You can take a peek inside this dream Southwold seaside cottage
PUBLISHED: 10:55 10 May 2016 | UPDATED: 10:55 10 May 2016
For writers Julie and Jonathan Myerson, their Southwold seaside home is a bolthole from city life, while the town is filled with Julie's happy childhood memories
“One of my biggest delights in life,” says Julie Myerson, “is waking up first thing in the morning to the sounds of the sea on the sandy beach below. Particularly in winter when it hits the prom, quite magical and one of the sheer joys of living in such a fantastic location. We actually had our bed made higher, so you can see the sea with your head on a pillow.”
Julie is a well known author with with nine novels to her name. Her tenth, The Stopped Heart, was published in February. She has also written three non-fiction books. She has had a long association with Southwold going back to childhood days.
“We lived in Nottingham. Being a large family of five, plus a dog, my mum found a country house hotel, Henstead Hall, probably because the Suffolk Heritage Coast was closest to us and one the whole family enjoyed. So, every summer from 1968 until my teenage years this is where we came. They were the most idyllic childhood holidays and had a lasting impression on me.
“I remember, when we came across to Southwold for cream teas at Sutherland House, which was then a tea shop, I always thought what a posh place the town was. When my children were very young, I suddenly longed to go back there, so we rented various houses around Southwold in the summer. When we first brought our own family here, Southwold was exactly as it had been from those childhood memories – same shops, nothing really had changed. I even bought my daughter – then aged four – a felt mouse from the shop on the corner of Pinkneys Lane (now the chemist) where I had bought mice with my pocket money back in the 1960s.”
Julie and Jonathan, a dramatist and writer, met at the National Theatre in 1986. At the time he was an assistant director and Julie was working in the press office.
“At first,” she recalls, “we didn’t get on, but then one day we suddenly did. A few months later we moved in together, and I can honestly say we have never looked back. By 1992, we had three small children and Jonathan decided to stop directing and concentrate on writing plays.
“He writes a lot for radio and was nominated for an Oscar for his adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I had wanted to write since I was nine years old, but it took me until I was 34, to publish my first novel, published in 1994. I sometimes worry that I would never have written it without Jonathan telling me, quite rightly, that I need to stop talking about it and just get started. I was very lucky that an extract from that book won a writing competition judged by Hilary Mantel, who was incredibly supportive.”
In 2003 the couple decided to start looking for something in Southwold, but thought it would be hard.
“We had been renting before that. By coincidence I was in the town for a day, being photographed by a newspaper and I drove past the house and saw the ‘For Sale’ sign. I couldn’t believe that a house with panoramic sea views was actually for sale. What was even more amazing is that it had been on the market for some time. Needless to say the rest is history. Our original wish list had been anywhere, no matter how small, but in Southwold. A sea view was just a dream.”
Astondene is late Victorian and at one stage belonged to Mr Boggis the butcher, whose shop was just down the road. As Julie shows me around, I ask her how she went about decorating the interior and the use of colour.
“Actually, since we scraped to afford this house, we just filled it with anything we could find at the time. I raided nearby junk and antique shops and we did it up slowly. We were quite amazed how lazy we were about getting things together, living in rooms undecorated for some time. But Astondene was bought as a place to relax and also a place for us both to write, so those things came first.
“It never occurred to us not to use colour. I am very fond of the lilac washstand in the our bedroom, bought for £5 at a Kessingland car boot sale, which we then painted, and I do like Designers Guild for their vivid colours.
“I like houses that slowly evolve around the lives of their owners, including their dogs. I would always rather have old, knocked about things that are both beautiful and useful. The biggest and best thing we did in 2009 was knocking down the sitting/kitchen/hall walls to create just one spacious room, filled with sea light. I wish we had done it sooner.”
The house and Southwold are a sanctuary for the couple from their lives in London, says Jonathan.
“At first it was family weekends and holidays – we got it just in time for the kids to really enjoy the place for a few years before hitting that teenage thing of not wanting to leave London. It’s given us another space highly conducive to writing something we needed and value.”
Julie loves looking for antiques. The best shop is Jenny and Torre Schotte’s Antiques. They have impeccable taste and an eye for stories behind each object. Favourite pub/restaurant is the Crown, no hesitation – many good memories of arriving from London and just getting in for last orders, breathing a sigh of relief to have arrived back.
“Oddly enough gardening is my favourite past-time, but it’s been good for me living by the sea as we have no garden, so it’s time off. Now it’s just watching the sea and walking the dog along the footpath to Blackshore. In summer you go through tall grass and the hum of crickets. Further on, a tunnel of trees, which I loved as a child. That little copse partly inspired my novel Out of Breath, largely set in this gorgeous Suffolk countryside we all love.
“But what draws me here is the sea. I find I’m less restless being here. It’s as if I have travelled to the edge of the land and can’t go any further, so can finally stop, here contented.”
Astondene is available for holiday lets. Contact Heritage Hideaways 0502 724782