or would you prefer to err with her on some other fur?”
Elinor Glyn was said to popularize the concept of “It” as in, “You either have it, or you don’t.” She claimed that “With ‘It,’ you win all men if you are a woman and all women if you are a man.” By modern standards, her books are pretty tame but well-worth reading. She said, “Romance is the glamour that turns the dust of everyday life into a golden haze.” I rather like that!
Mike Lloyd, my friend and the man who took on Hillersdon House, has unearthed the original plans dating from the mid-seventeen hundreds and he’s following them to the letter—putting back the lakes, introducing deer, and sprucing up the grotto and stumpery. It’s very exciting.
Now at age 87, my mother is more vibrant than ever. She continues to spy on the neighbors—all in the name of helping me with my stories. She still works as a docent at Greenway, Agatha Christie’s summer home and believe me, that comes in very handy whenever I’m stuck on a plot point or facing a blank page. She’ll just give me a few Agatha Christie tips. There is nothing my mother does not know about the Queen of Crime.
Yet, murder and romance aside, at the core of the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries is the relationship between a mother and daughter facing new and uncertain beginnings. I’m fascinated by the notion that it’s those who are nearest and dearest to us who are often the most duplicitous of all.
Interested in more about the mystery series? Check out this video of the carriage house that became the influence for the Honeychurch Hall mysteries.
Murder at Honeychurch Hall (Minotaur) May, 2014
Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall (Minotaur) May, 2015
A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall (Minotaur) May, 2016
Other series: The Vicky Hill Mysteries
Hannah Dennison’s books can be purchased through the Poisoned Pen’s Web Store. http://bit.ly/1UOfSkM