My contribution to the Authors Electric collective blog this month
Visit their website to find a different post by a different author,
every day of the month (I post on the 30th)
As a novelist, I like to think I make everything up.
While the standard disclaimer appears on my copyright pages declaring each book a work of fiction, little details creep in from real life.
Snippets and snapshots are dredged up from the ragbag of my memory.
Sometimes this is for no apparent reason, such as the recycling bins that appeared in three separate stories in my flash fiction collection, Quick Change. I didn’t even notice the repetition until one of my beta readers asked why they kept cropping up. For fear of seeming obsessive, I replaced one bin with a bonfire, which made for a much better story.
Other times I manage to wrestle the reasons from my subconscious after I’ve finished writing the story, such as the forget-me-not motif that runs throughout my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.
In the first novel, Best Murder in Show, Hector, the local bookseller, remarks on the colour of Sophie’s eyes. She’s in fancy dress as Virginia Woolf on a book-themed carnival float, while he’s playing Homer, togged out in a toga.
“Your eyes are the wrong colour for Virginia Woolf,” he tells her. “Hers were grey. Yours are forget-me-not blue.”
As the series progresses, forget-me-nots become a symbol of all that Sophie stands for. (I won’t spoil the plot by explaining what that means.)
The Roots of My Fondness for Forget-me-nots
Only after weaving this motif into the story did I realise my affection for this humble little flower dates back much further. It originates in the unlikely setting of a suburban London garden most unlike Sophie’s home in the idyllic Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow.
You see, forget-me-nots flourished in my grandmother’s back garden, in my childhood home town of Sidcup. Visiting after school, I’d skip up her garden path, admiring the low clouds of tiny blue flowers edging the concrete path beneath her washing line. Often I’d pick a bunch to present to her on my arrival, complimenting her on how beautiful the garden was looking.
Compared to the carefully cultivated garden of my other grandmother – the one I picture when I write about Sophie’s Auntie May’s cottage garden – the forget-me-not grandmother’s garden was sparsely planted. The only reason those flowers appeared there in such profusion was that she often didn’t bother to plant much else. With no competition, they quickly took over the flowerbeds. My grandmother may even have regarded them as weeds.
To my childish eyes, with their sky-blue colour and fairytale name, they were as precious and exotic as the very best hothouse roses.
I’m very glad that Sophie likes them too.
A Growing Fancy for the Little Blue Flower
Since writing them into Sophie’s stories, I’ve started to acquire forget-me-nots all around my writing desk – fake ones, of course, so they last all year round. The latest addition is a vintage pottery candleholder decorated with forget-me-not transfers, a must-buy at the local Guides’ jumble sale. Seeing my little forget-me-knot collection every day spurs me on to write more and makes me happy.
What Next for Sophie Sayers?
Their manifestation in my current work-in-progress, Murder by the Book, came to me in a flash, and I’m very pleased with how it’s worked out. Set between New Year and Valentine’s Day, this fourth Sophie Sayers adventure will be launched at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April.
But I’ll have to wait till book five, Springtime for Murder, before I can allow the real flowers to blossom in Wendlebury Barrow. Oh no, hang on, I mean fictitious ones.
Roll on, spring, I’m ready for you, real or not.