The setting in Identical.

The principle setting for Identical is a rambling, gothic, stately home in the Lake District, with a priest hole in the attic. I imagined the place to be an austere red brick building that would have been constructed in the Elizabethan era around a much older and smaller house. It would have battlements, wings, and a flight of stone steps leading to a huge front door, guarded by a pair of stone lions. I saw it surrounded by gardens that have become an overgrown wilderness from lack of tending, and there’s a fathomless, icy tarn gleaming at the foot of the garden, where my characters swim, despite being banned from doing so by their father. From the top windows of the house, the view would be of wild hills with craggy peaks in the distance.

In the story, the family has long run out of money, is in terrible debt and has sold off much of the land, and all the valuable paintings and furniture. The house is falling to pieces, mouldering, mouse-infested, riddled with wood rot and stinking of damp from a leaking roof and faulty plumbing. Not a comfortable place to live!

While I was looking for inspiration, I researched large houses in the Lake District and northern England. These places have now often been taken over by the National Trust and are open to the public, thereby avoiding the fate of my fictional Hawksmoor, where the owner refuses the idea of turning the family home into entertainment for the public.

Some of the great houses that came closest to my imagined house were Burton Agnes Hall in Yorkshire

and Muncaster Castle in the Lake District The later has the exact background that I’d imagined, with vast hills and beyond that, craggy peaks. I was also fascinated by Harvington Hall. Although not in the right place geographically, it is a grand Catholic house with a fascinating history. And with seven hiding places, it has the most priest holes ever found in one house.

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