Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Summer Season

To celebrate finishing the revises of my latest oeuvre(and to prove there is more to me then being a Being Human fan), which quite frankly has been a sod, I thought I'd let you know a bit about what I've been scribbling about for the last year.

The new book is called The Summer Season, and will be coming out in June. I don't have a cover to show you yet, but I have had a sneak peek of the design, and it will look fab .

This book is a slight departure for me, as I have for the first time (and not without a little trepidation) strayed into the realms of historical fiction, by devising a story that starts in the 1890s and weaving it in with my more usual contemporary story.

As usual, my original starting place for this story (four divorcees living on a road they jokingly call Divorce Alley) has metamorphosed into something else entirely. My editor felt my original idea was a little too harsh, and wanted my characters to have something other then singledom bringing them together. She was right. She is very wise.

I was scratching around for a linking idea, and for some reason, started to think about gardens. I was a little worried about this to begin with, given my first novel, Pastures New was big on gardening, but I do love gardening as a theme: all that new birth and renewal is good for a romantic novel, and I figured if I made it sufficiently different, I could possibly do something new.

My inspiration came eventually from thinking about the garden in the house my husband grew up in. My parents in law were only the second people to own the house, and it had a beautiful garden, lovingly tended by my green fingered father in law. At the bottom of the garden, there was the remnants of a rose garden, made by the original owner of the house for his wife when they married. Fil told me that, when as a very old man, he lay dying in the house upstairs, in a room which didn't overlook the garden, he would ask about the rose garden, and be told it was looking beautiful, when in fact it had fallen into rack and ruin. I always thought that was spectacularly sad, and touching, and from there the germ of an idea was born...

So the premise of this book, is that in the nineteenth century, a Botanist, Edward Handford, designs a Knot Garden for his wife, Lily, as a wedding present. (Knot gardens are a Tudor invention, comprising usually of box hedges, forming interwoven geometric patterns with other herbs, but the Victorians were really big on them). Over the course of time, and through the ups and downs of their married life, the garden falls into a state of disrepair. Fast forward to our own time, and the house is now owned by Edward's great great grandson, Joel Lyle. Joel has moved in with his wife Claire, intending to restore the house and gardens to their former glory, but when his wife dies suddenly, all such plans are put on hold. At the start of the book, Joel is in stasis, unable to move on from his grief, until Kezzie, a self styled guerrilla gardener, bursts into his life and persuades him to start work on the restoration of the garden...

There's a bit more to it then that, as Kezzie, Joel, and Lauren (Joel's childminder) also get involved in the organisation of the Heartsease Summer Fest, which is raising money to restore another of Edward's works, the Memorial Gardens he created for the people of Heartsease. But the garden, and the mysteries they uncover during the restoration of it, are at the heart of this book.

I have to say, though at times, this one has been a REAL bugger (am coming to the doleful conclusion that each book I write is harder then the previous one), I have on the whole enjoyed writing it. I've learnt all about flower meanings (the Victorians were keen on symbolism in flowers, so naturally, Edward plants his garden with care), been fascinated by Knot Gardens (and accidentally found myself visiting one when attending a recent funeral), and realised how deep the subconscious is.

As part of my research, I have been rereading The Secret Garden (a much loved book from childhood), to give myself a flavour of the period. I waited till after I'd written the first draft to do so, and was most amused to discover that Kezzie has an encounter with a curious robin. Fans of the SG will know, of course, the robin is a very important character... I think the whole notion of a secret garden is such a charming one, it's hard to resist.

I also realised, as I was finishing off this draft, that in my head at least, the garden is reminiscent of a magnificent garden I played in as a child. We only had a small patch of scrub to play on - living in a suburban London street where space was at a premium - but this garden (which belonged to a friend of my parents) was magnifcent. It seemed vast to me, aged, I suppose 6 0r 7. There were miles of green to run around in, bushes to disappear behind, and logan berries to fill your face with. But the memory that has struck me most, was of a redbrick wall, that surrounded the garden, and it's that detail, particularly which has snuck its way in. Which also reminds me of another favourite childhood book: Tom's Midnight Garden, which features a boy who lives in a drab flat by day with a tiny yard, only for it to be transformed at night into a magnificent garden. Somehow that garden I visited in my childhood, and the one from the book, have become conflated in my mind, and have partly inspired the garden in The Summer Season.

Funny where your subconscious takes you, innit?

1 comment:

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Well that all sounds proper spiffy - and I STILL don't know how you manage your family AND writing all these books! You are proper super human!