I won’t lie to you, it took me a while to sit down to read Inheritance by Jenny Eclair. I was worried the story wouldn’t really hook me in and that a publishing deal came easy to the actress/author due to her already successful broadcasting career.
Now that I’ve read it, I deserve to be whacked over the head with the hardback for having any doubts. Inheritance is an absolute triumph.
The story centres around Kittiwake, a mansion in Cornwall that was purchased 70 years ago for family holidays by American heiress Peggy Carmichael, wife of Teddy and mother to Ivor, Natasha and Benedict.
Tragedy hits when Ivor drowns in the swimming pool. The family locks up Kittiwake and heads back to London, never to return. Peggy can’t handle the grief of losing her eldest so she leaves the family for America, files for divorce and abandons her two surviving children.
Over the decades, the keys are handed down through the family and in the present day, it belongs to Natasha’s son, Lance, who will be celebrating his 50th birthday there in the coming weeks.
Bel, Lance’s adoptive sister, is invited, but Kittiwake holds a strange sentiment for her as it’s where she was found in a drawer as an abandoned newborn baby.
She was adopted into the Carmichael clan thanks to Benedict, who sorted the paperwork so that the baby could live with his sister Natasha and her husband Hugo after the trauma of recurring miscarriages.
The story develops so smoothly as we learn about the family’s past, how they all coped when Ivor passed away and how they grew up to deal, or not as the case may be, with all their own troubles.
The youngest Carmichael, Benedict, was my favourite character and I loved any mention of him in the book. Fair enough, he is a bit of a playboy, but he’s a real solid support for his family, especially Bel.
Poor Bel has never really been accepted into the family and was always deemed second best. Even more so after Natasha and Hugo have a biological son, Lance.
This storyline really hit a chord with me as my cousin adopted a son over 16 years ago. He’s now a strapping 18-year-old and we can’t imagine life without him, so Natasha’s poor treatment of Bel really angered me.
Quite a lot of the book covers Bel’s story and I was drawn to her. The family she was adopted into has never really supported her and worse so, her husband and kids rarely treat her with the dignity nor love she deserves. I feel as readers it is our duty to be in her corner, and I certainly was throughout this story.
I loved the different times the book was set in. Going back to post war Britain then building up with anecdotes to the present day fit the style of the book to perfection.
And Eclair’s descriptions of settings, landscapes and emotions were a real winner too. You can really feel like you’re there at Kittiwake through the years from its grand beginnings, dreary and dilapidated motions right up to its grand redecoration by Lance and his wife.
Since turning the last page of Inheritance, I’m keen to read more of what Jenny Eclair has to offer in the world of fiction. If her novels are anything like this one, I know we’re all in for a treat.
Downton Abbey star Catherine Steadman was already a successful actress before turning her hand to writing. Her debut novel, Something in the Water, was a New York Times bestseller and has been optioned by Twentieth Century Fox with Hollywood star Reese Witherspoon attached to produce. Lisa Gray caught up with Catherine, who is appearing at this month’s Bloody Scotland crime writing festival.
What was the inspiration behind Something in the Water?
I was filming ITV series Tutankhamun on the border of the Namibian desert in South Africa. It was so hot and I was obsessed with the idea of getting in or near some water. The idea of an island paradise like Bora Bora seemed heavenly and the perfect location for a story.
Then the idea came to me – what would a person like you or me do if they found a bag full of money floating in the ocean? And how would that play out for them?
What was it like getting the Reese Witherspoon seal of approval?
I got a very surreal call from my literary agent when the novel was still in manuscript form and not yet a book. The call started with my agent telling me to sit down. Then she told me that somehow Reese Witherspoon had got hold of a copy and read it in one sitting and that Reese was now calling around studios in LA personally to get them to bid to co-produce with her.
To be honest, she had me at, ‘Reese read your book in one sitting’. Anything after that has just been an added bonus.
How do you find juggling acting with writing?
I tend to write every chance I get – in my trailer, in unit cars on my way to work. I even slipped out of a movie screening and wrote a chapter in a cinema lobby because an idea hit me mid-film. I use the iPhone notes app a lot as I write whenever I have a spare moment out and about.
What’s next for you?
My second novel, Mr Nobody, is out in January. It’s anotherstandalone psycho- logical thriller inspired by a British news story from 2005 about a suited man found on an English beach. With no memory of who he was, or where he’d come from, he was dubbed the ‘Piano man’. Mr Nobody isn’t his story but that starting point was a great jumping off point for me. It’s Memento meets Sharp Objects.