Mount Ephraim - the inspiration for Julie Wassmer’s new crime mystery

Visit Swale welcomes guest writer Julie Wassmer to our website as she explains her new connection with Mount Ephraim.

"I am often asked why I chose not to fictionalise the settings of my Whitstable Pearl Mystery crime novels but have rooted them instead firmly in real Kent locations

The reason is simple: I want to celebrate our wonderful county and to pay tribute to the many places that have brought such pleasure to me since I moved here twenty years ago. 

 Like the local oyster my fictional heroine, Pearl Nolan is a Whitstable native and the owner of the Whitstable Pearl seafood restaurant, but she also runs a detective agency, the cases of which take her further afield to the neighbouring borough of Swale. In Disappearance at Oare (2018), the search for a missing young man sets Pearl on a journey into the past to investigate the mysterious creek-side haunts of Faversham and Oare, as well as the coastal areas and nature reserves of the Isle of Sheppey.  

Together with the first book in the series, The Whitstable Pearl Mystery (2015), Disappearance at Oare has now been adapted for a 6-part TV series, Whitstable Pearl starring Kerry Godliman, Howard Charles and Frances Barber. The series, produced by Buccaneer, the makers of Marcella, was filmed last winter and is due to air on Acorn TV from May 24th. It features another fascinating Swale location, the historic country house of Mount Ephraim 

Seeing this elegant property in the very first episode of the TV series, reminded me of the wonderful summer’s day I had spent at Mount Ephraim some years ago, celebrating the wedding of friends who married in the wedding pavilion in the grounds above the lake – as so many couples have done… 

Suddenly, in a glorious lightbulb moment, I realised that this spectacular setting, home to the Dawes family, and set in an 800 acre estate just outside Faversham, could form the perfect backdrop for my ninth book in the Whitstable Pearl series – a country house crime mystery in the tradition of the Golden Age of detective fiction: Murder at Mount Ephraim. 

Photo of Julie Wassmer

Author Julie Wassmer

Last month, as Covid restrictions began to lift I was fortunate enough to spend a research break at Mount Ephraim, staying in the beautiful self-contained Garden Wing of the house which comprises six bedrooms, two sitting rooms, an enormous kitchen with Aga, cooker, scullery, granite worktops - and a snooker room on the other side of the dining room’s double doors. Each room of this wing offers a spectacular view of the grounds, which include rose terraces, a rock garden with Japanese bridge, a cricket pitch and pavilion, an arboretum, herbaceous borders and a fountain on the expansive front lawn.  

To find myself enjoying such a beautiful and spacious environment after a year’s confinement due to Covid lockdowns, was a truly wonderful experience, but as a writer my 3-day break at Mount Ephraim also provided me with a wealth of inspiration: a still lake, an old pump house, the tolling of a bell in a clock tower, a Motto Gate bearing two inscriptions, a rookery and a mysterious Miz Maze based on a medieval labrynth... these are the things that set a writer’s mind in gear. Coupled with a spell-binding guided tour of the main house, including the mysterious basement, by Mount Ephraim’s owner, Sandys Dawes, the ideas soon came flooding…. 

The plot of Murder at Mount Ephraim will occupy my mind throughout this summer – fuelled by the experiences from my recent stay and the kindness and hospitality of the Dawes family and staff – all of whom made that break so special. 

 You will have to wait until June 2022 for Murder at Mount Ephraim to be published – but in the meantime, the eighth book in the series, Strictly Murder, will be out on June 10th, and you can now visit or stay at this inspiring Swale property as I, too, hope to do again very soon - safe in the knowledge that all murders at Mount Ephraim will remain entirely fictional". 

Julie Wassmer  

www.juliewassmer.com 

Strictly Murder is published on June 10th:-  

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strictly-Murder-Whitstable-Pearl-Mysteries/dp/1472134443

The Dawes family look forward to welcoming you at Mount Ephraim and hope you will be similarly inspired to come again.

The ten acres of gardens at Mount Ephraim are open to the public between April and September on Wednesdays to Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 11am until 5pm. Season Tickets are available to purchase giving visitors unlimited access to the gardens throughout the season during normal garden opening times. The garden close for a week in August for A New Day Festival.  More information about visiting can be found on https://www.mountephraimgardens.co.uk/the-gardens/plan-your-visit/

Throughout the season we organise special events celebrating farming and embracing our setting and the enjoyment of the great outdoors. At our events we offer visitors the opportunity to enjoy the gardens, learn more about farming on our orchard tours, follow our animal trails and have a welcomed refreshment on the terrace.  Our West Wing Tea Room serves freshly baked cream teas, home-made cakes and light lunches. Afternoon Teas are also available to book in advance. The West Wing is also home to our five bedroom B&B. Each double ensuite room is individually decorated and has stunning views of the grounds and of the surrounding countryside, and a superb breakfast can be enjoyed in the old kitchen.