‘A Castle, a Mysterious Neighbour and a Secret Message …’

Have you ever visited somewhere and felt that you took a bit of it away with you when you left?

Eight years ago, I visited Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. And it captured my heart. The walls seemed to ooze history and stories – and I was sure I could detect the presence of those who had lived there many years before.

One resident in particular captured my imagination.  Lady Isabella de Fortibus was a great and powerful landowner. She organised ambitious improvements at Carisbrooke, not just designing her own spacious apartments, but adding a new kitchen and salting house, as well as a herb garden and vivarium (a place to keep fish alive once they were caught), to name but a few. What a woman! What creative and practical drive she must have had (and buckets of charisma to boot) to become so powerful in the male-dominated thirteenth century.  I reckon she was a truly formidable and determined character.

When I began drafting ideas for my third book, I contemplated making Isabella, and the legends which surround her, a significant part of the story. I even came up with ‘The Isabella Connection’ as a possible title!  But in the end, it was the place – the Isle of Wight – which became the primary inspiration. The blog heading above is taken from the end of chapter nine of Mouse. I loved Carisbrooke so much, it became the place where Laurel Smith first realises that the Isle of Wight is hiding some pretty intriguing secrets.

Me and Mouse in Lady Isabella’s apartment

I revisited Carisbrooke this year, and again I felt Isabella’s tough character radiating from the ancient bricks. On reflection, I think her spirit is everywhere in my books. (A resolute and courageous female. Sound familiar?!) So – to show my deep respect for this wonderful, feisty woman, I named the ‘Lady Isabella’ Pub in Mouse after her, and made it the setting for a critical scene where Laurel Smith plans a mission for Vectis, the mysterious Isle of Wight rebels.

If you’re finding yourself short of inspiration as the autumn gloom draws in, why not revisit a place that captivated you? Make a packed lunch and jump on a train … or just re-open your memory store!  Let that place, and the people who walked there, give you something new. You never know where you might end up.

Find out more about Carisbrooke Castle here.

Mouse is just a click away!  Just here!