At Home with Valerie

At Home with Valerie

In 2006 I bought a town house in the centre of Woodstock. It was a small house for small people, so I called it Hobbit Cottage. All my hobbit friends loved it. My taller chums had to duck as they came in the door.

My cottage was originally an almshouse which belonged to a former Duke of Marlborough. On his marriage, he gave it to his wife, Consuela, as part of her wedding dowry. I don’t suppose for a moment that she ever lived in it.

The front door opened straight on to the living room and looked very shabby. A coat of white paint didn’t help. After I had the courage to slap on some terracotta paint, the place began to sing and dance with light and colour.

I bought the long dining table more than forty years ago. It has been my boon companion ever since. Every mark and scratch on it tells a story, but I am the only person in the world who can remember what happened and when.

The galley kitchen was simple and easy to clean. I don’t enjoy elaborate cooking. It makes for too much washing up. I like fruit and salads, eggs and cheese – and the occasional bar of very dark chocolate when nobody else is looking.

My bedroom overlooked a road which grew noisier each year with the increase in Woodstock traffic. My books spilled over from the rest of the cottage, but I made sure at least one shelf was full of copies of my own novels.

My study, my sanctuary and the engine room. Here my ideas took shape with pen on paper, my characters came to life, their voices spoke to me, their triumphs and disasters lit their eyes, made them laugh and cry, and tore through their hearts.

I built a small grey-slate patio in the back garden. Sitting outside with a cup of tea – I don’t drink alcohol – always gave me time to breathe the air of the real world and its sanity. Writers of good novels need to live in an imaginary universe…

Here is my beloved cat, Master Sloop, a black ball of fur, asleep in the artificial grass. I planted trees and I painted the fence around my small garden. In 2013, when the wind blew cold, I knew I had outgrown Hobbit Cottage. It was time to move on.

Photographs supplied by Flowers Estate Agents. Photographer Merlin Lyons.