For most people, selling a much loved home would represent a sad parting, but the multi-million-selling British novelist Anne Perry comforts herself that she can return to her Scottish Highland idyll whenever she pleases – thanks to her imagination.
The writer, who has been dubbed the ‘queen of Victorian crime’ and has sold more than 25 million books worldwide, has moved to Hollywood in her quest to have more of her novels adapted for television.
‘I’ll miss the views and I’ll miss my gardens,’ says the 78-year-old, as she reminisces about Tyrn Vawr, her four-bedroom property on the outskirts of the peaceful Easter Ross fishing village of Portmahomack.
‘Fortunately, it’s all in my mind and in photographs, so I can go back any time I want.’
Perry moved into Tyrn Vawr a quarter of a century ago and has written most of her books there.
Her settled existence has been quite the antidote to her earlier life: she lived in various parts of the world and went by a completely different name.
But, most arrestingly, she spent five years in prison in New Zealand after being convicted as a 15-year-old of the murder of her friend’s mother, a story that was turned into a 1990s film starring Kate Winslet.
Perry was born Juliet Hulme in London in 1938, but her family moved to New Zealand and she attended Christchurch Girls’ High School, where she met local girl Pauline Parker.
The pair developed an obsessive relationship that was to have tragic consequences: when threatened with being torn apart, they murdered Pauline’s mother Honora.
In 1994, the story of the two girls was turned into the film Heavenly Creatures, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Kate Winslet as Juliet.
Perry has said of her part in the killing that she ‘made a profoundly wrong decision’. Having been told that she would be going to live in South Africa, and with Pauline’s mother standing in the way of the two teenagers both moving there, she feared Pauline would take her own life ‘and it would be my fault’.
The pair each served five years in prison, and Perry has said she spent the first three months in solitary.
‘I was guilty and it was the right place for me to be.’
Upon release, Juliet took various jobs and for a time lived in the United States, before settling in Portmahomack. She published her first book under the name Anne Perry in 1979.
It was The Cater Street Hangman, the first in her Inspector Pitt series, which two decades later was turned into an ITV television movie starring Keeley Hawes.
Perry, who has written more than 50 novels and who published the 32nd Inspector Pitt story last year, has done most of her work while living at the house, which she is particularly attached to because she built it herself – practically from scratch.
Originally, she explains, ‘it was a wreck next door to the house I was living in. I heard they had got planning permission to make it into a shop that would mend motorbikes and lawnmowers and I thought, “Not next to me you don’t!” So I bought it in self-defence and then I looked at the ruins and thought it would make a marvellous house’.
In the course of her writing career in Scotland, Anne spent most of her time at work in her special study, which has windows on three sides. The contemporary look of the property, on sale for offers over £440,000, belies the fact that it has been converted from the remains of an old barn.
Built in the shape of an H, the property has a spacious kitchen, library and sun room, and a conservatory that looks out on to a courtyard with a pond and water feature.
Upstairs, there are views of the Scottish Highlands. ‘You can see five counties,’ Perry explains: ‘Caithness, Sutherland, Ross, Inverness-shire, and Moray.’
The dining room is capable of seating 20 people and a pair of Italian chandeliers hang from the ceiling in the grand hall.
A keen lover of wildlife, Perry has sought to protect the beautiful surroundings she has enjoyed for future generations by buying up a neighbouring 17-acre field and creating a trust to ensure it isn’t built on.