'Outlander meets Game of Thrones' - Swindon's history inspires award-winning author's book

By Claire Dukes - 29 May 2019

Arts and CultureLocal history
  • Nicola Cornick

    Nicola Cornick

Deadly secrets, romance and mystery are at the heart of an award-winning, and internationally best-selling, author’s latest book – and it’s all been inspired by Swindon.

Since moving from Bradford to Swindon in the 1990s, Nicola Cornick has never looked back – aside from when she’s been unearthing "fascinating stories and colourful characters" from Swindon's pastime. It was with this that Nicola was inspired to write The Woman in the Lake.

Throughout her 20-year career, Cornick has written more than 30 books based on real-life stories – and, unlike most historical explorations into Swindon, it’s not the GWR that instantly got her “hooked” on the town’s heritage. Instead she became more intrigued by ‘the first Lady Diana Spencer’ who resided at Lydiard House, and the underground tunnels beneath Old Town.

Nicola said: “I come from another railway town – Bradford, in Yorkshire - and my family worked on the railways in the 19th century so I was aware of Swindon’s industrial heritage. What I hadn’t realised, though, is that before the railways came there were centuries of history associated with Swindon as well as a stunning 18th century stately home on the edge of the town.

“My main historical interest is pre-1800 and I wanted to find out much more about these earlier elements of Swindon history. Once I’d read that there were secret tunnels beneath Old Town and that these could be linked to smuggling, my attention was hooked!"

Nicola's past is also steeped in history, having studied History at the University of London and at Ruskin College Oxford. Afterwards she turned her creative and academic inclinations into a full-time career to combine both of her passions; history and storytelling. "My main interest and training is in history," she says.

"I enjoyed writing romance because it explores human relationships, which are perennially fascinating! These days I would say that my books are more historical mysteries, with lots of other elements embedded in them: thriller, crime, romance and a touch of fantasy as well. They’ve been described as Outlander meets Game of Thrones!"

Through The Woman in the Lake Nicola wanted to entwine fictitious romance, and mystery, with historical figures – particularly women - to offer a different perspective on Swindon’s lesser-known heritage. “My books tend to focus on those real-life characters in history, particularly women, who don’t often feature in the history books but still have a story to tell,” says Nicola.

“For example, I’ve written about Elizabeth Stuart, sister of King Charles I, who had connections to Ashdown House near Swindon, and Mary Seymour and her links to Wolf Hall and Savernake Forest. I call them women from the footnotes of history. They were important or influential in their day, but they’ve been largely forgotten because women are so often marginalised in history.

“In the case of Swindon and Lydiard I wanted to write about Lady Diana St John (nee Spencer) who was a professional artist at a time when it was very unusual for aristocratic women to work. She lived at Lydiard Park and drew a lot of inspiration for her work from the countryside around Swindon and her story inspired the character of Isabella in The Woman in the Lake."

Although Nicola’s stories are primarily shaped from days gone by, she believes that The Woman in the Lake has a place in the present. Nicola adds, “I’m hoping to surprise people with a different perspective on Swindon’s past and how it influences our present and future.

“I hope readers both from Swindon and elsewhere will enjoy the way that the book draws on Swindon history and celebrates the town and its past, as well as finding the story gripping and entertaining!”

The Woman in the Lake

The Woman in the Lake, published by HQ, is a dual time psychological mystery set in the 18th century and the present, inspired by true events, set in Swindon and at Lydiard Park house.

London 1765: Isabella, Lady Gerard, orders her maid Constance to destroy a beautiful golden gown that was a gift from her husband. Its shimmering elegance has been tainted by his vile actions the night before. Yet the gown exerts a curious hold over Constance and as it starts to obsess and possess her, she begins to see it as a way out of the life of spying and drudgery in which she is trapped.

250 Years Later: When a gown she stole as a child from a historic home is returned to Fenella Brightwell, it starts to possess her in exactly the same way that it did when she was a girl. The fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she cannot tell what is real and what is imaginary. As Fen starts to discover more about the gown and Isabella and Constance’s story, so she begins to see the parallels with her own life, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity and her life itself.

For further information visit www.nicolacornick.co.uk

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