# Books # England

For Downton Abbey Fans: Ashenden Q & A and Giveaway

Downton Abbey season 3 aired here in America last Sunday and what a delight it was. This show has cast a spell on us. There is something so mesmerizing about that grand English country house and its inhabitants. Well for all fellow Downton fanatics I have a marvelous book recommendation for you...

Ashenden, by Elizabeth Wilhide, is a positively mesmerizing book about 240 years in the life of an English country house. Each chapter in the novel shares a historical slice of life in the magnificent Ashenden.

The story starts off in present day England with brother Charlie and sister Ros, who have inherited Ashenden from their aunt. Suddenly met with the enormous financial burden the house brings with it, but also intrigued by the prospect of perhaps keeping it, the brother and sister are at odds over what to do with it. While we wonder about the fate of Ashenden, we are taken back in time with a fluid interwoven storyline as we get to meet the people who inhabit the house.

Ashenden is a delightful read. I felt very attached to the house by the end of the book and didn't want it to end!

I was lucky enough to interview the author, Elizabeth Wilhide, who gives us more insight to the book below. And be sure to check out the end of this post to see how you can win a copy of Ashenden for your own library!

What inspired you to write Ashenden?

Ashenden is based on a real house, Basildon Park, which I visited – almost by accident – in the spring of 2008. My husband and I were intending to visit a garden nearby, which turned out to be closed, and we ended up at Basildon instead. I knew I wanted to write about it as soon as I set foot in it and felt the insistent tug of its symmetry. I knew I had to write about it when I read the guidebook and discovered how closely its changing fortunes mirrored that of the country’s history.

How did you research the different historical periods you write about in the novel?

I’ve made my living as a writer on design, interiors and architecture for many years, so I already knew how this type of house would be decorated and furnished and how it would be used at any given period– that was a tremendous help! A few of the stories in the novel are closely based on real events associated with Basildon Park; most use the house as a springboard for my imagination. Chance research online led me to a site detailing POW camps in Britain during World War II, which was a thrilling discovery and became the starting point for the chapter Hut C.

Do you have a favorite historical period?

In terms of design, I love the clarity and elegance of the Georgian period. But social history in general has always fascinated me – what people wore, what they ate, how they worked, how they survived times of change…

What can you tell us about the state of many of these historic English country houses today?

Unlike Basildon Park – and its fictional counterpart – many country houses were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s. Years of decline, death duties and the depredations of the war years simply made them too expensive to maintain. Sadly, one ended up as hardcore under the M1 motorway. Many of those that remained were saved by the National Trust and opened to the public. Today, income from visitors is often not enough to run these places and they have had to fall back on other sources of revenue. Basildon, for example, featured as Netherfield in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and the location fees helped pay for essential repairs to its stonework.

What is your writing routine?

My day starts with the Guardian cryptic crossword – it’s my commute! Then it’s chiefly a question of avoiding or failing to avoid distractions, including demon Twitter. Ashenden was written in my spare time, in the evenings and at weekends. At present, I’m trying to get my imagination to switch on earlier in the day…

What's next for you?

I’m about a third of the way into a new novel set largely in London during World War II. I’ve always been drawn to this period and I’m particularly interested in the gap between the myth-making that went on during this period and what actually took place.

Thank you Elizabeth!


To win a copy of this book, please follow these guidelines:

1. Leave a comment below stating your first and last name (or last initial) and what city you are from (please note, due to restrictions, this giveaway is only open to US & Canada residents only).

2. Let us know in your comment what your favorite historical novel or movie is.

3. To be entered twice in the giveaway, either tweet about this giveaway, or post about it on your facebook page. Please let me know in the comments if you have done this so I will know to enter you twice.

The winner will be announced one week from today. Good luck!

Check out Ashenden on Amazon.

Find Elizabeth Wilhide on Twitter @EWilhide

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Parisien Salon gives Lessons from Madame Chic a great review and they are doing a giveaway in their article called Twenty Lessons on Leading a Stylish Life.

