Monday, 10 May 2010

Auditioning Knole

'Yes, but I didn't drive all the way out here to eat sandwiches in the car then linger in the tea-rooms- I came to see the house.' My husband gave me a 'Why do I have to be always have to be rushed?' look and laid aside his bridge book.

There was only half an hour left to see Knole so all we could manage was the Great Hall and the picture gallery that I remembered from previous visits. The Brown gallery is 88 feet long, with a vaulted ceiling and walls lined with Elizabethan portraits of aristos, churchmen and royalty who'd met with tragic ends; perfect for ghostly sightings. The threadbare chairs ranked along the walls and dim lighting were bonuses. Was that the Slighted Maid of Micklesham Manor, flitting in outline in front of the mullioned window, about where two volunteer guides were standing?

This visit resulted from a competition in my online writers' group. I submitted a synopsis and first chapter of a country-house comedy thriller I've been mulling over for a while. The competition 'prize' was a full commentary feedback for three winning writers. Although I wasn't in the first three I did have enough encouragement and advice to make me continue with the project.

The National Trust houses I've visited over the years have come together in the creation of fictional Micklesham Hall. The characters in the novel, 'On Course for Murder' are holed up at the house, cut off by snow, in Thetford Forest. (based on a real family Christmas at a Norfolk Youth Hostel)

Mickelesham Manor doesn't have Knole's extensive deer park. On the other hand, it does have kitchens, and I think these will come from Lynhydroc, a Cornish mansion I visited a couple of years back, with additional equipment from Hampton Court. The banqueting hall will be like the one at Eltham Palace ( a digression into English Heritage territory) and the library, complete with suits of armour and deer-head plaques, that will bear a striking resemblance to Sir Walter Scott's lowland fantasy retreat at Abbotsford. The main problem will be to avoid mixing periods too much, but some can be accounted for by restorations.

I'm not knocking the portraits at Knole - Gainsborough, Reynolds, Van Dycks aplenty - but I prefer the ones in the Ranger's House at Greenwich Park. Within walking distance. It means visits don't involve transport. Besides, at Knole they tend to be high up on the walls and not so easily examined.

I'll enjoy drawing a map of the fictional house and grounds, cobbled together from various brochures. £5.50, for the Knole one seemed a bit steep and raised eyebrows in the shop until I told Roy it was for 'research' It'll provide architectural and furnishing terminology. Postcards are great 'aide-memoires', too.

It seems to me that the less my research depends on a much loved but somewhat tardy companion the better.

Knole House, Sevenoaks

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