Part mystery, part psychological drama,Julia Rochester’s The House at the Edge of the World is a darkly comic, unorthodox and thrilling debut. John Venton’s drunken fall from a Devon cliff leaves his family with an embarrassing ghost. His twin children, Morwenna and Corwin, flee in separate directions to take up their adult lives. Their mother, enraged by years of unhappy marriage, embraces merry widowhood. Only their grandfather finds solace in the crumbling family house, endlessly painting their story onto a large canvas map. His brightly coloured map, with its tiny pictures of shipwrecks, forgotten houses, saints and devils, is a work of his imagination, a collection of local myths and histories. But it holds a secret. As the twins are drawn grudgingly back to the house, they discover that their father’s absence is part of the map’s mysterious pull. The House at the Edge of the World is the compellingly told story of how family and home can be both a source of comfort and a wholly destructive force. Cutting to the undignified half-truths every family conceals, it asks the questions we all must confront: who are we responsible for and, ultimately, who do we belong to?
Julia Rochester Biography
Julia Rochester grew up on the Exe Estuary in Devon.
She studied in London, Berlin and Cambridge and has worked for the BBC Portuguese Service and for Amnesty International as researcher on Brazil.
She lives in London with her husband and daughter.
Julia Rochester on the Inspiration Behind The House at the Edge of the World
Inspiration is a slippery word. I don’t make many notes and ideas constantly mutate, so that I tend to lose track of their original form, and can only trace them backwards – if that makes sense. So, it is obvious that this novel was seeded on one of my visits to the North Devon coast, but there was no point at which I looked over the edge and thought: I ought to write a book about a man who falls off a cliff.
Once I found myself in my imagination within that landscape, I met my characters there, and one of them, Morwenna, daughter of the man who falls off the cliff, decided to make it her story. Her personality tended towards dark thoughts and a sharp sense of humour, which is hardly surprising given that it was shaped by massive slices of granite and fierce sunsets and autumn gales. It also tended towards a bit of mysticism – which perhaps is inevitable when your view from the window is so ancient that you become hyper-conscious that the span of your life is less than a blink in time – and I found that the novel edged right to the boundaries of the magical, and that there were glimpses of demons and mermaids across the line between reality and fantasy.
There were elements of my own life that crept in – of being a teenager in a rural idyll in the 1980s, but being very conscious of the world beyond; of working for a humanitarian cause, but finding it hard not to be worn down by it; of growing up in a family where books and creative expression were more important than almost anything else. Then I threw in some complicated family relationships for dramatic effect and a bit of mystery (I didn’t actually know what was going to happen, myself, until I was about half way through writing it). And there you have it: the recipe for The House at the Edge of the World.