Aspiring author Karen Roy was so intrigued by Luton Hoo’s history when she moved to the area 10 years ago that she decided to use it as the background for her debut novel.
She recalls: “The mansion house was just sitting empty when we arrived. And I was fascinated by everything about its rebirth and reopening.”
Parvenu tells the story of reclusive aristocrat Lady Camilla Davenport, living in the faded grandeur of Hetsoe House, the family seat.
Left with crippling debts by her late American husband, and mourning the death of their young son in the 1960s, she’s beset by long term mental illness which manifests itself as obsessive compulsive disorder.
She’s looked after by faithful family retainers Ted and Odile, who indulge her eccentricties and shield her from the harsh world outside.
But all that changes when her son-in-law, the brash Danny Duckworth, persuades her to sell the crumbling mansion to a property developer who intends turning it into a five star hotel.
Karen – a former ITN archive researcher - interviewed Luton Hoo guest services manager Zena Dickinson about the work required to bring the historic house back to life, after it had fallen into disrepair due to years of neglect.
Zena was a mine of information as she joined the old estate office as a clerical assistant in 1985 and became its unofficial caretaker until it was bought by Elite Hotels in 1999. They invested more than £60 million in its restoration.
So that’s the background of the book in place - but it’s the fictional side of Parvenu that’s so riveting.
Karen, 42 who lives on Studley Road with husband Steve, a project manager, and their three children, was keen to explore how attitudes to mental illness have changed over the years.
She says: “It struck me we’re far more open about the subject today, compared with the ‘closed shop’ perspective of the older generation, to whom it was shrouded in fear.
“I’ve had friends and family with mental health difficulties and I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the #timetochange campaign which aims to end the stigma and discrimination.”
> Parvenu is available on Amazon for £6.99. There is also a Kindle version.