Monday, September 14, 2015

Life really does imitate Art by Sheila Claydon

Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life . . . Life holds the mirror up to Art, and either reproduces some strange type imagined by a painter or sculptor, or realises in fact what has been dreamed in fiction. Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde isn't the only writer who said so but his quote is possibly the best known.Until recently I shrugged and laughed whenever I heard it because hey, it's just a cliche isn't it? Well actually, no it's not. Why do I say that? Well in a very small but personal way, I've just experienced it.

In 2013 my book Mending Jodie's Heart was published. It's set partly in London but mainly in the North West of England, which is where I live. The idea for the story came when I took my dog for his daily walk and discovered we could no longer use the local bridleway. This narrow sandy path that wound its way through tangled woodland and past a derelict, boarded-up farmhouse had been closed. The untidy briars and bushes that partially hid the entrance had been cut down and in their place was a shiny new gate complete with padlock and a 'Trespassers will be Prosecuted' sign.

Someone very wealthy had bought the old farmhouse and the adjoining fields and woodland and then discovered that a public bridleway skirted his estate. Anxious about the effect this would have on the safety of his young family his decision to close it off was understandable. What he didn't do, however, was consider the locals...walkers and riders alike.  It had been a shortcut to the beach ever since anyone could remember and they campaigned to have it reopened. Eventually the wealthy new owner capitulated. He re-opened the bridle path and protected his privacy instead with wire security fences which were eventually hidden by a thick laurel hedge.

Why am I telling you this? Well the writer in me was already intrigued. Why would someone, however wealthy, close off a well used footpath without considering the effect it would have on local people. Did he have something to hide?  And what was he doing building a swimming pool before knocking down the old farmhouse and building a new house of his own? And what about the trailer that had been erected. Did he live in it or was it just a temporary estate office?  There were a lot of common-sense answers to all those questions but I didn't want to hear them because Marcus, the imaginary hero of my book, had begun to inhabit the house. Not long after that he met Jodie and her horse, and thus Mending Jodie's Heart was born.

By the time it was published the new house had been built and the wealthy man and his family had moved in. Nobody knew what it was like though because by then, like Sleeping Beauty's castle, the estate was surrounded on all sides by high banks, expensively planted laurel, new trees, and the insidious creeping tangle of briar and seaside plants that had been there before and were determined to find their way back. Happy with my own imaginings I didn't care. I'd never wondered what the house was actually like inside because in my mind it was as I'd imagined it when I was writing the book. As far as I was concerned it belonged to Marcus and Jodie, and when several local fans of my books told me they felt the same way I was delighted.

Then the strangest thing happened. The wealthy owner put the hidden house up for sale and naturally curiosity got the better of me. I went onto the sale site on the Internet to check it out, and that's when life really did began to imitate art because it WAS Marcus' and Jodie's house. Every room I'd imagined was there, including the music room, the stage, the separate annexe for Luke, the wonderful master bedroom, the stables...everything, right down to the decor.  There was even room for Jodie's horse therapy school. To say I was astonished was to put it mildly. How could I have imagined this house down to almost the last detail when the last time it was visible to the public it was still a half built, empty shell. Or was it the other way round? Had some magic conveyed my thoughts to the wealthy owner, someone who I've never met. 

For a few days it had an unsettling effect then I began to wonder about other places in other books. Do they exist somewhere outside my imagination as well? It's an intriguing but slightly scary thought because, if they do, then what about the people who live in them...who are they?

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