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Posts Tagged ‘Gardens’

It has been a cold spring this year, here in Snowdonia. I’ve been keeping my head down, getting on with the next book. Okay, wrestling with the dratted tome. It’s got to that point, just before it all falls into place, when it feels like nothing will ever make sense, and why did I start the thing in the first place, why did I ever think it was a good idea, but it’s too late to back out now. ARG!  Having been through this before, I should know this always happens, and you just keep plodding on until it works, but somehow, this point in the process  never seems to get easier!

Then, over the last few days, spring has burst into flower. It’s been so sudden and unexpected (I think we’d all given up), it’s been a magical experience. A real reminder of just what a miracle it is. The green of leaves has grown brighter and fresher, changing day by day, and my garden is growing more colourful every time I look. Finally, my baby beetroot and the broccoli, the peas, beans and salad leaves have been set out on their journey in my veg patch and the polytunnel, and the vine is showing signs of life.

Just before I did my back in with too much enthusiastic digging and weeding (okay, mega-procrastination), I snuck away from the computer and the dratted tome and went up to the coast with friends to visit one of my favourite places, Bondant Garden.

The last time I was there, it was autumn, when there were red and crimson maples and the final glory of the year. This time, it was all about the vibrant, wonderfully clashing colours of azaleas and camellias  – including some beautiful white camellias, to celebrate my rebellious Edwardian ladies’ tearooms of ‘The White Camellia’ , with Millicent Fawcett’s suffrage movement battling for equal pay for equal work, women’s right to education and financial independence, along the dignity of all men and women having the vote.

We were lucky, it was a clear day, with bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. In the end, we walked for miles, between the azaleas, and down to the dell, following the river and around the pond to the wilder part of the gardens, with banks of wild garlic, and then back past bluebells.

Finally, there was the trip to the garden centre, where I did my best to be restrained. (ahem)

My plan to spend the evening deep in wrestling my characters into submission didn’t quite work, I was far too relaxed to get the brain back into gear. But the next morning, I was fired up and raring to go. I hadn’t thought I’d been thinking about the tome while I was in Bodnant, I’d been too busy enjoying the sights and the scents and time relaxing with friends. But strangely, the bits that had been bothering me began to fall into place. The possible became possible. And that ginormous hole in the plot that had snuck up on me without me noticing (as they do) had a perfectly sensible solution, the facepalm, why didn’t I think of that before, kind of solution.

The trouble with wrestling, as I should know by now, is that the characters always win (it’s their story, after all), and you just end up going around in circles getting crosser and crosser until you can’t see a way out.

There’s nothing like a bit of perspective to make the impossible work, and beautiful gardens in springtime are the best way.

Well, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it. And those rebellious characters of mine had better agree, or else …

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Carol

Portrait of Carol by Janey Stevens

Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Honno Press author, Carol Lovekin, whose debut novel ‘Ghostbird’ is described as ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ by Joanne Harris, and has just been nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize.

(You can vote for your favourite Not the Booker HERE)

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Welcome to the blog, Carol, and can I first ask you where the original inspiration for Ghostbird came from? Did you always see it as having a ghost as part of the story?

Mabinogion1Years ago when I first came to live in Wales I read the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose literature in Britain compiled in the 12th century from an earlier, oral tradition. The story that most appealed to me concerned Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers to serve the political ends of men. (The Mabinogion is of its time and deeply patriarchal.) For a transgression deemed a ‘betrayal’ Blodeuwedd is cursed by being turned into an owl: “I will not kill you … I will do what is worse: I will let you go in the form of a bird … you will never show your face to the light of day…”

My response was to question why it would be considered a curse to be turned into a bird. Able to fly, Blodeuwedd could escape her persecutors. This was the seed and it settled in the back of my mind for yearsBlodeuwedd until I was ready to reclaim it.

Cadi came first – my central character. I conjured her from somewhere and the ghost of her little sister attached itself to my imagination in much the same way as she attaches herself to Cadi. In the beginning the ghost was only ever intended as a gentle soundtrack to the story. It was my astute editor, Janet Thomas, who spotted that Dora’s ghost needed her own distinctive voice. She had to inhabit the book and not simply hang about in the shadows. Once I’d written her story in isolation and threaded it into the main narrative I realised I was writing a proper ghost story.

