The sun is shining, the lawn freshly mown and everything is in its place. There’s a picnic basket in the back of a Morris Minor, a table set for tea, hydrangeas are arranged on the mantlepiece and a chocolate Labrador is sitting at the front door. And Paula Sutton, in bright red lipstick, twinset and pearls, is smiling broadly as she welcomes us to her beautiful Georgian house in the countryside.

These images, and many more, have attracted half a million followers to @HillHouseVintage over the past four years as Paula has lovingly curated pictures of her life at home in west Norfolk for social media.

‘I wanted to create a fantasy world that would make me happy,’ she says of her early Instagram posts where she was seeking a diversion to the first lockdown. ‘My mother had just died and I was in such a state of sadness, I thought I had to find some positivity, some happiness. So I started making tablescapes outside in the sunshine, and filmed myself leaping into the air wearing a pretty dress. People seemed to like seeing this black woman doing crazy things in the middle of the English countryside.’

Great British Life: Paula Sutton has built up a huge social media following sharing pictures of her life in the the Norfolk countryside. Now she has written her first novel. Paula Sutton has built up a huge social media following sharing pictures of her life in the the Norfolk countryside. Now she has written her first novel. (Image: Hill House Vintage)

Such has been her popularity that other opportunities have quickly followed. There’s been a lifestyle book and television presenting work. She has been a roving reporter on TV’s This Morning and had a small part was created for her in a drama called Riches (the writer was a fan of HillHouseVintage!). And now Paula has fulfilled a lifelong ambition by writing a novel.

‘It’s always been a passion, a dream of mine to write a book,’ she says. ‘When I hit 50 I felt I had to start saying yes to things. There’s something quite sobering about reaching your half century.’

The Potting Shed Murder seems initially a little off kilter from what she has developed as her ‘brand’, but as a cosy crime mystery the book still delights in what Paula calls ‘cottagecore’.

Great British Life: Paula Sutton in her wisteria laden gardenPaula Sutton in her wisteria laden garden (Image: Hill House Vintage)

The story centres around the life of Daphne Brewster who has moved to Norfolk from London, realising the city is no longer where she wants to raise her children. Settling quickly into her new life, Daphne discovers a passion for gardening and painting vintage furniture. Her tranquil idyll is quickly ruptured, though, when the local headmaster is found dead at his allotment and Daphne embarks on a quest to probe the lives of her neighbours and discover who committed the crime.

‘I’ve never set out to scare anyone,’ Paula says. ‘I’m a massive Agatha Christie fan and I grew up watching Midsomer Murders and those cosy crime TV series. Everything I do, from social media to the way I dress, to what I write, is all meant to be a comfortable hug. Even though this is a murder mystery, I don’t want people staying up all night – well, only if they’re wondering who did it!’

A nostalgic and entertaining pageturner, it is also a wonderful story of the eccentricities and quirkiness of village life and draws on Paula’s own story of exchanging the city for the country almost 15 years ago.

Great British Life:  Paula loves to post pictures of her beautiful garden Paula loves to post pictures of her beautiful garden (Image: Hill House Vintage)

‘A lot of the situations in the book have stemmed from things that have happened to me,’ she says. ‘When we moved here, I jotted down the funny conversations or incidents. And I found that people were a little wary at first. It had nothing to do with colour or race, it was more about being a Londoner. People don’t invest their emotions in strangers until they know you’re staying. Once they know that you’re willing to be part of the community, people are lovely.’

Paula had studied first in town planning, before moving to London and quickly deciding she wanted a career in fashion, first working as a booker for a modelling agency and then in magazines. ‘I should have been living the dream,’ she says. Her husband also had a successful media career and they had a young son and twin girls - at one point three children under the age of three. ‘But we were working all hours just to afford the school, the nanny. I wasn’t seeing my children and it felt as though life was the wrong way round.’

So Paula gave up her career and the family moved to Norfolk, somewhere they had visited for many years. ‘It always felt like this amazing retreat. You’d feel yourself breathe as soon as you got off the M25. You’d travel through the forest and see deer in the middle of the road. The streetlights started disappearing and everything seemed slower and quieter. It just felt magical.

Great British Life: Inspiration for her new book, The Potting Shed Murder?Inspiration for her new book, The Potting Shed Murder? (Image: Hill House Vintage)

‘There are many beautiful parts of England that are very pristine and neatly put together, but Norfolk is so real and relaxed.’

They found a place just outside Downham Market, a Master Brewers house dating to 1822. And the first year was thrilling, she says. ‘It was brilliant, we were so excited. It’s all new. You’ve got this big house that you don’t know what to do with and no money. I was finding new ways of furnishing by buying vintage, and learning a bit of upholstery. I was settling the children in school and my husband was commuting. And then I hit a low. I was sitting there waiting for everyone to come home.’

She started writing about her life, the countryside, doing up the family home and her love of vintage in a blog. ‘It was meant to make me feel as if I wasn’t so alone. And I built this wonderful community that spanned France and America. It made me feel part of something, that I’d made the right decision in moving away from London, that isolating myself wasn’t such a crazy idea.’

As her confidence grew, she started posting films of her dog Coco on their walks, with classical music or jazz playing in the background and, as lockdown hit, people came to see this almost like a little meditation in the morning! ‘I became known for peaceful and uplifting posts.’

Her posts are often tongue-in-cheek, she says, and she may be in the garden in a beautiful dress, ‘flinging my skirt around, swinging a watering can and picking marrows from the raised bed. I always try and bring humour to it. I’m not taking myself too seriously.’

Despite the current trend for 10 second videos or reels, Paula has tried to stay true to her goal of having a beginning, middle and end to her posts. ‘I love my tablescapes, my gardening projects, my baking, my clothes. But most of all I love telling stories.

‘I always knew there were stories in me and in Norfolk, this quirkily crazy, eccentric tapestry that I’ve found myself in and which I love dearly. There’s so much fodder here for stories, so much entertainment. It’s just the best place to live. I love it.’

The Potting Shed Murder by Paula Sutton is out now priced £16.99. Follow her on Instagram @hillhousevintage