I have been overwhelmed and delighted since I announced the news, on social media, and in real life, that I’ve signed a book deal. I knew my family, friends and work colleagues would be supportive and thrilled for me. Especially lovely though, were the well wishes from people I hadn’t heard from in ages.
Good wishes on social media came from a girl I was close friends with in primary school, someone who had worked with my father many years ago and the teacher who gave me Junior Cert maths grinds. I am sure she despaired of my abysmal mathematical skills; she must have been relieved to learn that I excelled at something!
The one question most people have asked me is, ‘What inspired you to write a book?’. It’s a difficult question to answer but my inspiration has been building since I was very young.
As a child, I was fascinated by Ireland’s Big Houses. These symbols of the landed classes in Ireland, represent a dark period in our history but as a child, I happily glossed over this. Dreams of living in Ballindoolin House, a Georgian mansion, close to where I grew up, coloured my childhood.
I spent many happy hours dreaming of how wonderful my life would be, living in stately elegance while I hosted hunting parties and played tennis on the lawn, in an Elizabeth Bowen-style idyll.
Thankfully I grew up and went on to study history in NUI Maynooth, where I took a module entitled ‘The Decline of the Big House in Ireland’ taught by Dr. Terence Dooley, Ireland’s leading expert on Big Houses. I loved every minute of that course and as part of it, got to spend a week in Ballindoolin House, where I had unlimited access to the original estate papers.
My imagination was fired up, reading those papers, which included handwritten and heavily censored letters, sent home from the front line, during World War One, by one of the sons of the house.
By now, I had a much greater understanding of these houses, for better or worse. The walled estates that kept the wealthy few protected, the oppression that they were a symbol of and their destruction, which signalled the decolonisation of Ireland.
Over the years, I have continued to be intrigued with Ireland’s Big Houses. My partner has spent more Sunday afternoons being dragged around stately homes than he’d care to remember. I continued to follow the fortunes of those that remain, particularly through the Celtic Tiger years.
Still, they fascinate me, but outside of where they sit in Ireland’s history, it is their human stories that appeal the most. Lords and ladies, housemaids, butlers, stable-boys and gillies; secret doors, leading to hidden passage- ways where dark deeds play out unnoticed. That is the fiction these mysterious houses inspire.
The stark reality is they existed as tiny, island states, with the power to employ or not, feed or starve, house or evict entire communities. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case, but they continue to fascinate and exist as living, breathing emblems of our history. If you don’t believe me, ask the nearly 700,000 people who visited Castletown House in Celbridge last year.
I no longer want to live in a Big House. I’d never be able to afford the heating! But, they did provide my inspiration for Home to Cavendish. Spending a year escaping in my imagination, into the resplendent rooms of Cavendish Hall and creating the characters who walked its fictional corridors, has been a wholly rewarding and entertaining experience.