The real ‘Elsham’s End’

All fiction has its roots in real life. Even fiction that deals with the supernatural.

One of the most common questions I get asked about ‘Elsham’s End’ is whether it’s based on a real place. Well the answer is yes – so here is the story of the real ‘Elsham’s End’.

‘Elsham’s End’ is based on the house I grew up in, in the Kent countryside. I was very fortunate to live there – it was a beautiful place with a large, rambling garden. But my family’s relationship with the house was ambiguous – we all loved it and yet I think we all knew there was something not quite right about it.

It was fairly isolated and I suppose that contributed to this feeling, a vague sense of unease. It was very quiet there, particularly at night. Many of the events in the book came from dreams that I and other members of my family had. Visitors who stayed in the house often reported strange and unsettling dreams too, some refusing to sleep there again.

My mother particularly never really felt at ease in the house, and I later discovered that she hated living there. She had many dreams that centred around the boxroom, a small attic space above the garage, which features very strongly in the novel.

In looking for an explanation, she always put the peculiar atmosphere in the place down to its history. Two sisters had lived there before us. Essentially they had run a private hospice there – a place where people went to die.

My own experience of living there is hard to pin down. I really only became aware of how strange the house felt when we left. My older brother and sister had flown the nest, so we moved to a smaller place in a busy little village further up the valley. I was ten years old, yet I was acutely aware of how different the atmosphere was in the new house. And I realised I’d just stepped out of the shadow of the old place, which had been cast over me from such an early age I was not even aware of it.