Partly this was the setting – the Fens are flat and spooky and empty but without the beauty of an estuarial landscape; in the Fens you are buried deep inland, and it is a curious mixture of empty nature and the manmade: grain silos, drainage ditches, and now, wind farms. It is unsettling and disorientating and so flat you can almost see the curvature of the earth. And the house had a curiously horrible kitchen – an old working farmhouse kitchen at the back of the house, with low yellowed ceilings and greasy linoleum and barely any light, no more than a poky window over the sink.
That kitchen is where a lot of the action of The Loving Husband takes place: a dim, dismal room made more so by the knowledge that if you walk out of the back door a vast and eerie landscape will dwarf and menace you. Add to that the fact that on that journey I became aware that in leaving London I would be leaving everything familiar and safe, I would be stranded in a bleak empty place with my tiny children, without a job, and would be entirely reliant on my husband – and you have the germ of the novel’s plot. It is a dangerous situation for any human being, to place his or her life so completely in another’s hands and with so much at stake: you have to trust them absolutely. I had also come to the point where I was distant enough from my own time with tiny children to want seriously to write about it, to embed in my book the experience of being a mother, the superhuman strengths it sometimes requires of you, the profound insecurities it can stir up and the fears it inflicts on you. It felt like a risk, because motherhood is something everyone has feelings about that they can’t really govern. Fran risks judgement by my readers all the time – is she soggy-brained from hormones, is she protecting her children too much or not enough? All of these things coalesced, really, this intense psychodrama of motherhood, trust, isolation and violence seemed in the end just begging to be turned into a story.
We did put in an offer on that house, but it was rejected. Almost immediately we felt only relief and I have regularly found occasion since to remember and be grateful all over again.