Whilst writing In Her Defence, the sequel to my crime novel Winter Downs, I wanted to include a brief description of a really old village church – and Okewood does not come much older. As, indeed, is the pamphlet itself. It took me a while to find it – but The Story of Okewood Church: a Handbook for Pilgrims finally earned its place in my reference library. core one for the packrat who never throws anything away!
In Winter Downs: Bunch Courtney Investigates #1 the village close to Bunch’s family home is never named. This was quite deliberate as I didn’t want to pin myself to firmly on a location that can be too easily recognised.
In the throws of completing the first draft of In Her Defence: Bunch Courtney Investigates #2 realised that I need a more structured vision of the landscape.
And so Wyncombe is born – literally the path leading up the hill from the valley. ‘Wynd’ being an old Sussex term for a path up a hill, and ‘Coombe’ meaning a hollow or valley in the Downs.
The easiest way to get my bearings around Wyncombe was to pick a section of OS Map that had all of the basic details and add the requisite tweaks to suit the plot. I chose a Sussex map purely because the topography would match, though it could be anywhere akong the South Downs. (All places and locations to be changed to protect the author from getting it wrong on paper and looking like an idiot!)
Cheating? Perhaps, but I am not a cartographer and when you think about it one village is pretty much like any other in essence so I figured what the hell…
I know Sussex reasonably well and within the chosen map section I recalled, from way back in the cobwebbed corners of memory, an isolated house that seemed to fit the bill. Not a house I was very familiar with however, in fact I had probably only looked it in the face once, but had passed the drive many times. Even back then it was not signposted but that is not unusual out in the sticks.
My curiosity was peaked by now and ‘not knowing’ was no longer an option – I’m a writer and we are an incredibly nosy bunch by nature – so I looked it up. I didn’t have an up to date paper copy of the OS map for that area but do have the 1959 version – and I had not imagined it. The house had existed.
As we do these days I went to Google maps next, just to make sure, and according to the online mapping the chosen house no longer existed. Just a blank space on a curve in the road. I plonked the little yellow man on the junction Yes, there was the lane, but no matter how many times I tried to take the map into it – bearing in mind that Google clearly showed that the lane took a wide loop and hooked up with another road further along – I could not able, to quote many a film script, ‘get a visual on the house’.
Now comes the weird bit…
Bearing in mind that Perringham House was (fictionally)requisitioned for an unamed espionage training facility it was disconcerting to find, when Back to Google Maps… nope. Nothing, so obviously the next logical step was to check Google Earth. (What would we writers do without it).
There it was! Tucked away among the trees in all its red-brick glory – or at least the roof. Even Google Earth has its limits. Good to know my memory is not totally bonkers, but still…