Two years ago, friends moved into an apartment in a glorious Georgian mansion in Hertfordshire. I went to visit…
“This place is amazing,” I said.
“It was an artists’ commune in the 1960s and 1970s,” my friend told me. “Come and meet Mark, he was born here. He has the apartment that still has the original ballroom.”
“A ballroom?” Who one earth has a ballroom in their flat? Ding! A novel was taking root and I’d only been there ten minutes. I was led along an old interior service corridor, crumbling plaster on the walls, huge worn flagstones underfoot; off which were old doors to what are now separate apartments.
And so Windward – the old house at the centre of The Way Back Home – came to be. Much more than simply a building, the house became a leading character in the novel. It was to be an artists’ commune and the novel would feature the families that had lived there.
But I didn’t want it to be all bonkers artists wafting around in kaftans to the sound of a tambourine. I wanted characters rounded enough to illicit a strong response in the reader, whether it was fondness or dislike. I wanted to infuse a little unease, tension, secrets. Why should a commune be all peace and love, Man? I thought about grownups who should have been more responsible and kids who would have to grow up fast. I wanted love and rivalry, deprivation and plenty, cold and warmth, estrangement and desperate closeness to fill Windward.
I thought back to the summer when I was 15 – that heady, edgy time when there’s a constant vibration between feeling emancipated and mature – and so often vulnerable and disempowered. Exams are over. School’s out. We felt we could rule the world even if our parents told us we were still kids. I recalled the summer when I was 15. It seemed so carefree, as if it had been put into the calendar simply to provide fun for my friends and me after an eternity studying for exams. We had the sun on our backs and the world at our feet.
But what if something changed the course of the lives of the teenagers at Windward? What if something happened the summer they were fifteen – that summer that should have been theirs for the taking? What if you were suddenly exiled from your childhood home and then, 18 years later, you came back?
Born and brought up at Windward, an artists’ commune in Derbyshire, Oriana Taylor had freedom at her fingertips in a home full of extraordinary people. The Bedwell brothers, Malachy and Jed, shared their childhood and adolescence with her. In the rambling old house and tangled grounds, their dreams and desires could take wing unchecked. But something happened the summer they were fifteen. It changed everything. The Way Back Home is their story.