Behind the Books

I write books about big old Gothic houses with secrets to tell, and characters - usually but not always women – who have been lost or neglected in history. My books interweave fiction and elements of the paranormal within an authentic historical framework. I am particularly interested in local history and folklore and the truths that can be found hidden within these traditional stories.

The Books:

House of Shadows tells the story of Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, and her long relationship with William, First Earl of Craven. Elizabeth, the daughter of King James VI and I, is still known as The Winter Queen, an evocative title that pays tribute to her beauty and charisma as well as to her escape into exile in 1620 through the snows of winter.

House of Shadows focuses on Ashdown House, the beautiful 17th century hunting lodge in Oxfordshire where I have worked as a guide for seventeen years and draws on my research into the house and the Craven family. Ashdown, so remote and beautiful high up on the Downs is steeped in both history and mystery and to this day retains an otherworldly air that makes it very easy to believe it is a place where you could step back in time.

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The iconic Wolf Hall, within the ancient boundaries of Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, is the setting for The Phantom Tree which tells the story of Mary Seymour, daughter of Queen Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour. Mary’s story has fascinated me ever since as a child I read about her in a novel by Jean Plaidy. Mary disappeared from the historical record when she was very young and no one knows what happened to her. The Phantom Tree re-imagines Mary’s life at Wolf Hall and later at Middlecote, which I based on the stunning Littlecote House near Hungerford.

I was fortunate enough to be able to explore Wolf Hall as well as Littlecote as part of my research for the book and the ghost stories of Littlecote were very inspirational to the plot of The Phantom Tree. You can stay at Littlecote, which is now a hotel but I wouldn’t recommend spending the night in the haunted bedroom!

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The Woman in the Lake, also titled The Woman in the Golden Dress takes place in Swindon, a town whose pre-industrial history is as fascinating as it is little known. Swindon Old Town, high on the hill, has a history going back to the Domesday Book and earlier. From the seventeenth century onwards. it was a centre for the smuggling trade. The Woman in the Lake explores this history through the story of one beautiful but deadly golden gown and the people who owned it down three hundred years of history. The Gothic mansion in the story is Lydiard Park, ancestral home of the St. John family, set in a glorious historic landscape to the west of the town. And the inspirational character from history is Lady Diana Spencer who in the mid-eighteenth century became one of the few aristocratic women who became a professional artist. The Woman in the Lake is all about the power of possession, in one form or another…

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The Forgotten Sister is slightly different in that the Gothic house in the story vanished many years ago. Cumnor Hall in Oxfordshire is notorious as the site of one of the greatest crime mysteries in English history – the death of Amy Robsart who, in 1560, was found at the bottom of a staircase with her neck broken. The wife of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley, Amy had stood between Dudley and his ambition to marry the Queen. Did she fall or was she pushed?

Amy fascinated me. She is so often eclipsed by the love story of Elizabeth and Robert Dudley and I wanted to find out more about her and explore her story. Again, I re-imagined what might have happened in the run up to that fateful day in September 1560 and what might happen if the same events played out in a modern setting…

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I’m always delighted to give talks based on my research and the history behind the books to historical societies, literary festivals, conferences and other events. If you would be interested in organising a talk or tour please email me at ncornick@madasafish.com for an information sheet, booking form and list of talks/tours or approach my publicist Katrina Power or my publisher (see contact page for details).

© 2019 Nicola Cornick

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