There have been two coincidences in my writing life lately. One was a lovely surprise; the new Princess of Cambridge has been named Charlotte by her parents. That was the name I had chosen for my current heroine! I picked it because I wanted a name that sounded sensible and to my ears, Charlotte was that – although I’m well aware that people ‘read’ names differently. Just ask any teacher and you’ll find out what I mean! Oddly, until the papers started producing articles about the name, it had never struck me that ‘Lottie’ was a nickname for Charlotte. Is my heroine a ‘Lottie’? I don’t think so … but maybe I’ll find out by the end of the book.
The other coincidence wasn’t so good. In a scene in an earlier novel, I had written of a beautiful and impressive marble hall. The intention was to show how its beauty and formality appeared to a young and timid girl, who found it unwelcoming and oppressive. I had in mind the splendid marble hall at the National Trust’s great house Clandon Park, in Surrey. If you search online, you’ll find photos of it – but unfortunately you won’t be able to go and see it for yourself now, as the entire building was destroyed by fire at the end of April.
This photo shows it before the fire struck – the contrast between that and the frightening videos of the building ablaze couldn’t be stronger. We sometimes read of grand homes being destroyed by fire in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the replacements that were constructed in the architectural style of the time. And that’s very theoretical and interesting. But watching a great house being burned down in ‘real time’ is quite simply terrifying. Imagine what it would be like to see your home, and your ancestors’ home, in flames – without the long reach hoses and helicopters that can be deployed now. Though even they couldn’t save Clandon Park.
It’s too early to know what will happen to Clandon Park. But the fire is a sobering reminder that, despite our delusions on the subject, we can’t really control nature.