Ally Bunbury’s muse houses
The author of The Inheritance reveals the influence on her writing of her family home and other houses
Ally Bunbury: The more I wrote, the more inspired I became by houses I know and love. Photograph: rachaelcomiskey.com
The Inheritance is my first novel. I began writing it in a pretty apartment in Paris, just a breath away from the Eiffel Tower, and I quickly realised how surroundings, both past and present, could dictate the movement of a story. The more I wrote, the more inspired I became by houses I know and love, especially here in Ireland, my mind literally wandering around them, floor to floor, as I walked my characters around the same locations.
I would think of a drawing room I was so familiar with, imagining my characters on a deep sofa during the cocktail hour, logs crackling on the fire as they sipped and discussed the dramas in their lives. Or they would drink wine on a terrace, beholding cattle grazing or dogs chasing rabbits across a field, just as I had seen. Sometimes my characters would wake up in a bed I had once slept in, and then saunter downstairs for breakfast and I could practically hear the bacon sizzling as I wrote.
Writing from the dining room at Bishopscourt, I’d look out over a patchwork quilt of drumlins that roll towards the horizon and, hearing my own children bounding up flights of stairs like I used to do in my childhood, it enticed me to lead my characters on a journey into their own past
I was brought up in a large, chilly and much loved house called Bishopscourt in Co Monaghan. Dogs lazing by the Aga, the scent of wild garlic soup wafting up through the floor boards from the basement kitchen, dinner parties, late nights and early mornings, out with the dogs and the horses, are all strong memories that crafted their way into The Inheritance.
When writing from the dining room at Bishopscourt, I’d look out over a patchwork quilt of drumlins that roll towards the horizon and, hearing the sounds of my own children bounding up flights of stairs like I used to do in my childhood, enticed me to lead my characters on a journey into their own past. I could also remember feelings of sadness in the house, as every house has its history, which again helped to shape the book.
The Inheritance is a love story, not only involving people but also houses. Anna Rose was brought up in a rambling, chalky yellow Georgian house in Ireland, a sanctuary far away from her high-flying PR life in London. When she bumps into George Wyndham at a socialite’s party, they quickly fall in love but George’s childhood estate, the only link to his beloved mother, is under threat and he is forced to turn his back on Anna in order to save it. The story takes place in Paris, London, Scotland, Ireland and LA, and wherever I found myself on my travels, I would write, absorbing the bricks and mortar around me.
Another house, which inspired locations for my book, is Hilton Park in Co Monaghan, an Italianate-style mansion overlooking rolling hills. It is a house built for gracious entertaining and exudes such elegance that I couldn’t help but imagine my characters there, falling into conversation, and love, hopping from four-poster beds to indulgent dinner parties, rowing on the lake, taking blissful walks around historic gardens and eating the delicious food, perhaps stuffed courgette flowers followed by a rack of lamb.
Rosturk Castle, where my family and I summered for many years, also proved something of a muse. The castle perches on a peninsula overlooking Clew Bay, with uninterrupted views of Croagh Patrick. Its large bay windows almost seem to will the sea to come in and provided a sense of coastal drama that I could not have otherwise found. With sprawling corridors, a wide staircase and a billiards room, Rosturk provided a backdrop for some of the steamier conversations between my characters.
And for the sleek, urban, scenes in the book, I wrote from The Skinny House on Long Lane, in Dublin, thanks to my sister-in-law, Sasha Sykes. Being surrounded by her fabulous contemporary furniture, and murals by the artist Paul Monaghan, made me feel unexpectedly hip. It also made it so much easier to envision Sofia Tamper, a Hollywood vixen, and her coterie in the absurdly upmarket hotels and bars where their lives play out.
It can be a funny dual life, writing a novel. I am lucky that these houses bring back lovely memories to me, and so dipping into the somewhat luxurious lives of my characters and then returning to my own life has been a happy thing. And although my book was conceived in Paris, it came to fruition thanks to its journey around living, breathing and utterly fabulous buildings. So it seems fitting that my book was launched at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin, another address to add to the little black book of The Inheritance.
Ally Bunbury’s debut novel, The Inheritance (Poolbeg, €16.99) is out now.