It’s funny how places stick in your mind.
When I was younger, I often spent holidays with friends in Westward Ho! near Bideford in North Devon.
Where we stayed was just a short walk from the cliffs, and a grand old house, crumbling away, and, much like the remains of its garden to one side, being claimed by the sea.
It was a melancholy, atmospheric place that fired all our imaginations, both children’s and adults’. It was a fading reminder of the grandeur of a large Victorian house, which must once have seemed so imposing and permanent. Old photographs show it surrounded by gardens, with steps down to a beach, much of which has now been eaten away by the sea. When we first saw the house, it looked as if someone was still living there. Walking past, we would see a light in one of the bay windows up above, more than once we were certain we’d seen a shadow moving up there.
The old house
Each time I go to Westward Ho! I walk past the old house on the cliffs, each time astonished that it is still there, and how little it has changed. Even the old boat is still there, overgrown with brambles, and the house is just a little more shabby, but very little changed.
My dog Phoebe at the old house
For nearly twenty years, that old house has haunted me. When I first started writing stories for magazines, the house appeared in one of the first stories published. I always knew it would appear in a book, but it was never quite right. But when I began to work on my latest book, ‘The White Camellia’, I knew there was going to be a house that had been abandoned, with the family ruined, and which would be brought back to life again.
And so the old house at Westward Ho! was transported down the coast to Cornwall, and became the model for Tressillion House.
It was quite strange, only a few months ago, when I came across a film of the inside of the old house at Westwood Ho! In Tressillion House, the family are forced to leave so rapidly much of their belongings are left behind, to haunt the new owner. The inside of the house at Westward Ho! also showed the remains of years of belongings, left inside the crumbling remains of the abandoned house.
View along the coast
The house has now been sold. Last autumn, when I stayed nearby on my way back from my research trip around Cornwall for ‘The White Camellia’, will probably be the last time I’ll ever see the house in its quietly ruined state.
I’m glad it is being saved from crumbling into the sea, but I’ll also miss its inspiring presence, up on the cliffs, a haunting reminder of past lives, and a past grandeur that ignored the effects of time and the power of nature, and faced the timeless beauty of the changing light and tides, and the storms coming in from the sea.
Photo copyright Trisha Ashley
Her family ruined, Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, and self-made businesswoman Sybil moves in.
Owning Tressillion is Sybil’s triumph — but now what? As the house casts its spell over her, as she starts to make friends in the village despite herself, will Sybil be able to build a new life here, or will hatred always rule her heart?
Bea finds herself in London, responsible for her mother and sister’s security. Her only hope is to marry Jonathon, the new heir. Desperate for options, she stumbles into the White Camellia tearoom, a gathering place for the growing suffrage movement. For Bea it’s life-changing, can she pursue her ambition if it will heap further scandal on the family? Will she risk arrest or worse?
When those very dangers send Bea and her White Camellia friends back to Cornwall, the two women must finally confront each other and Tressillion’s long buried secrets.
EDITOR: Juliet is very kindly donating a signed paperback of The White Camellia for a future raffle. Details will be announced on the website. Many thanks Juliet!