All Creatures Great and Small star Carol Drinkwater on her new novel The House on the Edge of the Cliff

Best known for her portrayal of Helen Herriot in the hugely popular Dales-set BBC TV series All Creatures Great and Small, award-winning actress Carol Drinkwater has been pretty busy since then.

Carol Drinkwaters latest novel is published by Penguin.
Carol Drinkwaters latest novel is published by Penguin.

In the meantime, she has become the best-selling author of more than 20 fiction and non-fiction books. These include novels for adults, children and young people and four memoirs about her olive farm in the south of France, where she lives with her husband documentary filmmaker Michel Noll, which have sold over a million copies worldwide.

Her latest novel The House on the Edge has just been published and she returns to Yorkshire next week for readings and book signings in York and in Thirsk – where much of the filming for All Creatures Great and Small took place and the location of the actual veterinary practice of the real-life James Herriot (Alf Wight).

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“I’m really looking forward to going back to Thirsk,” she says. “I love Yorkshire and the reception is always so warm. What is really nice is that I can go back there wearing a different ‘hat’; much as I enjoyed playing Helen, it’s great that I have moved on from that and have a world beyond it.”

Set on the French Riviera, The House on the Edge of the Cliff is a page-turning thriller that takes place in two different time frames – 1968 and the present day – and tells the story of Grace, an English former actress now living a contented life with her husband in a lovely house overlooking the Mediterranean sea. There appear to be a few parallels with Drinkwater’s own life but it is, she insists, not autobiographical. “Although I sort of wanted people to think that,” she says, laughing. “I made Grace an actress because it’s a world I know very well, but also I was about to start drama school in the late 1960s which is when Grace is starting out and like her I was completely politically unaware.”

Part of the action of the book unfolds against the backdrop of the student protests in Paris in 1968, a pivotal moment in modern history when young people were taking to the streets and demanding to have a say in their future. “It is such an iconic period and I loved doing all the research on it,” says Drinkwater.

The 1960s was also a time of experimentation and counter-cultural activity, which had its downside. “I experienced the drugs culture in the sense that I was around people who took drugs and I certainly knew some who destroyed themselves through it,” she says. As the narrative of the novel develops we learn that an incident in Grace’s past has a potentially sinister bearing on her present. And when a stranger arrives at her house who knows the truth of what happened all those years ago, her happiness comes under threat. “We are all carrying our histories with us; good or bad, haunted or guilty, it is what makes us who we are today and trying to put that down on paper is an interesting challenge,” says Drinkwater who is already working on her next novel.

Writing was always her “dream” she says. “I always knew I would be an actress but I never seriously thought I’d be a writer. I do miss acting, because it is part of who I am, but I love the independence that writing gives me.”

The House on the Edge of the Cliff is published by Penguin. Carol Drinkwater is appearing at The White Rose Bookshop, Thirsk on May 23 at 7.30pm and St Peter’s School York on May 24 at 7pm.