From the bestselling author of Cleo, Helen Brown brings us her first work of fiction – a witty, entertaining novel about a woman who leaves the rat race for a quiet life restoring an old family mansion…
Life's going down the gurgler for romance writer Lisa Trumperton. The deadline for her next novel is looming, her daughter won't eat but has a new tattoo each week, and now her Wall-Street trader husband has run off with a woman from work.
Shattered after these recent events, Lisa decides makes a quick escape from New York, back home to Melbourne, Australia. Determined to grow older disgracefully, she turns her back on a trim and tidy townhouse that is close to shops, aged-care providers and her bossy older sister, to instead buy a grand old house in the country that once belonged to her great-grandfather. Lisa longs to crawl inside Tumbledown Manor and wrap its crumbling walls around her.
But, not unlike its new owner, Tumbledown Manor has seen better days. Crumbling, filthy and possibly haunted, the old house defies Lisa's attempts to restore it. Add flood, fire and family secrets, plus a stray cat with attitude and an overly familiar handyman, and the cracks really show… Tumbledown Manor is for anyone who believes it's never too late for a makeover…
Author Helen Brown has always felt a connection to Castlemaine and the surrounding countryside. Her father's family lived there for several years in the late 1890's, her dad growing up listening to his mother's stories of the glamorous life she'd had there, and passing this fascination down to Helen. On a weekend drive into Country Victoria back in 2012, Helen stopped outside the old manor house her grandmother used to own. 'Just as well it's not on the market," she said 'I'd buy it on the spot". And suddenly, a book was born…
Helen spent close to 2 years researching and writing this novel. Helen explains 'It's homage to those who have transformed rejection into a kick start for a new life. The story's about embracing imperfection and committing to the dream – no matter how crazy it might seem".
Helen Brown grew up in New Zealand where she became an award-winning newspaper and magazine columnist as well as a popular scriptwriter. Helen's memoir Cleo and After Cleo became international bestsellers and are available in a vast array of countries and languages. A New York Times bestseller, CLEO is currently being made into a film by the producers of The While Rider. Like the main character of Tumbledown Manor, Helen has ancestral ties with rural Victoria from back in the gold rush days. She lives in Melbourne with her husband Philip and temperamental cat, Jonah. She has three adult children and two granddaughters.
Allen and Unwin
Author: Helen Brown
Question: What inspired the story of Tumbledown Manor?
Helen Brown: I grew up listening to my father's stories about the grand old house near Castlemaine that his mother lived in as a young woman. Dad was the last of his family, so I thought he was romanticizing. It all changed the day he dug a couple of old sepia photos out of a cardboard box. The manor house was real, and it was very beautiful.
Years after Dad died, I persuaded Philip to drive me out to Castlemaine. I'd been l in New York for six weeks and was feeling a bit disconnected. We pulled up outside the old house. It looked magnificent in the afternoon sun. I suddenly felt Dad's presence, and a yearning to live inside those walls.
'Thank God it's not on the market, ' I said to Philip. 'I'd want to buy it on the spot."
And the story of Tumbledown Manor was born.
Question: Why did you decide to write a fiction story?
Helen Brown: Having been a journalist and columnist all my working life, I felt ready for an adventure. It was a nerve-wracking business wondering if I was going to make a terrible fool of myself writing in a new genre. I realize now there was a fair bit of fiction in my newspaper columns. Likewise, there are elements of real life in Tumbledown Manor.
Question: What was the best thing about creating the character of Lisa Trumperton?
Helen Brown: Lisa is a composite of my women friends who hit a mid life wall. Their marriages fell apart, kids went off the rails, or they lost their jobs. A few years on, almost all of them look back and feel grateful for what they went through. The challenges forced them to reinvent themselves.
I wanted to honour those women through Lisa.
Question: How much of yourself do you see in Lisa Trumperton?
Helen Brown: Well, we both have chocolate addictions and a problem with our thighs. Apart from that, Lisa is much braver than I am. She also writes sex scenes, which I never do.
Question: Can you talk us through the research you did before writing Tumbledown Manor?
Helen Brown: I became a regular visitor to Castlemaine, which was no hardship. It's a charming town. The people at the Historical Centre were very helpful. But Tumbledown Manor soon created a history that wasn't related to my own family or the house that stands outside the township today.
Wisely or otherwise, Lisa Trumperton writes historical romances based on the Bronte sisters. I enjoyed delving into the short and tragic lives of the three sisters.
And of course I had to spend time in New York to make sure the scenes that are set there have a realistic edge.
Question: What's next for you?
Helen Brown: I travel a lot meeting readers and publishers around the world. Vienna has become a bit of a soul home. When I've finished helping South Pacific Pictures with the screenplay for the movie they're making of Cleo, I might write a novel based on my women friends in Vienna. They smoke and drink like old time vamps. I love them because they're glamorous, funny and wonderfully empowered.
Interview by Brooke Hunter