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The Gardener’s Daughter

Firstly, apologies for skipping last week. The sun was shining. It was 30 degrees. That’s hot for Ireland. I lazed around in the sun in the snatched spare moments between a jam-packed week of work and webinars. I’ve been making up for it this week since it turned colder again.

And here’s how:

Several years ago I had an idea for the novel I am currently working on. I wrote before about how the idea came to me – about finding names carved in my old beech trees, and the questions those names triggered in me. I wrote the introduction to this story a long time ago, and then had to put it aside to finish Dear Isobel, A Diet of Death, and A Hover of Trout. Now those books are largely completed and at variuos stages of editing, I’ve picked up the ‘Tree’ story again, and have been working on it as part of my MA course. In the course’s weekly workshops I’ve been posting new extracts from this story and I’ve been delighted with the feedback and the response, but I still couldn’t decide exactly where the story is going. I have a vague outline, a main premise, and a whole lot of well-written and well-received snippets towards it. I have a great main character and two strong supporting characters. But lyrical descriptions of the forest, nice though they might be, aren’t progressing the actual story.

Photo by  Una O Connor  on  Scopio

And then this happened:

Last night I was walking my dogs. (I think I’ve mentioned before how I get some of my best ideas while I walk. The main issue is remembering the ideas once I get home.)

As I walked yesterday, I had a revelation about this story. A new character suddenly arrived, uninvited. She strolled into my head as both a brand new character and a very old memory. With her arrival, she brought a whole pot full of suggestions, all of which change major elements of the story.

I thought it would be set in the mid to late 1800s. She wants me to move it to the late 1900s. I imagined it would be set in rural Ireland, like my other books. She wants me to take it back to England and to my childhood home. She wants my main character’s family to become more important. She wants the secondary characters’ family to become more important and, most importantly, to include her. She wants the crucial problem of the story to become a very different problem.

There may no longer be room for wolves. That’s a lot of changes! Some things I will not negotiate. The red cloak and the grandmother I refuse to lose. The carving on the trees will remain. But other than those non-negotiables, there is a very large part of me that suspects Miss New Character could be right and that, although it will take the story in a very different direction, I think it could go somewhere very interesting.

These toy saucepans, weirdly, are one of the very few childhood memories I have from the time this story may now jump to. I hope they’ll make a cameo appearance in the story.

Will it still be a fairytale retelling? Yes, I think so. Will it be the same retelling I had intended it to be? Not entirely! It will emerge from the same roots, but will bear different fruits. I’ll have a better idea next week of whether it’s going to work, or whether I will shove this new character with her bossy ideas firmly back out of my story and make her wait for her own story instead.

Now, I’m off to do some major rewrites.

I’ll leave you with some photos from the childhood home that will now get a shot at becoming the central location for this story’s new pathway.

Love, Jinny.

Photos courtesy of my parents, who, very impressively, responded to my ‘Mum! Can you find any photos form XXX ASAP?’ text message within less than an hour – found, photographed, and emailed to me in the space it took me to teach a single class. Well done, those parents!

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