Tuesday, 30 January 2018

In Which Debbie Young Remembers Forget-me-nots

I'm also awfully fond of bluebells
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. 

The first book in the 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.) 

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.

Forget-me-nots in my grandmother's old vase
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.



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.

Their manifestation in my current work-in-progress came to me in a flash, and I'm very pleased with how it's worked out. 


Murder by the Book, set between New Year and Valentine's Day, 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.



To keep up to date with my book news, visit my website, www.authordebbieyoung.com,
where you can also read the first chapter
of each Sophie Sayers Village Mystery for free.

(Top photo by Angela Fitch Photography, others by Debbie Young)

2 comments:

Umberto Tosi said...

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Forget-me-nots seem more poetic. You've inspired me. I've always loved lilacs - a similarly delicate flower. I can imagine them as nurturing desk companions keeping me in my groove longer, as you indicate. Lacking fresh ones except in spring, I might follow your example and look about for suitable fakes - which don't have to be tacky. Good luck with Murder by the Book. I admire your prodigiousness!

Anonymous said...

Forget-me-nots are the perfect flowers for a leitmotif - that wonderful blue, their simplicity, the way they inhabit both worlds of cultivated gardens and the wild, and of course, the name - full of romantic associations, or poignancy, or loss.. so many possibilities. I like the fact that they effectively prevent Sophie from emulating Virginia Woolf (a narrow escape there) and the fact that your heroine even wants to is a lovely touch.
Bring on Springtime for Murder!