For ten years I ran a garden design business. It wasn’t easy – I was a sole trader with no capital and zero employees and in addition to drafting scaled plans I had to do all the marketing, book-keeping, accounting, networking, customer service, surveying, soil-testing, liaising with contractors and sourcing of suppliers – not to mention manually planting thousands of plants, bulbs and trees (a muddy activity, especially in the rain). My favourite aspect of the business was the actual designing – conjuring up beautiful, practical, wildlife-friendly spaces for people to enjoy. Since my career change I find myself missing that, but I’m discovering that one benefit of penning fiction is the freedom to create your own settings. While writing my latest book, In Your Silence, I had the perfect excuse to design a garden once again.
For the grand, but overgrown, grounds of Wildham Hall I took inspiration from the many stately gardens I’ve visited over the years – Sissinghurst, East Ruston and Wallington Hall to name just a few – and revelled in the opportunity to create paths, lawns and terraces, and to incorporate woods, a lake, and a walled kitchen garden complete with timber-framed glasshouse. I even created a mysterious, hidden grotto – something I’ve never had the chance to do in reality. Despite the fictional nature of the garden it was important to me that the layout was logical, that the different areas or ‘rooms’ made practical sense and that I knew which areas were sunny and which shady – details that are unlikely to trouble the reader but which brought the place to life in my mind.
The grounds are integral to this book as they evolve along with the storyline. Among other things the plants and trees illustrate the season changes and enable the main characters, Liam and Melody, to express themselves – communicate through scent, taste, and touch – which is especially crucial since Melody is mute. The forgotten formal rose garden alludes to the romance of fairy tales such as Beauty and the Beast, but it also helps root the story in the wider context and history of the country (England) in which it is set. Hopefully, as a result of all this revelling, the atmosphere of In Your Silence can be enjoyed as much by my readers as by my characters.