In 1980, when I was a senior in high school, I participated in a study abroad program in the English countryside. Fourteen of us lived in a house with an English family and learned about English culture and life, politics and architecture, and William Shakespeare. It was a formative experience for me and I decided I would like to return some day with my family—not as tourists but as residents, staying long enough to say we were living in England. One day in 1980 our group stopped off at a village in the Cotswolds on the way to Wales. There had been a light snow before and I remember thinking, as I snapped a picture of the snow-dusted churchyard—this is where I would like to live when I come back.
In 1997, I convinced my wife Janice to join me in this dream, and we went to live in the Cotswolds for six months. Our daughter Jordan was nine, and we took her out of school and in January moved to the small Oxfordshire village of Kingham. We chose Kingham almost at random—I wanted to be close to Oxford so I could do some research on Lewis Carroll, but beyond that we simply chose a cottage that was available for a six-month rental and had the amenities we needed.
Almost immediately we fell in love with Kingham—a peaceful village of 700 people close to the more famous tourist towns of the Cotswolds, but mostly undisturbed. We took our daughter to every Shakespeare play at the RSC and the Globe. I was working on a book about the places Lewis Carroll had lived and worked, so we visited places from the Isle of Wight in the South to Whitby in the North. It’s fair to say that we experienced the amazing variety of the English countryside. We made many friends among other Carroll enthusiasts and, most importantly for us, we met a wonderful family who lived at the end of our lane and became dear friends.
In the years that followed we remained close with this family. In 2007, we received an e-mail from them telling us that Keen’s Cottage, the cottage we had rented ten years earlier, was for sale. We bought the cottage and, with the help of our friends’ eldest daughter, renovated it. Since then we have lived in Kingham for about six to eight weeks each year, and used the cottage as a rental property in our absence. We have had the joy of visits from family members and friends, with whom we’ve been able to share our peaceful corner of England.
When my fictional Peter Byerly needed to be hiding away from the world in a quiet English village, I did not hesitate to put him in Kingham. With a few modifications, our cottage became Peter’s cottage, and my own familiarity with Kingham and the English countryside (including places such as Hay-on-Wye which I had visited many times) helped me create the world of the novel.