|I wrote the first part of the story
Jamie and the Tree Troll - in August 2005. It takes place in a real location -
Clayton, near Ditchling in East Sussex which really did seem like the middle of
nowhere when my sister Anna and her husband Mark moved into the Middle House
of Clayton Holt in 1994. |
Anna died of cancer in 2003 and so never got to hear my story - featuring Jamie - although she did hear the first draft of my earlier story featuring his sister Laura.
In 2007 the family relocated to the larger East Wing of the house - which was about 30 seconds closer in walking time to the beloved woods which are a key part of this story.
In later years - from about 2011 to 2016 - the East Wing, Clayton Holt - among other things - hosted the South Downs Language School run by Mark and Jenny Huggett.
During my many visits to Clayton in the 1990s and early 2000s I heard one of the neighbours say that the legendary WW2 singer Vera Lynn - may at one time have lived in the same actual house. I didn't know if that was really true and didn't give it much thought. (Later sources I found on the web in 2019 seem to confirm it.)
There was also a myth which had passed down through a series of past owners that the house had been built by a returning ex pat in the early 1900s whose wife had died of skin cancer in a hot climate and who therefore decided that the new house should be positioned in as shady an aspect as possible to minimize its exposure to strong sunlight. That would explain why the house was cooler than you might expect - even in summer. It was a deliberate part of the architecture.
Clayton Holt was still a grand house in the early 2000s but the gardens had changed a lot compared to past decades.
A photo from about the 1960s showed that the driveway swept around more open slopes - with grassy lawns either side - instead of the trees and scrub I had always seen in my visits which must have crept in from the surrounding woods.
(I liked the wild look. It showed how quickly nature could undo even the poshest garden design.)
The Huggetts no longer live in Clayton Holt. But they - like me - have fond memories of getting lost in the woods - and in those days - as visitors can confirm - in winter it really did get that cold.