The village community feels very real, is it based on an actual village, or is it an amalgamation of communities (or maybe totally made up?)

There’s a village a few miles from where I live that oozes a sense of magic and mystery. It’s the kind of Welsh village about which people nod and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s a bit weird there…’ A mist-laden, mysterious place then, with its share of ‘characters…’ As part of IMG-20160423-01719my job description, I’ve embellished and subconsciously drawn on memories of this and other villages to create the one in Ghostbird. I decided to leave it as the nameless ‘Village’ because I wanted it to be a character in its own right, and allow people to see if they could guess where it is!

I loved all the different characters, did you plan them all from the start, or did some muscle their way in as you went along?

3 Deliberate or notCadi presented herself fully formed (and in full agreement with me as to the wrongness of Blodeuwedd’s supposed fate.) I knew Cadi. I knew what she looked like, her frustration, her quirks and personality. Writing a fourteen year old girl was less of a challenge than I thought it would be. And I quickly came to know her aunt Lili and Violet, her mother, too. These three were there from the beginning and at the centre.

The rest turned up. (I killed off an innocent postman en route. He was rather nice but sadly, destined for the dead darlings file.) One character changed a lot – another was completely unplanned. Once she arrived and presented her credentials, I gave her a cup of tea and let her stay.

I’m glad to hear it –  and commiserations on the nice postman. Talking of killing your darlings (ouch), can I ask how you found  find your first experience of the editing process? Was it what you had expected? Do you feel it has changed you as a writer?

Mind-blowing! No! Yes! Janet and I began the process of editing Ghostbird after one of Honno’s invaluable ‘Meet the Editor’ events, before the book was accepted for publication. She liked my story enough to take me under her wing. Initially, I was simply stunned by how insightful she was. Her generous comments were often tagged with a firm ‘but.’ As we progressed it quickly became a tick-box exercise, because everything she said was right and made sense. I did my homework, redrafting until it was time for the ‘big girl’ editing and where the real work began.

7 Welsh woodland - copyright Jenny Gordon

Welsh Woodland by Jenny Gordon

 

Oh, yes, I can identify with that, having been through the same process with our mutual editor, the wonderful Janet Thomas. That is so true!

Although I often found it overwhelming, it was another part of the process and an exciting learning curve. Close, line editing is about letting go – negotiating cuts and changes in creative content that on the face of it can break a writer’s heart. Once I read the final result however, I was blown away. That was another lesson: a book is only as good as its editor. If you are fortunate enough to work with the best, your heart won’t break, it will burst with joy! (Copy edits are another thing altogether, Juliet and frankly, terrifying. Who knew there was so much red ink in the world?)

Copy edits … (hives off into a corner, traumatised).

Being published validated me. In a way it gave me permission to write with a bit more confidence. Writing my second book took me a lot less time. Having been well edited once facilitated the process. I had more tools at my disposal and hopefully, I’ve made fewer errors.

Yes, I agree. I think that’s hard to see, the first time you experience a good editing process that it is a learning process, and nothing IMG-20150813-00974will be quite as hard again. I’m glad you found it like that, too – and I’m already looking forward to your next book!

You are very active on social media, is that something that came naturally? Do you have any advice for anyone starting out?

My feeling is, so long as I play nicely and mostly stay away from politics, social media is a useful tool. I ignore the stupid and embrace the positive. Facebook and Twitter have been the making of me as a writer. I’ve met some amazing and genuinely supportive people who have had a massive impact on my book’s small success.

I don’t give advice as such. Watch how the big name writers you admire do it. Be wise with your words. Be kind – and reciprocate the kindness of others.

Can I ask what are you working on now?

My second book – another ghost story – is currently with my editor. I’m now working on my third. Stories know if what we’ve written is the right one. With a bit of distance I’ve been able to work out what this one is really about.

And finally – congratulations for being nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize. How did it feel when you found out?

Rachel Toll

By Rachel Toll

Thank you very much, Juliet. Like I was dreaming?! I’ve heard of the ‘Not the Booker’ of course but it wasn’t on my radar. I operate at a very low-key level with regard to accolades. Inside, I’m fluttering and obviously appreciative but because I’m genuinely happy to have been published at all, things like this feel as if they’re happening to someone else.

