Moving House with Jennifer Moore

Jennifer Moore’s debut novel The Woman Before is an addictive, atmospheric psychological thriller about a mysterious woman and house of shocking secrets. Read on to discover the inspiration behind this gripping new novel!

‘I hear there are people who actually enjoy moving. Sounds like a disease to me – they must be unstable. Though it does have its poetry, I’ll allow that. When an old dwelling starts looking empty and desolate, a mixture of regret and anxiety comes over us and we feel we are leaving a safe harbour for the rolling sea. As for the new place, it looks on us with alien eyes, it has nothing to say to us, it is cold.’

(‘Figures’, Prague Tales by Jan Neruda)

Moving house is stressful enough in real life – some surveys put it in the same list of traumatic life moments as bereavement, divorce, having a baby or losing a job – but in fiction the stresses of moving can be even greater. Moving is a move into the unknown, uprooting characters from the familiar and thrusting them into new lives and situations. And a new home, particularly if it’s an older house, often comes with its own dark secrets, from the mad woman in the attic in Jane Eyre to the mystery surrounding the first Mrs de Winter in Rebecca. So perhaps it’s no surprise that a few months after moving to my very own new old house, I was inspired to start working on my adult debut novel, The Woman Before.

In many ways, ours was as stress-free a move as we could have hoped for. Our old house sold straight away and we were buying our new house in a private sale from friends. I’ve moved house nine times in my life (not including university accommodation), often to a new town or city and sometimes to a new country. But this time we were only moving ten minutes’ walk away and were even able to pop round the day before with the fish tank. It was still stressful though. Packing up four lives into cardboard boxes is no easy feat and there was the inevitable last-minute hitch with the solicitors to add unwanted tension to moving day.

For me, the first few weeks following the move were the real crunch time, however. It was one of the wettest winters I can remember, and the house seemed to spring a new leak every day. Christmas Day found my husband up a ladder with some temporary sealant, trying to stop the water getting in and the roofer became a regular visitor, patching up one problem after another. Now that I’m used to the house – now that it feels like home – these kinds of inevitable ‘old house’ problems are merely expensive nuisances to be sorted out, but during those first few weeks they felt overwhelming.

Unfamiliar houses also come with their own creaks and unexplained noises, which can be unsettling at first, especially at night. I still remember the sound of someone knocking at the upstairs window of my childhood house in Norfolk when I was trying to sleep – a ‘someone’ who turned out to be a swarm of hornets throwing themselves against the glass. Then there was the knocking at the window at a teenage slumber party, after watching a scary film, which turned out to be a vicious, psychopathic tree branch. I remember the mice scuttling under the floors in our tiny Edinburgh flat and the strange scraping noises above our heads in the old holiday house we rented in northern Spain. It’s not just things that go ‘bump in the night’ you have to worry about when you’re sleeping somewhere new and unfamiliar, but all the scratches and scuttles and whines. Is that a bird on the roof you can hear or an enormous rat in the attic? And is that merely a bubble of air in the radiator making that strange keening sound or something altogether more sinister?

Our current house is over two hundred years old, which means it’s had plenty of time to develop strange noises and quirks. Now that I’m used to them, they feel familiar and fine though. I can ignore the muttering radiators and joke about a ghost in the always-chilly dining room. And although our friend teased my son about a resident spirit when we first came to look round, after he observed that the heavy door knocker reminded him of Ebenezer Scrooge’s, there’s been no sign of Jacob Marley materialising yet.

Like the generous writer I am, I’ve now passed all my moving house anxieties onto Fern, my main character in The Woman Before. As if she doesn’t have enough to deal with, following the death of her beloved twin sister,her new home on Crenellation Lane comes with the full set of scary night noises, terrifying dreams, unexplained draughts, and a dark mystery surrounding the previous owner. Rather her than me…

Pre-order your copy of The Woman Before here.

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