Welcome to Karen Coles, author of The Asylum.

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog, Ruby. I love the idea of My Life in Books. There are so many that have influenced me in one way or another over the years that the more I think about it, the more books there are. It would make for a very long list, so I’ll pick the ones that I think had the most impact.

  1. The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

When I was little, we had an old (even then) hardback copy of this which I think had been handed down through the family. It was beautifully illustrated, and I can still remember being entranced by the strange, magical story and the wonderful images.

  1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I was given this as a present and distinctly remember thinking it wouldn’t be my kind of story. I was wrong. I absolutely loved it. It’s enchanting, heartbreaking and hopeful. I adored the idea of a secret garden and have loved walled gardens ever since

  1. 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie

This was the first Agatha Christie book I read as a teenager, and I went on to read every book of hers I could find. They’re somehow comforting, despite the murders. Reading Christie is like slipping your feet into a pair of comfy old slippers. The 4.50 From Paddington has remained my favourite. I re-read it recently and loved it every bit as much as the first time.

  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The setting of an isolated farmhouse on top of a wild, windswept moor is wonderfully gothic, as is the dark, brooding atmosphere. It’s Heathcliff who makes it for me though. Damaged by his brutal upbringing, thwarted in his obsessive love for Cathy, he becomes bitter and cruel and that is the book’s tragedy. I found it incredibly moving in my teens and I still do.

  1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Again, there’s such an incredible atmosphere, beginning with the overgrown graveyard where Pip meets the terrifying Magwitch. I remember holding my breath when I first read it. Miss Havisham too. What a character! Still dressed in her bridal gown, years after being jilted, the wedding feast decaying and covered in cobwebs around her. I can’t imagine anything more gothic than that. Like Heathcliff, she has been damaged by cruelty. Like him, she has become bitter and vengeful. Brilliant!

  1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

I also love Jamaica Inn by the same author, so could have chosen either of them. There’s an undercurrent of menace in both that I would really like to capture in my own writing.

  1. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

I love everything about his novel, the isolation, the eerie atmosphere, the strange madness of the characters. I loved the dark humour and laughed out loud at times. I was so invested in the characters, that when their strange, claustrophobic world was threatened, I was on the edge of my seat.

  1. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

This is the only Edith Wharton novel I’ve read but it went straight into my top ten. The story is set in the bleak, unforgiving landscape of snowy New England. The blurb mentions the setting rivalling that in Wuthering Heights and I agree. The story is about loneliness, repressed passion, and unspoken resentment. Just my cup of tea.

  1. Affinity by Sarah Waters

The writing is fantastic, of course, and the Victorian atmosphere perfectly realised. I love the setting of Millbank Prison with its bone-chilling cold. The characters are beautifully drawn. It’s a novel I often think back to when writing.

  1. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

I absolutely love this novel. Again, there’s the isolation and madness that I love. It’s a macabre story, shocking, horrifying, but also hilariously funny at times. I’ve never read anything else quite like it.

The Asylum by Karen Coles is published today, 1 April 2021, by Welbeck.


It is 1906 and Maud Lovell has been at Angelton for five years. She is not sure how she came to be there and knows nothing beyond its four walls. Hysterical, distressed and untrustworthy, she is badly unstable and prone to violence. Or so she has been told.

When a new doctor arrives, keen to experiment with the evolutionary practice of medical hypnosis, Maud’s unknown history makes her the perfect case study. But as Doctor Dimmond delves deeper into the past, it becomes clear that confinement and high doses are there to keep her silent.

When Maud finally remembers what has been done to her, and by whom, her mind turns to her past – and to revenge…


Karen is a painter and sculptor. As a child she was a voracious reader of fairy tales, myths and legends, and this led to a fascination with dark, Gothic literature. She now lives in Wales, not far from a town which once had three Victorian asylums. Their history inspired the writing of her novel, The Asylum.

Twitter @Kazzywrites

Instagram @kazzywriter