To be nominated by a reviewer and blogger of Anne Williams’ calibre, is an honour. She reads enormous numbers of books, many of them wildly successful. That she picked Ghostbird is what means so much to me. Anne’s support for my book is an on-going blessing. I’m up against stiff competition and unlikely to make the long list but that’s not the point – I’ve been nominated and it’s enough. (I did eat lemon meringue ice-cream with my daughter to celebrate!)

That sounds like the best celebration to me! Thank you, Carol for answering my questions and for the lovely photos – and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Tenby Book Fair this September.

You can buy Ghostbird from Honno  HERE,

Amazon UK HERE

and Amazon US HERE

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Somebody needs to be forgiven, somebody needs to forgive …

Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.

‘Carol Lovekin’s prose is full of beautifully strange poetry.’  Rebecca Mascull, author of The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid.

Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up.

None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made.

But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.

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Bodnant Magnolia

Spring is in the air – let the sunshine and the publicity begin!

Over the past few days, I’ve emerged bleary-eyed from editing ‘The White Camellia’, blinking at bright sun that has suddenly appeared amidst the rain (don’t mention rain), with banks of primroses in my garden, and the frogs boldly chirruping in my pond.

Camellia 1

It was clearly time to get out from behind the desk, and back into the world again. Writing, and especially editing, is an all-consuming business, which I love, but I also always have to remind myself the importance of taking time off afterwards, and letting the jumbled, scrunched, and tumble-dried brain take in some much-needed stimulation that has nothing to do with words at all. Taking publicity photographs is a perfect way of coming down from the editing intensity without that empty feeling of having nothing to do (housework, however dire the post-editing house, doesn’t count).

White Camellia in Bodnant

My first mission was to hunt down as many camellias as I could find while it was still the blooming season –which given the oddities of this winter in the UK, was definitely urgent.

So on the first fine day, I twisted a friend’s arm, and away we headed to Bodnant Gardens in the Conwy Valley. It was the last few days of dogs being allowed in every day for a while, so Phoebe, and her elderly collie friend, Lucy, could come with us, on best behaviour, of course.

Bodnant gardens

I love Bodnant Gardens. There are formal bits, and a valley with a lake and a rushing stream, and whatever time of year, there’s always something to see. Being sheltered and near the sea, it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s north of Snowdonia, except for the snow capped mountains in the distance. I’d gone to photograph any camellias I could find, but there were also snowdrops, banks of daffodils about to flower, pretty irises and crocuses, and so many different varieties of hellebore it seemed there was another delight around every corner.

Hellebore

It was a wonderful surprise to be reminded of just how much life there is out there, even at this time of year, and, with the azaleas about to bloom, with a promise of more delights to come.

I love my own garden, but I could never grow the variety of plants, or the sweeps of snowdrops under the trees. It was an unforgettable day, wandering in the (sometimes) warm sunshine, watching new life begin to unfurl.

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I have a feeling that I shall have to go back on the next fine day, to see how it has all progressed. For the purposes of publicity, of course. Or, with the next book brewing, a little research…

Stop press: ‘We That are Left’ is currently on Amazon UK for £0.98! 

Amazon US at $1.36

 

 

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Mousehole 2

Mousehole

If you follow me on Facebook, you will know that I’ve just spent a week in Devon and Cornwall collecting photographs for the launch of my next book with Honno Press, out next year.

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Inspiration at Westwood Ho!

‘The White Camellia’ is based around a mansion with a tragic past on the North Cornwall coast, near St Ives. So when I was invited to be one of the panel of writers at the Exeter Short Story and Trisha Ashley Awards, it was a chance I couldn’t resist.

 

Landydrock

A riot of colour at Lanhydrock

Of course, I couldn’t go straight from Exeter to St Ives without stopping off at St Austell and visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project. I’d regretfully decided I would have time for Lanhydrock, but my satnav had other ideas, and I’m so glad she did. The sun came out as I found myself passing by – so of course I had to go in.

The melon house

The melon house at Heligan

I didn’t have time to see the house (next time), but the grounds were a riot of colour, and the views spectacular. I could have gone back the next day, but I had a date with what will always be the highlight of my trips to Cornwall – the Lost Gardens of Heligan, whose flower gardens inspired ‘Eden’s Garden’, and whose greenhouses inspired Elin’s beloved kitchen garden of ‘We That are Left’.

