The grand and dramatic-looking Mabledon estate in Southborough was the inspiration
for Sophie Kearsey’s setting for her first book, entitled ‘Unspeakable Things’. Here, the
publisher turned author from Tunbridge Wells tells the Times more about the chilling tale
MY NOVEL, Unspeakable Things, is a psychological mystery about motherhood and madness. The pregnant heroine, Sarah, moves back into her abandoned childhood
home, hoping to connect with what’s left of her family. She is thrilled to learn about her long-dead mother from Uncle John, who runs the Woodlands Clinic nearby. But he tells her a terrible secret, and her life, career and relationships begin to unravel. Sarah’s house in the novel is symbolic – it’s the gatehouse to her past – but I wanted to give the estate a credible backstory. Just up the road from my home in Southborough is a gatehouse, a tantalising hint at the hidden Mabledon estate. I borrowed some of its history for Woodlands.
I then discovered a striking coincidence – Mabledon had a spell as a psychiatric hospital after the war. Intrigued, I visited and was delighted to discover turrets that could be
the grim tower in Unspeakable Things where a patient is locked up. Falling away from the end of the gardens was a stretch of beautiful parkland that would not look out of place in a TV costume drama.
But Unspeakable Things is no Downton Abbey, and it was an unremarkable back entrance that had me most inspired. It could have been the door to the old back kitchen that finally leads Sarah inside and to the dreadful discovery that will answer all her questions…
I have wanted to be a writer since I was five. At Claremont School, my teacher gave me a pink exercise book and I wrote stories about a girl called Jane. Teachers continued to encourage me at Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar, making me feel that I had a talent.
I particularly liked writing about what frightens us, and my number one aim was to have a novel published. Then life seemed to get in the way. I made a career in publishing, in Brighton, then Hong Kong, helping other authors to realise their dreams.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I asked myself, ‘What frightens me most?’ The answer was madness. What if a pregnant woman discovered that her mother had gone
mad and tried to kill her? What if the illness might be hereditary?
I began to develop the story of Sarah’s mother, Mary, and her brother, John – twin children of neglectful and cruel parents. A chilling story began to take shape. I worked on it for years, as a screenplay and then a novel.
Agents liked the idea, but not enough to take it up. But the characters had come to life for me and refused to let me abandon them.
I returned to the UK and had my second son, then worked at local firm, Search Press.
But my writing ambition gnawed away, unsatisfied. At the age of 50, I left my job to
freelance and concentrate on writing. I found a brilliant literary consultant and working
with her was like a personal masterclass.
Publishers and agents are risk-averse these days, so when I knew the novel was good
enough, it was time to take the risk and selfpublish. After 30 years of editing books for
other authors, I finally became one myself. It has been a delight to see people reading
it and saying they can’t put it down.
Unspeakable Things is available through Amazon priced £7.99 and locally at Hall’s Bookshop in Chapel Place and The Cake Shed on The Pantiles