The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog)
Summer 1924: On the night of a glittering Society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.
Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, 98, onetime housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog) is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.
Good people doing bad things
I came to write The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog), because I am fascinated by the eternal question:
What makes ordinary people do terrible things?
What might drive a woman to kill her lover? To betray a beloved sister?
What happens to tragedy’s survivors?
What might induce such a witness to divulge her secrets? And to whom might she make such a confession?
Country homes and Agatha Christie
I love stories in which the house is more than a setting, becoming a character in its own right. In writing my own English country house mystery, I was keen to play with the conventions of the genre a little.
That’s why I made Marcus a mystery writer, and gave Grace a penchant for mystery novels, in particular those by Agatha Christie: the quintessential English country house mystery novelist! It was a lot of fun to have Agatha Christie come to dinner in my story. I was inspired also by English country house non-fiction: in particular, I went through a great fascination with the Mitford sisters.
Everything I read about the Mitford family seemed brighter than fiction. I was especially interested in the depiction of a great aristocratic family on the verge of decline. Their genteel poverty was a revelation to me and something I was very keen to incorporate into my story, and my depiction of the house at Riverton.
Grace, present and the past
The character of ninety-eight-year-old Grace came to me fully formed. She was real to me from the beginning and I missed her incredibly when I finished writing. Though she isn’t based on any one person, I’m lucky to have lots of friends who are much older than I am, who I could talk to, and from whom I could draw traits for Grace.
I got the idea for Grace’s taped letters to Marcus from my dear friend Herbert Davies whose writing is so completely indecipherable—sorry, Herbert, but it is! — that he sends letters to family in the UK on tapes. I was also fortunate to spend a lot of time with my Nana Connelly (whose talent for shorthand inspired part of the story) and my husband’s Little Nanny in the final years of their lives.
I noticed how invisible the elderly sometimes become, and was constantly amazed at the way people with such great wisdom and experience, who have loved and lost and lived such a long time, are so often infantilised and dismissed in our society.
Edwardian period and the 1920s
I am fascinated by the period in English history, when nineteenth century gave way to twentieth, and the world as we now know it began to take shape.
Queen Victoria died, and with her, old certainties were consigned to the grave: the aristocratic system began to crumble, the cash-strapped gentry was displaced by a new type of upper class made powerful by money rather than by birth, humanity suffered battle on a scale undreamt of, and women were freed somewhat from rigid pre-existing expectations of social function.
What would happen, I wondered, if two sisters were born to such a crucial time, the elder falling victim to certain of society’s demands, the other, just a few years younger, escaping them? And what might happen if each sister hankered after a privilege she perceived in the other’s life? What sort of envies might such differences provoke? And what might happen to their sibling loyalties if I threw in a man perceived by each sister as a means of escape?
Coming soon, I promise!
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 the questions contain plot details that you may not wish to know until you’ve finished The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog).
Kate talks about writing The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog) including the first image she had for the book, and the unexpected influence of her grandmother.
‘… an extraordinary debut … a sweeping saga, a period piece, a romance, and a mystery. It’s also written with a lovely turn of phrase by someone who knows how to eke out tantalising secrets and drama …’— Sunday Telegraph
‘Full of lovely writing, grand houses, snobbery, cruelty and passion, this compelling mystery-cum-love story … is utterly addictive … A brilliant Australian debut.’— Women’s Weekly
‘… captures the atmosphere and ambience of the time and place, the melancholy and wistfulness as well as the glittering moments … [A] haunting and enthralling book, exquisite not only in the writing but also in the structure.’— Good Reading
‘… you get a sense of stepping back in time, and feeling the heartache and thrills of love. A beautifully-told, engrossing tale.’— New Idea
‘… one of those rare books you can immerse yourself in, sharing the joys and heartaches of the characters and willing them to find happiness.’— Sunshine Coast Daily
‘… a thoroughly engrossing read, beautifully written with the occasional flash of humour. It is some time since I found a novel so satisfying.’—SA Life
‘… both an atmospheric murder mystery and a family saga that beautifully evokes a past era … This is an enthralling tale about the extremes people go to in the name of love and duty.’— Next
‘… the most enjoyable novel I have read for many years … I felt transported to this wonderful era … If you don’t read any other book this year, don’t miss this one.’— South Coast Register
‘A stunning must-read story that’s set for stardom’— Time Out
‘… compulsively readable … a rich engrossing story of love, passion, secrets and lies.’ — Northern Daily Leader
‘… one of those novels which act on the reader somewhat like Pringles crisps. You may not intend to stay up until 3am, but there you are, turning the pages faster and faster, pretending the alarm clock isn’t set for 7am.’— Irish Times