Nasturtiums, Caterpillars and Cornwall, by Enid Richemont

I was recently persuaded, by my daughter, to get myself a ticket, jump on a train, and leave next morning to visit her in Cornwall, which, to my own amazement, I did (travel-wise, I am usually not that spontaneous,  but the weather was lovely). That evening, she complained about her nasturtium invasion which happened when she was away in Edinburgh for a month, with a play in the Fringe. She'd planted herbs and a few vegetables earlier in the year, plus a few  nasturtiums, and expected to see them all thriving. Instead, she'd come home to this...

That's her workshop in the background, to which there should be a path. She now has to navigate through the nasturtium jungle. Somewhere, down deep, are other plants struggling, and probably failing, to survive. We all know someone should get out there and hack, but she can't bear to, and neither could we, because, in October sunlight, the colours are stunning - the reds, golds and oranges splashed among those flat, waterlily leaves like something from Monet's garden at Giverny - I can remember the way he used nasturtiums like random pieces of stained glass glinting along the paths. There will, of course, be hundreds of seeds lying dormant until next year's invasion. Oh, and a strange thing about nasturtiums - their smell. Everyone I've ever asked comes up with the same answer: they smell of caterpillars. Why?

This is my daughter's dog, Hattie. Now I am not, by nature, a doggy person - I prefer cats because I, like them, tend to be a bit like the cat that walks by itself. However, this one has totally won me over. She has so much character. A fastidious lady, she walks on her front legs when she pees because she doesn't like getting her hind quarters wet. She's addicted to carrots, which she's fed occasionally as a special treat (a carrot wrapped in tissue paper was her present last Christmas). We began fantasising about her vast library of smells - she clearly has one. She also recognises words, notably her own name, and the one beginning with a 'w' and ending in a 'k', which should never be uttered in her presence unless your intentions are serious. I have a feeling she's going to find her way into a picture book text one day.

And staying with the Cornish theme, we went to see an installation in the sculpture gardens at Tremenheere, just east of Penzance, because my family was involved in part of its making. It's rather amazing - you walk up a steep, grassy hill towards a mini-Parthenon which has been so constructed that its columns move and sway with the wind (the secret being in the counterweights below the plinth and the lightness of the pillars). Disturbing and fascinating to see something that your instinct tells you is a solid structure, moving and swaying. I would not like to come across it, though, after too many gin and tonics!

"What are you working on at present?" 

How many times do writers get asked that question. For me, if I'm working on something, I don't want to talk about it, and even less so if I'm not working on something. What's your answer?
And the other one - "Where do you get your ideas?" That's harder to answer - inspiration is like the itch of sand that turns into an oyster's pearl. It rises out of small, or not so small, life events, fascination with a subject, era, person or simply the eternal question of: what if...? 

Right now, and for far too many years, I've been dancing to a publisher's agenda, but it wasn't always so.  Once, (cliche warning!) in  the distant past/mists of time - take your pick - I was commissioned by a major editor, and paid an advance for a middle grade novel as yet unwritten - can you imagine that happening now? If you're curious, it was the late Wendy Boase at Walker Books, and the book that grew out of this gamble was "TWICE TIMES DANGER", which is still selling well as an e-book.

Of course, with e-publishing we're released from all that, but we're also on our own, with no publisher to do the back-scene stuff, and no one to define the difference between "War and Peace" and Aunt Aggie's ruminations on the Afterlife. Writers are, on the whole, solitary beasties, not given to blowing their own trumpets, but hugely gratified when others do it for them. Of course, if you're a celebrity 'author', you actually are the trumpet.

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Sandra Horn said…
Thank you for the big smile your post gave me! Ah, Cornwall...I can't be doing with mastershalums, though - they attract white fly, which are very bothersome little beasts.
Wendy H. Jones said…
Loved this post today. You paint a vivid picture of everything. I knew exactly what you meant. The invasion of pants cheered me right up. Thank you
Lydia Bennet said…
I've always liked nasturtiums, and they used to be very good places to find 'pet' caterpillars which may explain the smell associations.
Enid Richemont said…
Wendy - your typo had me baffled until I realised what you'd meant to say. But I LOVE 'the invasion of pants' - good picture book material - underpants, knickers, or overpants? In truth, I really love typos - they open up hitherto un-dreamed-of word worlds, and for years I've been considering making a collection - perhaps a typo poem?

I'd love to know more about that caterpillar connection, because nearly everyone seems to have it. Lydia - yours is interesting.

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