We're so sure you'll love Gilded Cage, the fantastic debut novel from Vic James, that we've asked her to heighten your joy with a Top 5 list of where you should go to while you're reading it! (Preferably not while driving to get there, of course).
The novel is out now in digital, and look out for a physical release in January.
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1. The A35 road
No! Wait! Keep reading. A drive along the A35 to Dorchester takes you past the Drax Wall, reputedly the longest in Britain, encircling the grand estate of the Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax family. (I’m not making that up. No editor would let you invent such a silly name.) Gilded Cage opens with a young woman fleeing toward a boundary wall through which there may be no escape except by magic. That wall – and the world of the novel, in which magical aristocrats inhabit luxurious and inaccessible estates – was inspired by the Drax Wall.
While you’re enjoying the A35, pop into the hamlets of Winterbourne Zelston and Lytchett Matravers, that adjoin the Drax estate. There’s a long history of authors nicking place-names for their characters (JK Rowling’s Snape and Flitwick are towns in Suffolk and Bedfordshire respectively). These two were just too perfect for me not to pinch in full.
I’m a current affairs TV director by trade, and in 2016 covered both Brexit and the US presidential elections. I began Gilded Cage in 2014, long before Donald Trump threw his hat into the ring for the presidency. But as the book opens, Britain is ruled by a charismatic, black former lawyer, whose rival is an older, super-wealthy man with an attitude of sexual entitlement and what can only charitably be described as strawberry-blond hair. Also part of the power struggle is a coolly determined woman seeking to be the country’s first female ruler. And I thought I was writing fiction….
4. Milton – aka industrial Manchester – in the pages of Mrs Gaskell’s North and South
Mrs Gaskell’s saga of Manchester in the industrial revolution was my A-level text. While its bourgeois romance amid the looms wasn’t my cup of tea, I found the depiction of Manchester – which Gaskell rechristened ‘Milton' – as compelling as any character. Gilded Cage is set in a contemporary Britain, in which everyone except the magically Skilled aristocratic class has to perform ten years of labour in worktowns that shadow all large cities. Manchester’s shadow town is a major location for the novel, and in early drafts I called it ‘Milton’ in tribute to North and South. But I got endlessly asked if I was having a dig at Milton Keynes, so I renamed it ‘Millmoor’.
The other half of the world of Gilded Cage is comprised of the great estates of the Skilled aristocrats – chiefly Kyneston, home of Britain’s most powerful family, the Jardines. Most of the mansions are inspired by bits and pieces of the National Trust properties that I’ve been visiting ever since I was small. But if you want to walk in the grounds of Kyneston itself, head to Stourhead gardens in Wiltshire. With lakes, temples and grottoes, bridges and woodland just deep and dark enough for nasty things to happen, Stourhead was the inspiration for the Kyneston Pale.