 

Office Lost Gardens

The office at Heligan

PotsI loved every minute of my day in the Lost Gardens. Having lived through the First World War with my characters, it was very moving to see the offices and greenhouses that, with a way of life, were lost due to the ravages of the war.

I’ve been longing for ages to visit the Eden Project – and it definitely didn’t disappoint! I could have stayed much longer, but rain was forecast for the next day, and I wanted to get photographs of Mousehole and Limorna Cove while the sun was still shining. After a day in beautiful St Ives, I made my way up the wild north coast, ending up back in Devon, in Westwood Ho!, where I’ve spent several happy holidays, before making the drive back to Wales.

Wild seas at Perranporth

Perranporth

It was a blast of a week. I drove nearly 1,000 miles in all, and packed so much in, all I could do in the evenings was stagger back to the B&B and just about manage dinner and a bath before collapsing into bed. I had never been to Cornwall so late in the year, so it was a pleasure to see the late flowers and autumn colours. I was very lucky with the weather, with none of the promised rain arriving, and I’ve got all the photographs I could need.

Squash at the lost gardens

I’m still absorbing my week in Cornwall. This blog post has been a whirlwind tour, but there will be many more to come, exploring the sights and the sounds. I’m buzzing with ideas and feel energized and inspired and ready to go. And I shall most definitely be going down again. I saw so much – but I know there’s plenty more to see!

Giant's Head

The Giant’s Head at Heligan

 

 

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Polytunnel one It was most definitely worth asking for help with my garden this year.

I can’t believe the difference it has made, having someone to clear away the endless weeds and brambles, and rescuing the wildlife pond so overgrowth with yellow iris there was no pond left. The thing I hadn’t expected, and which I’m appreciating most, is help with the organising and the planting, so now I can (with a bit of weeding and watering) watch as the new growth spreads in a way that nothing squashes out anything else, and soon (I’m hoping next year) will become low maintenance.

Garden 3Having the worst done for me gave me courage to tackle the rest, so although it’s still a bit wild, it’s on its way to being a fairly respectable cottage garden. So now, for the first time since I stepped through the gate and fell in love with the overgrowth wilderness that came with a cottage on a Welsh hillside, I can leave my computer for half an hour or so to tackle a few weeds, without getting stuck into a whole day clearing brambles. (Although half an hour does tend to creep into an hour or so. I’m saying it’s good for my eyes, and anyhow I’m thinking about the current book and plotting the next). Garden 1

Best of all, I’ve had my first official afternoon tea (which someone went on until midnight) where I could relax in the garden and enjoy the view. In fact, being relaxed about the garden made me relaxed about the tea, without my usual anxious rushing around to make sure I had wonderful things for my guests. Strawberries, meringue (to be home made next time, ahem) and cream are wonderful all by themselves, with sunshine and good company.

Iris One

As if in celebration, this year, for the first time ever, my grape vine in the polytunnel has tiny little grapes. A bit of Hampton Court has arrived in Snowdonia. That definitely calls for a party!

Grapes one

Best of all, I can now sit by my pond, watching the wildlife, and the rescued waterlily come back to life, with a book, or my research, and relax about the state of my garden, and focus. In fact, get very excited about my work, which is the very best feeling of all. Even though the characters in the new book have just developed a mind of their own and are up to all sorts of disgraceful antics, including changing sex a number of times without so much as a moment’s warning, and the hero has decided to stop talking to me, despite being warned of the Dire Consequences of his actions.

In fact, I’d better go and give him an ultimatum (‘Remember Matthew from Downton?’) this very minute… 🙂

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Garden 1

There’s a pond in there somewhere…

I’ve always been independent. I’m that sort of curmudgeonly so-and-so who will never ask for help.

Garden 2

Overgrown!

But last autumn I admitted defeat. Keeping together a large garden (technically two as my cottage is two cottages knocked into one) while promoting one book and writing the next, not to mention keeping up with the day job, and that thing called life, can leave a girl frazzled (and one dog seriously narked at the lack of collie-sized long walks in interesting places).

