Available in Ebook & Hardback (6 August 2020) | Paperback (16 March 2021)
ABOUT THE BOOK
Freya Lyell is struggling to move on from her sister Stella’s suicide five years ago. Visiting the bewitching Byrne Hall, only a few miles from the scene of the tragedy, she discovers a portrait of Stella – a portrait she had no idea existed, in a house Stella never set foot in. Or so she thought.
Driven to find out more about her sister’s secrets, Freya is drawn into the world of Byrne Hall and its owners: charismatic artist Cory and his sinister, watchful mother. But as Freya’s relationship with Cory crosses the line into obsession, the darkness behind the locked doors of Byrne Hall threatens to spill out.
My thanks to Isabella of Penguin RandomHouse for the tour invite and for providing the guest post.
Awkward Encounters with My Teenage Self
There’s a scene in my new novel, The Whispering House, where the main character cringes over her adolescent poems. Freya’s boyfriend-to-be has found one of her old notebooks, and she suffers agonies as he leafs through its pages. ( “ ‘I was very much into abstract nouns at one point,’ I said, in the hope that he couldn’t listen to me prattle and read at the same time. ‘Lone Despair weeps on her sunless isle, and stuff like that…’ ”)
Throughout the novel, I often find myself identifying with Freya, but if I had to choose one episode in which she and I are entirely of one mind, this would be it.
It was reassuring to hear Zadie Smith talking on Desert Island Discs some years ago about how much she hates re-visiting her own books. Re-reading the first twenty pages of White Teeth, she said, is enough to ‘induce nausea’. Good. That makes me feel a bit better about the fear and loathing I entertain for some of my old stuff.
Actually I burned most of my teenage diaries, and despite the occasional twinge of regret I think, on the whole, I was wise. It’s not as if they comprised a Pepysian record of British Life in the 1990s. They didn’t even record the events of my own life, in the sense that when I was writing I rarely lifted my gaze very far from my own navel. My teenage diaries documented the tedious ups and downs – mostly the downs – of my inner life. I only ever bothered to make an entry when the entire fabric of the universe had imploded (the unrequited Love of my Life failing to notice my murmured ‘hello’ at a church fundraising BBQ, for example). ‘Less is more’ meant nothing to me; I never held back with my adjectives, under-linings, exclamation marks or general hyperbole.
Like Freya, I wrote poems as well as diaries. Like Freya, I had a tendency to personify abstract nouns and address them with wild-eyed abandon (“Oh, Love!” “Oh, Hate!” “Oh Desolation!” etc, etc). I remember feeling, in those far-off days, that I was a Victorian person born in the wrong century – which is what comes of taking one’s Brontë mania too seriously – and that’s clearly the spirit in which I was writing. I can’t quite bring myself to quote, but let’s just say there’s an awful lot of death and unrequited love, and a whole load of epic imagery involving stars, fires, hell, blood and angels. Words like “Alas!” and “thou” abound. Greek gods and goddesses appear now and then – my attempt, I suppose, to salvage things with a bit of classical razzle-dazzle.
Thank goodness, not all rediscoveries are embarrassing. I love finding cryptic notes-to-self that I dashed off years ago; things that must have made perfect sense to me at the time but have become strange and mysterious now that the context is forgotten. Scrawled at an angle across the cover of an A4 refill pad, for example: ‘it’s – disheartening (she went on). Strand of her hair.’ What was that about? Or, ‘Strong hand being pulled along by ghostly one? Possibly.’ They sound like clues for The Times crossword.
It’s nice to be intrigued by my own former self. At any rate, it’s better than thinking: “Oh no! Not that teenager again…”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ELIZABETH BROOKS grew up in Chester, and read Classics at Cambridge.
Her debut novel CALL OF THE CURLEW was shortlisted for the Waverton Good Reads award. The setting for her new novel, THE WHISPERING HOUSE, is a manor house named Byrne Hall and is inspired by the home of Agatha Christie. It is full of dark corners and old portraits that carry untold stories of their subjects.
Elizabeth Brooks lives on the Isle of Man with her husband and children.