Pagham-verse, The Crows

#SpotlightOn… Fairwood House

Inspiration for The Crows/Fairwood

I ran a poll on Twitter asking which characters should I do a little spotlight on and introduce, and Fairwood House won! Fairwood House is a character in my novels, and I’ve blogged about the inspiration behind it here.

In that post, I mentioned a house my grandad called “the old doctor’s house”. I think it’s The Laurels, and here it is in its pre-ruined heyday:

The Laurels, from the Risca Museum Photo Archive

The Crows/Fairwood is a little bigger than The Laurels, probably more like Manor House:

Manor House, from Risca Museum Photo Archive

It’s definitely smaller than Tredegar House, which is another inspiration for it from my childhood, but it’s more that sort of shape, just not as long in the middle section:

Northwestern façade of Tredegar House, Newport, south Wales
Photo Credit: Tony Higsett, CC 2.0

I’ve been asked if it has plural vibes and it does, though not on purpose, it just came out that way. Each bit of the house has its own personality and the house as a whole works with all these different parts of itself, but it can also condense itself into an avatar that presents as whichever gender it wants. It can appear as any of its owners, past/present, and the owner’s personality or a facsimile of that can front when it’s the avatar.

Fairwood House/The Crows by Tom Brown (2019)
One of the illustrations in the novel

It also has a lot of history, and so different bits of it are different ages. The oldest part is the 13thC crypt belonging to a totally different building (a monastery) that it was built on top of post Reformation, and that retains its own character and communicates mostly in plainsong. It has some 16thC and 17thC beams and panelling remaining, but is mainly 18th-19thC in terms of architecture.

Tredegar House’s “Brown Room” is similar to what I imagine the disused dining room/ball room of Fairwood to look like, but longer than real life, with the windows on the opposite wall, and no fireplace:

The Brown Room of Tredegar House, People’s Collection Wales

The smell of the house is very specific and based on two real locations: Llancaiach Fawr manor, Nelson, and Mansfield College library, Oxford.

Llancaiach Fawr, Nelson
Mansfield College Library, Oxford

On Class

The class aspect of the space is really important as well, and the gendered spaces in the house and political spaces in the house, as all of that goes into its personalities. I spoke on the class side of things on the Left Page podcast. Basically, the kitchen is the most welcoming room in the house for lots of reasons, and its owner – who is working class raised, moved into middle class and then lost her job and ended up with nothing except the house – doesn’t sleep in the master bedroom because it feels like it doesn’t want her there. She sleeps in a guest room, which is smaller and actually feels friendly.

Carrie’s respect for the house’s spaces means that the house really warms to her, and that has a knock-on effect later on… Ultimately, it’s a story charting an uncomfortable working class takeover of a space designed to be oppressive to the working class, but that’s a process, not an event. It’s my Gothic Socialist narrative, I guess?

On Genderfluidity

Fairwood isn’t gendered a lot of the time or is usually ‘it’, but people do tend to gender the avatar of the house as that takes on the form of a real owner that it has now, or has had in the past, and borrows their pronouns.

It represents itself by scarring and moulding the figure of the owner, creating either something that could easily pass as human, or something very uncanny and humanesque. The house itself doesn’t think of itself in gendered terms, and even though it settles into one form over another as the series progresses, it retains the ability to be fluid in its personal representation.

Thanks for Reading!

Fairwood is a lot of people’s favourite character and that’s fantastic. I’m so delighted that my sentient, haunted house has had such a positive reception. I’ll do a couple more of these posts for other characters, so check out my Instagram stories and Twitter for polls, and go vote for what’s next!

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