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The Mail on Sunday

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.

Hunts

The Mail on Sunday

It started out, 500 years ago, as a home for a successful man. And that is what it is right now. But in the intervening centuries it has served an array of purposes – not least as a cobbler’s store, a butcher’s shop, and even an abattoir.

Little clues throughout the house, which is in the village of Charlwood in Surrey, tell the story of the changes it has been through.

In what is now the music room there is a hook that was used to tether livestock and a strut from which slaughtered carcasses were hung, dating from the abattoir days.

And the four-bedroom home’s owner, Martin Cooper, says the floor in that room was originally slanted so all the blood, guts and urine ran down into the gardens where, he points out, ‘everything grows profusely as a result’.

In the Victorian era, the house was transformed into a butcher’s, and among Martin’s treasured possessions is a photograph showing the butcher standing proudly beside an impressive array of meat he was selling to customers at Christmas in 1900.

Then, in the 20th Century, it became a shoe-repair store after a cobbler was forced to move his business from the nearby village of Lowfield Heath when it was cleared to build Gatwick Airport.

Today, you can still see, to the right of the front entrance, an unusual door that leads to where the cobbler stored the lasts for his shoes.

But there is one aspect of the 1543 house that cannot be explained – its name. It is called Hunts, and Martin, even as a member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, is at a loss as to why.

A centrepiece of the village of Charlwood, Hunts was first occupied by the local squire, and the smoke from the fires that would have burned in the building’s hall – now the main living area – still stains the attic rafters.

Thanks to its magnificent timber frame, impressive chimney stack and unique roof structure, Hunts, which is set in three-quarters of an acre of gardens, is Grade II listed.

For the past 18 years it has been lovingly tended by Martin, a 61-year-old builder. He fell in love with it when moving his family out of London in 1999.

When he bought it, for £345,000, it was semi-derelict and had no proper kitchen or bathroom. But it stood out for him from all the other properties in ‘typical Surrey suburbia’.

Ever since, he has preserved Hunts’ original character while transforming it into a warm, family home ideal for entertaining.

The father of two – who married and divorced the same woman twice and who, as a builder, specialises in the restoration of churches – sees himself as a custodian, rather than simply the owner, of the property.

But he insists that living in a listed building ‘has to be an experience you are willing to have – you can’t just stick radiators in regardless, as the building will warp and crack’.

Martin, who currently has 38 radiators running off a new boiler, found this to his cost last year when the plaster fell off his bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night, bringing down centuries of dirt and breaking his nose.

The ceiling is now fixed, but other challenges remain in Hunts, such as ‘the presence’ felt by some in the downstairs utility room and the almost total lack of mobile phone reception, which Martin attributes to the thick timber frame. ‘It’s as hard as iron,’ he explains. ‘You can’t even get a drill through it.’

Martin  sees his home as representing his life’s work – both as a builder and, thanks to his music room (which contains an organ and piano), as a church organist and music director of the Surrey parish of Redhill.

Although there is potential to convert Hunts’ loft and garage areas, subject to necessary consent, Martin is insistent that any buyer must be mindful of the responsibilities that come from owning a piece of our national heritage.

‘You have to be familiar with the limitations of what you can do – you can’t just transform a chocolate-box exterior into a place with immaculate floors and immaculate walls,’ he says. ‘What is special about Hunts is that it is a living, breathing piece of history.’