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Unknown said...

Amy Gatschner (Dundas, On)

Gone With The Wind.

I have to say that I didn't love the movie and my cousin had to convince me to read the novel. I am so happy that she did. I gained a new respect for Scarlett, a character that I had previously thought was spoiled and selfish. After reading the novel and getting a peek inside her thought process I think she is amazing.

Emily said...

Emily D. (Jefferson City, TN)

I absolutely LOVE the 2004 British miniseries made from Elizabeth Gaskell's novel North and South. The music, the romantic tension, Richard Armitage as brooding mill owner John Thornton all make this one A MUST SEE!

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I think Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice would be one of my favourite books. I love Gosford Park.
I recently read The American Heiress and when I saw the cover of this book I had to do a double take as both covers are surprisingly similar.
Thank you for hosting a giveaway Jennifer, please enter my name in the contest as i live in Canada.

Mrs. Ingram said...

I like "In a Dark Wood Wandering" by Hella Haasse for its description of princley politics and courtly maneuvers.

I also have a soft spot for "Gone With the Wind" as well, as I read it when I was very young, and it "imprinted" me.

Sally Ingram
Silver Spring, MD

Susan said...

Susan M
Greenville, SC

So many to consider, but Sarah's Key remains my favorite historical novel for its description of wartime Paris and its citizens. This story simultaneously broke my heart and inspired my faith in mankind.

Rio said...

Rhiannon P.
La Porte, TX

It's hard picking just one! I really enjoyed reading "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" because it tells the story through the eyes of German Officer's young son and how he sees the events occurring around him. My movie pick would be Les Misérables. I love how the story shows the blessings and hardships that occur in everyday life.

Denise from Active Living Zoomers said...

Denise C
Brantford, ON, Canada

I read 'Pride and Prejudice' for the first time when I was 16 years old. I fell in love with Jane Austen's novels but thought it was uncool to like such things. Thank goodness as we grow older, we grow wiser. I now re-read one or two of Miss Austen's books every year! Along with my copy of 'Lessons from Madame Chic'of course! ;)

C. Catherine said...

Christina P.
Coeur d'Alene, ID

I have two favorites: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. They are set in very different time periods but they both include highly contrasting characters, which is my favorite literary device. They also both have such strong characters to emulate. And, it goes without saying, that both books are much better than their film counterparts!

Bekah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LizL said...

Liz L Denver
Suite francaise was very good

Lorrie said...

Lorrie O. (Victoria, Canada)

"Frenchman's Creek" by Daphne DuMaurier is a book I read at least once a year, always in the summer. The first chapter is one of the most beautiful pieces of prose I've ever read, moving seamlessly between the past and the present.

Then there's Pride and Prejudice, Rosamunde Pilcher's 'Coming Home', Out of Africa, and on and on.

Ashenden sounds delightful!

Mrswindy1 said...

Elaine M. (Tampa, Fl)
"Pride and Prejudice" of course! And the BBC Series with Colin Firth thrown in only improves on the experience.

Angela said...

Angela C (Cape May, NJ)

Keeping with the British vein, I do adore Penny Vincenzi's No Angel. It's the first volume in a trilogy of a family run publishing house in early 20th century London. I treat myself to one of her books a year.

Angela said...

I posted your contest on my FB page

Lika Deala (Townbank, NJ)

Unknown said...

The Source by James Michener remains my favorite historical novel - about the holy land. Almost 1000 pages, each a page turner.

Entry: Carol White, Delray Beach

LightningToMyHeart said...

Laura Saba (Staten Island, NY most recently famous for SuperStorm Sandy)

I love Sarah Waters book "Fingersmith." Never encountered so many plot twists - single, double, triple-twists! Wow! Of course anything Jane Austen as well.

Not Scarlett said...

Carol P. (Springfield, IL)

Kate Chopin and her novel "The Awakening". Published in 1899, in some locations it was banned and censored. Quite tame today!

Krysten Lindsay Hager said...

