Thursday 12 July 2018

Why I Can't Resist a House of Secrets

the-secret, katharine-johnson, book, blog-tour

A central character in Katharine Johnson's novel The Secret is Villa Leonida.
Villa Leonida stared back at Sonia, coolly defiant, battle-scarred but intact, daring her to come closer. The lemon trees on either side of the door had died in their pots. Grass had sprung up waist-high amid the stone chippings of the forecourt. The shutters were closed and skeletons of geraniums were all that remained in the window boxes. The sign tied to the rusted curlicues of the gates confirmed the rumours: Vendesi. For Sale.
If you’ve read The Silence, which came out last year, you’ll recognise the house in Tuscany as the one Abby stayed in as a teenager in 1992 with dire consequences, a secret which she has maintained to the present day but which now threatens to explode into her comfortable English life.

The secret that’s harboured by Villa Leonida in The Secret is very different and goes back to a betrayal in wartime Italy, although there is also a connection with the events in The Silence.

Making the House the Main Character

The reason I’ve chosen to make the house the central character in both books is that I love old houses and the stories they hold about the different generations that pass through them. Although The Silence is usually described as a psychological thriller and The Secret is more of a historical novel, they are both about a house of secrets where everybody is hiding something.

I’ve always been drawn to stories where a house plays a central role.

My favourite of these has to be Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – from that very famous opening line, “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again,” I was hooked.

In Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, the reader is seduced alongside Charles as he falls under the spell of Sebastian’s eccentric family. The crumbling and sinister Hundreds Hall is a main character in The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, another of my favourite books. I love the gothic mystery surrounding Angelfield and the mysterious sisters that are brought up there in The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I’m a huge fan of Barbara Vine and one of her novels that stands out the most for me is The House of Stairs with its shabby Georgian house in 1960s London, the hedonistic characters and the way the story is set up so that throughout you know something awful will happen there. And for similar reasons I found The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly a real page-turner – you know something will happen that’s bad enough to get one of the characters imprisoned but until the end, you can’t be sure how it will happen.

I’m certainly not pretending that my books are on the same literary level as these but because I’ve enjoyed reading them I’ve written the books I wanted to read – different stories connected by a house of secrets.

Katharine Johnson has been a journalist, magazine editor, school dinner lady and stately home room guide. She writes about ordinary people in extraordinary situations and loves old houses, flawed characters and cake. When she’s not writing you’ll find her reading, playing netball, drinking coffee or walking her dog around the lake near her home while plotting her next story.

The Secret is available to buy now. For more about Katharine and her writing, follow her on Twitter.

Will you be grabbing a copy of the book? Let me know in the comments below!


  1. I plan on buying both books! As an author myself, I have successfully used the house a narrator in my first three books. Looking forward to seeing how another author has used this scenario. Thanks so much.

    1. That's wonderful news, Marion! I hope you enjoy reading the books x