So I took a deep breath, lost my preciousness over my beloved garden being touched by any other hands than mine, and called in the gardeners. It was the best thing I’ve done. Some expertise, assisted by a bit of young muscle, and a miracle has happened.

Garden 3

Why I needed help to remove the stranglehold of montbretia!

Garden 4

The new lining for the overgrown pond goes in.

Because I work from home with my day job as a proofreader, as well as my real job as a writer, my garden is not just a luxury. It’s where I escape from my desk for a cup of tea and a lunch break, however huddled up I might be in the bit out of the wind that’s a suntrap. It’s where I catch up with my reading and any research that doesn’t need the Internet. It’s where I meet up with friends, and in the summer months it’s the most wonderful place to have laid-back parties, enjoying the evening light and the night-time darkness with very little light pollution and just my solar fairy lights. It’s the place to be when there’s a meteor shower expected. And it’s the place I can work out my plots without passersby worrying about me staring into space for apparently no reason at all, accompanied by occasional mutterings.

Spinach

Spinach flourishing in my polytunnel

With a bit of help with the bits that would have half-killed me, I’ve managed to do the rest. Well, not all of it. That’s been the other lesson. I can’t do it all in one go, and the rest will keep until next year. Meanwhile, I’ve got my spinach and lettuce and sweet peas in on time and I’m loving doing bits and pieces when the sun comes out.

I think a garden might just have to appear in the next book …..

New Garden 1

The garden today – waiting for the grass to grow.

New Garden 2

The new pond. Many a book will be read here!

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It’s not an April’s Fool! (I had to look twice just in case)

Eden's Garden COVER

I’m delighted that Eden’s Garden is 99p today in the Amazon UK Kindle Store!

It’s also $1.47 on Amazon.com (click here)

This calls for Sara Jones’ infamous (if you are watching your waistline) chocolate cake.

You can find the recipe here. Enjoy! 

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Sometimes you have to run away, sometimes you have to come home.

2011 – Carys agrees, with mixed feelings, to look after her mother after a fall. This decision unsettles everything – her job, her plans, her relationship with Joe. Once home she is drawn back into village life, into her family history hidden in the attic, and into the history of Plas Eden, the ramshackle great house that was so much part of her childhood. Where, at 18 she forced herself to say goodbye to David Meredith. How will she feel when they meet again?

1898 – Ann, destitute, stands on London bridge. She remembers her last visit to London, a spoilt aristocratic bride, sure of the power of her youth and beauty. Now she is running from everything she trusted. Is the river her only option, or will the Meredith Charity Hospital hide her?

Two women struggling with love, family duty, long buried secrets, and their own creative ambitions. But over a hundred years ago, Ann left a trail, through North Wales, Cornwall and London, that may help Carys find her true path. What is the secret of the statues in the garden?

Finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’ 2014

Welsh Book of the Month May 2012

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Praise for Eden’s Garden

“Eden’s Garden is a novel rich in detail, nuance and meaning… a tale of romance and mystery, self-sacrifice and fulfillment, each element lovingly enveloped in the atmospheric mists of an ancient story told again as if for the very first time.” Edith O’Nuallain, Story Circle Book Reviews

“a wonderful, scrumptious read…” Sharon, Magical Musings (http://magicalmusings.com/)

Brondanw Statue for video

“this story covers multiple generations of a woman’s struggle and heartache with a deft touch. Sensual and romantic, the story swept me away with its strong female characters… It is filled with Welsh charm and romance, and delights with a sweet, lovingly tended story that leaves the reader deeply satisfied” Nadine Galinsky Feldman (http://www.nadinefeldman.com)

“don’t hesitate to immerse yourself in this delightful, intriguing tale which unravels family secrets” Claire McAlpine, Word by Word

“Written on the grand scale, this powerful and moving story of two deeply creative women, seperated by time but both struggling to balance the conflicting demands of family duty and the desire for freedom, held me gripped until the final family mystery was resolved and the entirely satisfying resolution reached.” Trisha Ashley

“A great romantic read and also a very atmoshperic, ingenious mystery.” Margaret James, Writing Magazine

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“Beautiful writing and a charming, intriguing story.” Sue Moorcroft

“Juliet’s characters are so believable and richly drawn – the reader really cares what happens to them…” Anne Bennett

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