The Distant Hours
Edie Burchill and her mother have never been close, but when a long-lost letter arrives one Sunday afternoon with the return address of Milderhurst Castle, Kent, printed on its envelope, Edie begins to suspect that her mother’s emotional distance masks an old secret.
Evacuated from London as a thirteen-year-old girl, Edie’s mother is chosen by the mysterious Juniper Blythe, and taken to live at Milderhurst Castle with the Blythe family: Juniper, her twin sisters and their father, Raymond, author of the 1918 children’s classic The True History of the Mud Man. In the grand and glorious Milderhurst Castle, a new world opens up for Edie’s mother. She discovers the joys of books and fantasy and writing, but also, ultimately, the dangers.
Fifty years later, as Edie chases the answers to her mother’s riddle, she, too, is drawn to Milderhurst Castle and the eccentric Sisters Blythe. Old ladies now, the three still live together, the twins nursing Juniper, whose abandonment by her fiancé? In 1941 plunged her into madness.
Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother’s past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst Castle, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in the distant hours has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.
A labour of love
I was a third of the way into writing a different story when the Sisters Blythe began whispering in my ear. I tried to ignore them but they were insistent, and eventually I agreed to give them a week. I set aside my other project – temporarily – in the hopes that I’d make the sisters see reason; confident that they would that way be appeased and silenced until it was their turn.
I wrote the first chapter of The Distant Hours, in which the letter arrives and Edie learns the name ‘Juniper Blythe’, in a single night, and by the time I went to bed I knew I wouldn’t be returning to my other project. I couldn’t. It was clear to me that this was the story I had to tell. That happens, sometimes, and I’ve found it’s best not to ask questions, rather just to follow the story’s thread.
The Distant Hours was a labour of love. I wrote intensively, coming up for air occasionally, before disappearing once more beneath the novel’s surface. The characters – Percy and Saffy, Juniper and Tom, Edie and Meredith, and all the others, too – are real and dear to me, and the novel brings together many of my favourite things. A crumbling castle, a family of sisters, a love of books and reading, the haunting of the present by the past, thwarted love, ghostly shivers, mystery and memory and secrets.
No matter how much I adore writing, though, no matter the pleasure my stories give me, it isn’t until books are read that they really start to breathe. So let me take the opportunity to thank you. Because by reading The Distant Hours, it is you who brings the characters, the past, Milderhurst castle itself, back to life. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.
Of wings and fenders
Some of my American and Canadian readers have queried my use of the word ‘fenders’ in place of ‘wings’ throughout The Distant Hours. You were right to be confused. The word ‘fenders’ appears erroneously.
Books written in other parts of the English-speaking world are often given an additional edit for publication in North America: spellings are changed, along with certain terms that US editors are concerned their readers might not recognise.
In the case of The Distant Hours, a line of dialogue on page 90 of the US manuscript — ‘Oi! Don’t you go marking my polished bonnet and wings there with your lounging’ — was changed to read ‘Oi! Don’t you go marking my polished hood and fenders there with your lounging’. The substitution of ‘fenders’ for ‘wings’ was then carried mistakenly across the whole book in production, a fact of which I was unaware until the book was published.
A thousand apologies to anyone whose reading was interrupted by the error. It has been fixed in subsequent editions and in e-book format, however it was too late for the copies already printed and purchased. Perhaps, in time, those books, and all their references to people spreading their fenders and flying (oh, what a curious image that is), will be more special for the story behind their creation?
Meanwhile, if you would kindly see ‘wings’ each time ‘fenders’ rears its metallic head, I’d be much obliged.
I love reading groups. Books, friends, sometimes even cake and coffee (or wine, so I’m told. . . ).
Writing is a largely solitary pursuit, but storytelling is not. For me, it’s a joy each time a single reader picks up one of my books and brings its world and characters back to life; the idea that they might then get together with friends and talk the characters and storyline over is a complete delight.
So, here are some discussion points to get you and your group started . . .
Some of these questions contain plot details that you may not wish to know until you’ve finished The Distant Hours.
‘An enthralling romantic thriller . . . will stun readers’– Weekly, US
‘A moldering old castle… really creepy elderly twins… a long-missing letter: Morton, as usual, deftly mixes all the necessary ingredients for a top-notch romantic thriller.’– Weekly, US
‘A nuanced and exploration of family secrets and betrayal, Morton’s latest is captivating.’ People Magazine, US
‘Featuring a fresh and thrilling gothic mystery, cinematic storytelling, and fully developed characters who possess layers of deliciously surprising secrets, this complex story is developed at a leisurely but compelling pace that keeps readers hooked’ — Library Journal, US
‘The Distant Hours demonstrates a new leap in Morton’s authorial choreography. . . [She] sustains an atmosphere of quiet dread rivaling that developed by Sarah Waters in The Little Stranger. . . . A rich treat for fans of historical fiction.’– Washington Post
‘A dilapidated castle, aristocratic twins, a troubled sister and a series of dark secrets cast a whispery spell in Morton’s third book’ — Marie Claire, UK
‘An absorbing and haunting read’ — Woman & Home, UK
‘A bewitching tale of family secrets and betrayal’ — Good Housekeeping, UK
‘A letter points the way to a castle in Kent, which harbors decades of grim secrets, in Morton’s latest. . . . [T]here’s a rewarding, bittersweet payoff in the author’s most gothic tale yet’ — Kirkus
‘Morton is the master of the atmospheric old-fashioned novel packed with enough stories to fill all the worn satchels in the Milderhurst attic. The Distant Hours is saturated with the sights and sounds of country life during wartime, Blitz-torn London and the ghostly passageways of the decaying castle. Fans of Morton and new readers alike will be delighted to uncover the truth of what happened in the ‘distant hours’ of the past.’ — Bookpage
‘In this, her third book, Morton writes in her usual engaging style, taking the reader to the heart of the Blythe family, so that from wartime evacuations through to the machinations of modern-day publishing, you live through every twist and turn.’ — Waterstones Books Quarterly
‘A page-turner of mystery and suspense.’ — ASOS magazine
‘[An] enchanting mystery . . . a bewitching brew encompassing illicit affairs, madness and concealed crime, that builds in intensity as the story twists and turns to a satisfying conclusion’ — Who Weekly
‘Kate Morton’s stunning new novel will not disappoint’ — Best Magazine
‘Kate Morton’s clever and compelling new novel is yet more evidence of her place in both the bestseller charts and the hearts of her readers. In this atmospheric and evocative tale of a daughter’s journey into her mother’s past, a long-lost letter leads Edie Burchill to Milderhurst Castle in Kent and a forgotten world… An intriguing and beautifully observed story.’ — Lancashire Evening Post