After all the excitement and whirlwind of promotion of Eden’s Garden, I’m now deep in the next book. (Hurrah!)
It was strange at first, having wrestled so long for Eden’s Garden to see the light of day to go back to the beginning again, with a first draft and new characters. Oh and that familiar lurking feeling that perhaps that first book was a fluke. And why is this one so dire, and will I ever be able to get there again? To which the answer is: First draft syndrome. First drafts are always rubbish. That’s what they are there for. The trouble is, by the time you get to the refined end of a book, you’ve totally forgotten (or is that blanked out?) just what garbage you started with.
So now I’ve settled down a bit and my characters have taken on lives of their own – and getting themselves into all sorts of trouble I’m far too nice to have even considered for them – I’m trying to abandon the computer once a week to do a bit of practical research. Oh, okay: visit lovely gardens. Since gardens seem to appear in everything I write as me, and as my alter ego Heather Pardoe, it’s no secret that a garden appears in the next book. How or why is a secret. But you may be able to guess as my forays into the garden world progresses.
Last week, I took off with a friend to Glynllifon, a magnificent Regency Mansion surrounded by a stunningly beautiful 700 estate. The grounds are now a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the richness of the wildlife and the rare and endangered species it contains. Walking through is a slightly surreal experience. The park has been carefully crafted as a wilderness playground. There are streams and rustic bridges and romantic ruins that clearly weren’t ever anything but a romantic ruin. There’s even a cave that looks suspiciously hand-crafted, and a pretty little hermitage that would send any self-respecting hermit heading for the hills.
Glynllifon is pretty and charming, but slightly odd, given that the real wilderness of Snowdonia is a few hours away by horse-drawn carriage. It’s wilderness tamed, with the real wilderness beating at the door.
I loved every minute of it, and I shall certainly be going back when the autumn colours are at their best, but the most poignant moment came at the end. We were looking around the exhibition showing some of the workers who kept the estate going, and there amongst the photographs was this one.
They are the agricultural workers, but they could also be the gardeners, the servants, the men from the villages nearby. It’s a glimpse into a lost world. A truly lost world, and a lost generation. Why? Because the date on the photograph is 1913.
It’s harvest time, so it’s summer. Within a year, how many of those men and boys would be facing horrors beyond imagination in the trenches of the First Word War? And the little girls facing the struggle, deprivation and uncertainty of life at home, with the fear of invasion and the telegram appearing at the door.
In the Work in Progress, some of my characters have just headed off to the front in The Great War. Young men and women, full of idealism and a sense of adventure, off to see the world and escape the path their rigid society had laid out for them. And, like the men in the photograph in Glynllifon, with no possible way of knowing what lies in front of them.
The peace and beauty and the safely-contained world of Glynllifon is one that will haunt me for a long time. And I hope that at least some of those young men made it back, however scarred, to pick up their lives again, and forge a new world.