Both a modern day ghost story and a Victorian chiller, The Room Beyond weaves two time frames together to unravel the secrets of one aristocratic family over a century. The action is centered around a West London mansion, with endless corridors full of lingering whispers.
In the present day, the young artist Serena is entranced by it from the moment she is taken on as a nanny there, falling in love with its atmosphere and becoming intrigued by the eccentric glamour of its inhabitants.
Last week I caught up with Stephanie Elmas, an author as fascinating as her novel, to talk Victorian novels, social networking, and charming villains.
Claire Meadows: Stephanie, when did your fascination with the Victorian novel begin?
Stephanie Elmas: I've loved Victorian novels for as long as I can remember. I have a distant memory of reading Dickens as a child because I loved the feel of the book's old leather binding and Bible thin pages.
I read all the classics, but it was the darker side of Victorian writing that really drew me in. It started with Hardy on the rolling expanses of Egdon Heath and then later, at university, I discovered the mystic Arthur Machen and then the sensation writers. That's when I became intoxicated.
CM: You've led an extremely varied life. What made you decide to turn to writing?
SE: The big plan had always been to pursue an academic career in English. I started my PhD soon after my first daughter was born and initially thought it was a dream come true. Maybe it was bad timing or my heart just wasn't in it, I don't know, but I found myself twiddling my thumbs in the British Library one day, unable to do any more work.
I convinced myself there and then that I would never have anything original or interesting to say as an academic. It took just a few moments to make that decision and I abruptly picked up my pen and started writing The Room Beyond instead.
It took me seven years to finish and publish my novel, in between having two more children, but I always knew I'd get there in the end. I'm passionate about language and although it's taken me a long time, I feel as if I've finally found my place in life as a writer.
CM: Your own strength and determination - how much of that informed the creation of Serena?
SE: Strength and determination are attributes most commonly associated with the character Miranda: the poor abused wife who battles through against all odds. It is therefore fascinating to be asked this question about Serena instead.
Although none of my characters are based on anyone in particular, I feel that I have the closest personal bond with Serena. I think that Serena's determination to see things through to the end, to confront her greatest fears at whatever cost, are characteristics that I can definitely relate to. Hopefully I'll never have to do this in such a dramatic fashion!
CM: As his creator, does the character of Tristan attract or repel you?
SE: Tristan is a repellent creature. Although he is physically very handsome at the beginning of the novel, he has a dark soul that gradually eats away at him and turns him into something very different by the end.
I had a lot of fun writing him. Under all that cruelty, there is the faintest glimmer of vulnerability in his character that might just give a clue as to why he went so badly wrong. I would never want to meet a Tristan, but good stories need their villains and secretly we can love to loathe them.
CM: Where do you stand on the 'modern day' male lead Seb? I'm torn - he's beautiful, but flawed.
SE: I think Seb is a beautiful innocent; a sort of Peter Pan character. I think he's someone to be pitied more than anything. Seb was the only one of my characters who was fully formed in my head when I first wrote him.
CM: A quick scan of the reviews reveals glowing praise - how does that feel after seven years hard work?
SE: It feels tremendous. Before I published The Room Beyond I had no idea how active the online reading community was.
I didn't have a Facebook page or a Twitter account either. I was warned by my agent that I better crawl out of the Dark Ages and get busy networking, which I duly did. The result has been astonishing. I've connected with reviewers and bloggers all over the world and have appeared on some fabulous sites.
CM: Which authors, contemporary or classic, are you currently enjoying?
SE: I have just started The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones. It was recommended to me by one of my reviewers and, as I loved The Outcast, I thought I would give it a go. I also have Great Expectations on my bedside table.
Finally, I am reading a wonderful tale to my two young daughters called The Terrible Thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket. It's about a little boy who gets sent away by his parents because he can't stop floating. Barnaby is a beautiful character, a sort of celebration of 'not being normal'.
CM: What next for Stephanie Elmas? What can we expect in 2014?
SE: Lots of writing! The Room Beyond has a character in it called Walter Balanchine, an eccentric Victorian mystic from London's East End. When I wrote The Room Beyond he was intended to be quite a small character but the idea of him grew in my mind until I reached a point where I knew I had to give him a story of his own.
Writing Walter's story along with promoting The Room Beyond and raising my three children should keep me occupied. It sounds a little daunting but I'm not complaining because this is a dream come true.
The Room Beyond is out now, and available from the Amazon Kindle store