Part of the fun of writing The Ashford Affair was getting to design my own imaginary English great house: Ashford Park.
Even more interesting? Figuring out how a modern American woman would react to learning that her grandmother had grown up in such a place.
Here, for your amusement, is the snippet from Chapter Two of The Ashford Affair where my modern heroine, Clemmie, first discovers that there’s far more to her grandmother’s past than she knew:
From Chapter Two….
Jon pulled a large, folio-sized book from the shelf, his t-shirt stretching across his back with the movement. For a professor, he kept in pretty good shape. There was something to be said for those free university gym memberships. “Clem? Clemmie?”
“What?” She looked down at the book he was shoving under her nose. There was a castle on the front of the book, atmospherically shot in the midst of a fantastical garden of topiary, the sun setting behind the battlements. “Great Houses of England”?
“She reads!” said Jon.
“I do card tricks, too,” said Clemmie. She sat down with it on the daybed, bracing the heavy pages on her knees, trying not to think of her blackberry buzzing away in her bag. “What exactly am I meant to be seeing here?”
Jon flipped through the glossy pages with a sure hand, his eyes on the book. “There.”
The makers of the book had spared no expense, the paper was glossy and double-weight, with more pictures than text. The page on the left featured a glamour shot of a square building built of golden stone, its dome both echoing and dominating the hills beyond.
ASHFORD PARK, read the heading on the right-hand page, all big black letters. Beneath it, in a prissy, curly script, was inscribed:
“Thou still unravished bower! Token of England’s greatest hour! Ne’er knew I true beauty ere I saw Ashford.” — John Keats, 1795-1821.
Clemmie hadn’t realized that the Romantic poets had been for hire for marketing and publicity.
Although the Earls of Ashford trace their heritage back to a Sir Guillaume de Gillecote, the lands comprising the Ashford family seat were first acquired in 1486, following a successful bid on the correct candidate during the Wars of the Roses.
Successive generations of Gillecotes enlarged and expanded the initial structure, turning a Jacobean showhouse into a neo-classical fantasy land. With one hundred and thirty-five rooms….
“It’s pronounced Gill-cott,” said Jon helpfully. “The G is hard.”
Clemmie looked up from the text. “I don’t get it. What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Or Granny Addie?”
Jon plonked down on the daybed beside her. She could feel the mattress sag, tilting her towards him.
“This,” he said, tapping a finger against the dome. “This is where Granny Addie grew up.”
Of course, that’s just the beginning of the journey…. How would you react to learning something like that about your family?