Read Ashenden Online

Authors: Elizabeth Wilhide

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Cultural Heritage, #Contemporary Fiction, #Literary, #Historical Fiction

Ashenden (45 page)

BOOK: Ashenden

Half an hour later, Ma’lita pulled out her mobile and dialed the agent’s number.

“Can I speak to Izzie Beckmann, please?”


“Hi,” she said. “It’s Ma’lita.”

*  *  *

Ma’lita watched the trees go by out of the window of the 4x4. So many trees. It was like drinking in green, breathing it in.

“I’ll be perfectly straight with you,” said Izzie as they drove through the gates. “It needs a lot of work and a lot of money spent on it.”

Ma’lita knew how to work and she knew how to make money. By now, she even knew how to make money work for itself to make more money. It turned out that she was almost as good at that as singing.

“Anyone else interested in it?”

“We have had an approach by an international consortium that
wants to turn it into a hotel and golf course. They’re probably the most serious. But they haven’t made an offer yet.”

A hotel, no way, thought Ma’lita. No way.

In real life, the house was both smaller and larger than she expected.

“Wow,” she said, getting out of the car.

“I can let you in down here,” said Izzie, standing in front of a door on the ground level. “But I think you’ll get a better impression if you go up these stairs and go in from the loggia.”

“The loggia?” said Ma’lita.

“The porch.”

“Oh, you mean the balcony.”

Izzie nodded. “I’ll go and open up. Take your time.” She unlocked the door and disappeared inside.

Ma’lita went up the stairs on the left-hand side. It was like climbing up through a tunnel or something, wondering what was going to come next. Then she stepped out into space and gasped. The roof soared over her head, the warm stone glowed in the spring sunlight, and the land fell away in front of her, rising in the distance to a little hill.

She knew this feeling. She had felt the same way the first time she’d stepped on a stage.

This was where she belonged.

This was home.


or those who know Basildon Park in Berkshire (and there will be millions who will have seen it in the guise of Netherfield in the 2005 adaptation of
Pride and Prejudice,
starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen), it will be clear that Ashenden is based upon it, both in details of its architecture and decoration and in its patterns of occupancy. A few stories in this book are fictionalized accounts of real people and events; most use its history as a framework or springboard for my own purposes. In other words, I have used certain facts about the house when they have suited me and the story I wanted to tell.

Unlike many great country houses, which are handed down from generation to generation of the same family, Basildon Park’s mixed fortunes have often mirrored the times through which it has lived. That basic idea was the genesis of Ashenden.

is fiction. Basildon Park has belonged to the National Trust since 1978.

I am indebted to various sources. The most important of these are
Basildon Park
by Charles Pugh and Tracey Avery (National Trust, 2002), “A Casket to Enclose Pictorial Gems” by Dr. Caroline Dakers (
magazine, 2004),
Basildon, Berkshire: An Illustrated History
by Clive Williams, OBE (Reading, 1994),
Bath Stone Quarries
by Derek Hawkins (Folly Books, 2011),
Pit of Shame: The Real
Ballad of Reading Gaol
by Anthony Stokes (Waterside Press, 2007), “Where Thames Smooth Waters Glide” (
), “6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, The Somme, 1 July, 1916” by Andy Teal (
), and Malcolm Sanders’s site about POW camps in Britain (

My agent Anthony Goff, who has been a constant source of advice and support over many years, found the perfect home for the book. Thanks also to Georgia Glover and Marigold Atkey at David Higham Associates for all their assistance.

At Fig Tree, Juliet Annan has made this a very much better book than it might have been, while her enthusiasm has been fantastically encouraging. Thanks also to Sophie Missing; Ellie Smith for shepherding the manuscript through production; Lesley Levene, whose copyediting skills saved me from myself numerous times; Chantal Noel, Penguin Rights director, who has worked so hard to bring the book to new audiences; and Emma Ewbank, who designed the beautiful jacket.

I would also like to thank the great team at Simon & Schuster for their warmth and dedication: Trish Todd, Molly Lindley, Kelly Welsh, and Jessica Abell.

Thanks to Eileen Gunn and the trustees of the Royal Literary Fund who awarded me a grant in October 2010. Although RLF grants are not intended to fund work in progress, I could not have finished the book without such a breathing space.

Hilary Arnold, Emma Dally, Celia Dodd, Jane Forster, Takla Gardey, and Debbie Postgate have given me support and encouragement of all kinds. Special thanks to Jocelyn Stephens, for always being there, for knowing what it’s like, and for making me laugh.

To Ann Fischer, Jenny Hall, and Carol and Nick Justin, I also owe thanks and love.

All love and thanks are also due my family, Martin, Katharine, and Tom Lazenby, who have not only read and commented on various versions, but who have also put up with my absent
presence and what must have seemed, at times, an inexplicable obsession.

But the greatest debt I owe is to my brother, Glenn Wilhide, my first, second, and third reader, who taught me how to tell a story, along with that very important lesson, which is how to be true to the work. Thank you for everything, Glenn.


is the author of more than twenty books on interior design, decoration, and architecture and a coauthor and contributor of many more, collaborating with authors such as Terence Conran, Orla Kiely, and Tricia Guild. Born in the United States, she moved to Britain in 1967 and now lives in the East End of London with her architect husband and their two children.





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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Wilhide

Originally published in Great Britain by Penguin Group

Published by arrangement with Penguin Group Ltd.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition January 2013

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Designed by Jill Putorti

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Wilhide, Elizabeth.

Ashenden / Elizabeth Wilhide.—1st Simon & Schuster ed.

p. cm.

1. Country homes—England—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3623.I5444A93 2013



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