CASTLES IN THE AIR
by Elizabeth Aston
I love castles. I’ve always been fascinated by them. A heap of ruins spotted on a hillside from a train window; a staid tourist visit to a Castle of Importance; gazing out across shining sands to St Michael’s Mount; building my own sandcastles in the sand - castles are endlessly delightful and fascinating. Grim and granite, brooding over the wild grey seas of Northumbria or fanciful and pretty in the softer south; gothic and crenellated or domesticated and functional, castles ooze charm.
The big old ones shout power. These were the heart of a great families’ fiefdom, or were held in the name of the king. These are buildings of war and defence, narrow windows for archers to fire their arrows, portcullises to drop in the face of an advancing enemy, handy rooms for boiling substances to drop on invading heads below.
And they belong to the past. They're places of a bygone age, and whether ruins or inhabited, their purpose has long gone, and that, to us, is part of their majesty and mystique. It’s why Harry Potter’s school, Hogwarts, is in a castle - where else could Rowling have found the right setting for her mix of magic, mystery and menace?
Is it a Jungian thing, their appeal? The round shape, the moat surrounding walls and within that the inner keep, perhaps represent our inmost self. Or is it the stuff of fairytales, the Once upon a time quality that so many of them have?
I always longed to live in a castle.
In reality, I know, it would be cold, damp and inconvenient. But in the imagination, it’d be a place of wonder and peril, danger and history. Dungeons, oubliettes and cannonballs on the landings, echoing stone chambers and, in the best ones, ghosts.
As I writer, I can live where I want. In my mind I can travel to Mars, converse with the stars, spend a day in the gutter and dine with princes. And so, like many writers before me, when I wanted a home for my outrageous Mountjoys, I gave them a castle.
Mountjoy Castle was loosely based on Skipton Castle, where the castle and the family home blend in happy harmony, but in my mind’s eye it was still a place where the old genes ruled, where generations of wicked and turbulent Mountjoys lived and fought and loved. When innocent Prue Pagan in Children of Chance arrives there for her summer job, she finds herself in another world, overawed, out of her depth, alarmed by this extraordinary castle-cum-family-home where the portcullis still rattles down and she can take her afternoon walk along the walls before retreating, Rapunzel-like, to her bedroom in the tower.
Having invented Mountjoy Castle, it naturally is entirely real to me, and it and the sprawling Mountjoy family became an integral part of the rest of the Mountjoy novels. I could give you a guided tour any day of the week: towers, spiral staircases, muniment room, family rooms and state rooms.
‘This way, ladies and gents, please don’t fall behind, we are now passing along the corridor that leads to the Great Hall, where the famous tapestries, recently restored by Lady Mountjoy, depict scandalous scenes from antiquity.’
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of castles, go and have a look at this anecdote about Wardour Castle - that’s the one in the picture. Read about Lady Blanche Arundell, who held the castle against the attacking forces of the Parliamentary Army. And, please note, she was sixty-one.
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Giveaway: One lucky reader will win an e-copy of Children of Chance!!!!!
What do you think of castles? Have you ever been to one? Would you like to live in one? Please leave a comment below to be entered to win a copy of Children of Chance, the prequel of the Mountjoy series. Available in any ebook format. Remember to write your email address in the comments so that I can contact you. If you don't leave your email address, you will not be eligible for this week's giveaway, or for the Giveaway Grand Prize in October.
Contest ends 17 August 2011 at 11:59 pm. Contest for ebook is open internationally.
For the Giveaway Grand Prize: Everyone who comments (and writes their email address in the comments) is eligible to win a lovely hematite bracelet and earrings seen here. A lucky winner will be chose in mid-October. Contest is open internationally and prizes will be shipped anywhere in the world.
Good luck everyone!