Krysten H. Bellbrook, OH

My favorite historical movie is, "War and Peace"

C said...

Clara O (Wesley Chapel, FL)

My favorite historical novel is "The House of the Spirits" by Isabel Allende. I read this in high school and love the story (which happens to have a main character named Clara also) - it was my introduction to magical realism and I will never forget it!

Cheryl said...

Pride and Prejudice is my favorite. I enjoy your videos!
Cheryl P.
Houston, TX

Catherine said...

My all time favourite historical novel is The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp. If you are able to find a copy of this romance ( published in 1948 ) you will meet the delightful Lesley Frewen. A disappointment leads her to realizes that she has spent much of her life waiting rather than living fully. The story tells of her move to the country and adventures as she begins to understand and truly live and love her new life. Every time I pick this book up for a little reread I am drawn into the story anew and transported to the English village countryside.
Susan P. (Richmond, BC, Canada)

Unknown said...

Just discovered your blog and I love it! Going to clean out my closet now...
Susan F. (Apex, NC)

PANNA said...

I enjoyed H.E. Bates' The Feast of July.

Panna I.
Harrisburg, PA

Kristien62 said...

My favorite historical film based on a Thomas Hardy novel is, "Far from the Madding Crowd."

Kris K.
Whitesboro, NY

Susanne said...

Susanne N.
Plano, TX

one of my all time favorites is rebecca by daphne du maurier. right now i'm reading the american heiress by daisy goodwin and it's very good too.

Eliza said...

Eliza B. (Rhode Island)

A Room with a view
Pride & Prejudice
Gosford Park

I have so very many favorites! I absolutely adore your blog, have just ordered your book and spent the last several hours watching your youtube videos! I can't wait for more! Thank you for bringing kindness, class and sophisticated living back to us! Great work!

Ashley Diaz said...

Ashley Diaz (Milton, GA)

My love-affair with history began as a seven-year-old by reading the Samantha American Girl series. It continued to evolve with Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Little Women, and Gone with the Wind.

In recent years, I've rekindled this love with historical-drama cinema and am a sucker for royalty films including Elizabeth and the Young Victoria.

I am sharing a link to this blog post on Facebook!

Eliza said...

I am making a blog post about your lovely blog, book & videos!


Beatrix said...

Beatrix H ( Vancouver, BC)

Possession - A.S. Byatt

Sara Hayden said...

Sara H.
Half Moon Bay, CA

Book: Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
Movie: The Duchess - My heart broke for poor Georgiana

I love your book. I'm on Lesson 14: Cultivate an Air of Mystery.

I've enjoyed reading all of the comments and have added a few titles to my want-to-read list. I'm also looking forward to reading Ashenden.

Melody Hays said...

"Pride and Prejudice" would be my first choice but as a Southerner I also would have to list "Gone With The Wind" for the novel and movie version. I recently read and loved "Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman" by Robert Massie and loved that period of history.

Melody H, Atlanta

Unknown said...

There are some great titles in these comments, and a few books I will add to my reading list. Another great historical novel is Middlemarch by George Eliot. A miniseries based on the book was produced several years ago, and that too was good.

Melissa U said...

Hi Jennifer!

The most recent historical fiction that I read and loved was The Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende. It was sweeping and the characters wonderful!

Melissa U

Lynn said...

forsythe Saga by John Galsworthy. this really kept my interest. Great character development.
Lynn E
Hurleyville, NY

Dee J said...

This post was an enjoyable read!

My favorite period piece is the mini-series Wives & Daughters based on Elizabeth Gaskell's book.

Even if this entry is a bit late, I still wanted to add it :)

~Dee J (NJ)

EFC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EFC said...

Pride and Prejudice - it's a classic!
Philadelphia, PA

S said...

Sally B. (Columbus, Ohio)
Favorite historical period is hard, so many are appealing. My favorite movie set in the past is Pride and Prejudice.

LushFabGlam said...

Great giveaway, it will make a wonderful gift! http://www.lush-fab-glam.com