House Hunting a la Hamish Fensterlein


For those of you who have gone through the misery of house hunting and finding a new home – be it rented or purchased – my book idea of The House Detective may conjure up happy dreams of realtors having been kidnapped and languishing in dungeons, because their families are refusing to pay the ransom and nobody wants them back.

Alas, there are no realtors or estate agents being kidnapped or thrown into dungeons…there isn’t even a fire breathing dragon taking a chunk out of a notary’s leg…although the idea is rather tempting.

The protagonist of my story is Stevie Brown and my house detective is just nine-years-old. Stevie Brown is really trying to find a house…or rather several houses, which have gone on the run, feeling neglected and abused.

As a child I watched a Russian-made film of a traditional fairy tale in which a witch lives in a house on legs. Whenever the witch got bored or had done something to upset the locals, her house on its gigantic chicken legs would take off into the sunset and escape to calmer surroundings and less blood-thirsty villagers.

Since seeing the film I have been obsessed with the idea that houses, given half a chance, would make every effort to get away from some of their occupiers (yes, the Grunters among them). A happy house or happy home gives us the start in life we need to become fully rounded, fully functioning adults. If, like me, you didn’t have a happy home life, you’ll understand how the bricks and mortar surrounding us are so much more than just a roof above us to stop the pigeons from landing on our heads.

Stevie doesn’t exactly have a happy home either. He is being bullied at school but has nobody to turn to – his dad is far too busy being a realtor wanting to impress his boss by selling lots of houses. Unfortunate then that no. 15 Wardle Street, the house Mr Brown had hoped to sell, has disappeared into thin air, taking Stevie’s two school bullies with it.

How often do we wish in life that somebody or something would just vanish into thin air! The noisy neighbours, the barking dog next door, the irritating council cleaner on his roaring road sweeping truck, the screaming baby on a flight to Rio or the fishwife shouting obscenities, just because you took the last turnip from right under her nose.

We rarely expect such dreams to come true though and are usually forced to slamming the window shut, or hurling an old shoe at the mewling cat or writing a letter of protest to the municipal twerp who ordered the road sweeper to turn up in our street at 7.00 am on a Sunday morning, when our heads were still throbbing with the disco beat and cheap wine we enjoyed the night before.

Vanishing houses are therefore not a familiar sight – or rather non-sight, since they’ve vanished, if you see what I mean…erm…nope, still too “visual”…let me start again:

Enter Hamish Fensterlein, house detective extraordinaire. For the last three years he has been the uncrowned king of all house detectives and he’s not about to relinquish this title without a fight. Taking Stevie with him on the quest for the missing house at no. 15 Wardle Street, Hamish Fensterlein introduces the boy to the many opportunities a happy home life can bring us and how we can make a home a happy one. So why do houses take up and leave without a word of goodbye to anyone?

Our homes are so very important to us; they are a sanctuary, a haven from the big, bad world outside. When we are small, our homes are places where we should be nurtured and protected, cherished and loved. Not every child is that fortunate and those who are usually take their good fortune for granted. After all, isn’t that what parents are for, providing us with a happy home? We rarely value what comes natural to us and rarely appreciate our homes until they are gone.

With millions of people having lost their homes in the US and the UK thanks to bankers’ greed, there are far too many of us who at one point or other have lost their home. Sometimes a prolonged illness or unemployment strikes at the very heart of our families, leaving us destitute and without the roof over our heads that was supposed to keep us safe.

It’s not just bricks and mortar. As adults we make our homes an extension of our own personalities. The obsessive gardener with his manicured lawn, the proud housewife with her pristine white net curtains, the successful executive with his gleaming new motor in the spotlessly clean driveway and the oversized garage’s gaping mouth shouting to the neighbourhood “here lives Mr Big Shot, you’d better believe it, Looser!”

Another fairy tale story that has haunted me since childhood is the Brothers Grimm story about Rapunzel, the girl with the incredibly long hair. It has always irritated me that the stupid girl sat in her tower waiting for some prince to rescue her, when all she needed to do was to fasten her long hair to the window, abseil down the tower and, once safely on the ground, cut off her hair to be free. What a dunce!

Growing up I always saw Rapunzel as this blonde bimbo with baby-blue eyes and blonde eyelashes, flirting with every passing peasant on a horse from her lofty tower. Undoubtedly she wore white shoes with high heels…and read all the right girlie magazines, too.

It took a man on a horse to persuade her to leave her silly tower and hit the open road – but I fear instead of adventure, fame and freedom, she chose to be incarcerated in the “happy” marital home, like a prize chicken won in a contest or a Neanderthal’s catch of the day. A home can be a sanctuary – yet it can also be a prison of our own making…and sometimes we allow others willingly to imprison us in it.

Stevie also follows a stranger. He and Hamish pursue the run-away no. 15 Wardle Street house in rather an unusual manner: they borrow no. 6 Lexington Street and follow the trail of the missing home. Unlike Rapunzel though, Stevie isn’t about to be bamboozled by flattery and a seat on the back of a horse!

Whether you live in a lighthouse, a windmill, a church or a regular home: your home, as the English say, is your castle and having it turn its back on you can be rather upsetting to say the least. Never mind the two school bullies it kidnapped in the process…

What makes a happy home for you and why, if at all, do you think your home might be tempted to run away?

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)

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7 thoughts on “House Hunting a la Hamish Fensterlein

  1. I have always personified homes. So much so that I have a wip in which the home is almost a characters–if that makes any sense?

    A home is a home if it’s welcoming. For each of us that would be different. In the wip I mention above I had envisioned a house, a setting, before I ever began writing it. When we were house hunting we found a house that shared so many traits to my setting that I feel in love instantly. We bought the house and then I began to write that novel. Funny how events happen sometimes.

    • I like that idea of personifying a home – in a recent Anne Rice interview she very much said the same thing. I do believe that the surroundings we place our protagonists in should be an integral part of the story – as you say, be another character rather than just scenery. Love the story about finding your home:)

  2. I really like this post. Homes are about so much. Your post reminded me of Victorian literature written by woman – doorways and closed windows are codes for imprisonment. Great stuff.

    • thanks, glad you like it. I’m sooooooooo behind with reading other people’s blogs – am very ashamed. Work, work, work gets in the way as always. Yes, places & buildings can be used as metaphors for a lot of things, a cosy womb or a dungeon, a road to freedom or the road to hell? The decision is entirely ours, although we do not always see it straight away.

      • You are right and have hit upon something which I’m deeply interested in. A really good book which hits upon this as well as other things is “The Mad Woman in the Attic,” – Gilbert and Gubar – you might already know it – I love it.

  3. To answer you question about a happy home… for me… I think understanding of our loved ones… and I don’t think my home would ever run away from me, they’ll always be there for me

    • That must be a great comfort to you – treat your home well and it will look after you:) is really the underlying message of my book and as you have just demonstrated, a home means soooooooo much more to us than just a roof over our head.

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