A Death at Fountains Abbey - a new book set in the famous Yorkshire landmark
PUBLISHED: 00:00 31 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:26 31 May 2017
Yorkshire’s dark past inspires a modern author with murderous intent
When Antonia Hodgson was 16 she took a pilgrimage to Haworth’s wild and windy moors to walk in the footsteps of the Brontë sisters (while singing the Kate Bush song – you know the one – in her head).
Charlotte, Anne and Emily were all influenced by the bleak yet captivating landscape surrounding their West Yorkshire home. And now, echoing her heroines once again, Antonia also writes books inspired by Yorkshire.
Her latest, A Death at Fountains Abbey, is the third in a historical crime series that has already produced a Richard & Judy Book Club choice and a CWA Historical Dagger winner.
Inspired by real characters, events and settings, the story sees rakish Thomas Hawkins investigating death threats made against John Aislabie, one of the wealthiest men in 18th century England.
Set in the lavish water gardens and deer parks of Studley Hall and the majestic ruins of Fountains Abbey, it’s an atmospheric mystery involving blackmail, family secrets and a fiendish killer hell-bent on revenge.
Aislabie was the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the South Sea Bubble, a devastating financial disaster that left countless families ruined. His actions made him a hated man.
‘When I’m writing a book, I become deeply involved in the characters and their motivations,’ said Antonia. ‘Aislabie did something pretty terrible, but he never accepted responsibility. Instead, he went back to his enormous estate at Studley Royal and poured a fortune into his water features and landscapes. It was a show of wealth and also, I think, an act of denial, defiance and control.
‘It was a fascinating thing to do after being publicly shamed. And looking down the long lens of history, it worked. The gardens, not his political life, are his legacy.’
Antonia, who lives in London and grew up in Derby, has strong family connections with Yorkshire. Her father’s family are from here, her grandma lived near Barnsley, her sister lives in Huddersfield and she chose to study English at Leeds University. But she wasn’t familiar with Fountains Abbey until her editor sent her a picture of it as a potential cover for a previous book.
‘It was completely by chance,’ she said. ‘I had this immediate connection with it and, once I realised the connection to Aislabie, I had to learn more. I spent months in Yorkshire and visited the abbey many times. I think I’ve been down every possible path in every possible kind of weather.’
Antonia did a lot of her research at the West Yorkshire Archives, ploughing through a cache of letters that paint a picture of Aislabie as a family man.
‘The physicality of the ink and paper immediately connects you back. It’s a powerful exercise in empathy,’ she said. ‘It also shows that we haven’t really changed at the deepest levels. And if we can find a connection to someone who died 300 years ago, then how much closer are we to all the people living in the world today?’
Antonia is heading back to Yorkshire again soon, this time to Harrogate for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.
‘I’m a huge fan of the festival,’ she said. ‘It has a brilliant atmosphere that you can’t bottle. It’s very relaxed, convivial and you really do have the best conversations.’
The Ashes to Ashes panel with Antonia Hodgson, SG MacLean, Robert Goddard, William Shaw and Graeme Macrae Burnet is on Friday July 21st at 2pm. For tickets, call the box office on 01423 562 303.