Hackney author gets Downton Abbey Premiere debut

Pic: Elizabeth Wilhide

Hackney author, Elizabeth Wilhide, is going to have her Downton Abbey-esque debut novel published in the United States this January.

Simon & Schuster will be releasing Ashenden in the US to coincide with the series three premiere of Downton Abbey as the novel is billed to be “perfect for fans of the show.”

Ashenden is based on the Basildon Park house in Reading, which served as a setting in the Kiera Knightley film Pride & Prejudice.

Wilhide was inspired during a weekend retreat at the Basildon Park country house with her architect husband. Speaking about her stay, she said: “It completely moved both of us. The more I read about it the more I realized that the history of the house echoes the history of the country. History is not that far under the surface anywhere.”

The episodic novel weaves a narrative as it moves back and forth through time. It follows the characters that live and work within the atmospheric country house, each chapter acting as a self-contained short story.

Her foray into fiction saw its UK release this summer, but Wilhide has authored over 20 books on interior design, decoration, and architecture. She also collaborated on more than 30 titles with authors such as Terence Conran and David Linley.

“I mean my so-called day job, writing about design … I know how much I can write a day and how long it will take me to do something.

“Fiction goes to another place in your head. You’re trying to leave yourself open to what’s going on subconsciously. It’s not something you can do to order.”

Wilhide understands the public’s inclination to create parallels between her novel and the popular program Downton Abbey. “It’s an easy shorthand I suppose.

“The difference is my book covers about 250 years. I’m not focusing on a period or decade, which is what Downton is doing. It’s not the same family and the house isn’t used the same way.

“I finished the first draft of Ashenden just before the first series of Downton aired on TV. I finished it and thought, ‘Oh I’m not sure anybody is going to be interested in this.’ And then Downton came on and I thought, ‘Oh okay. Maybe somebody will.’  It was an odd coincidence really.”

Wilhide, who has been living in Dalston for 30 years, is currently working on her next novel that she describes as a World War II love story.

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