Why April is the best month to bring out The Fall of a Sparrow by Griselda Heppel
Well, this is exciting!
Today is the first day of a Very Important Month, the one in which my new book bursts on to the world. The Fall of a Sparrow tells the story of 11 year-old Eleanor who, desperate to escape her past, is sent away to a spooky school run by a disapproving great-aunt she has never met. There she finds herself followed around by a strange, awkward little boy who – to her horror – knows all about her. Solving the riddle draws her into a dark web of family secrets, awakening a long-buried tragedy that threatens her own safety.
Publication day is 28th April. And it’s only just occurred to me how neatly the date matches the story.
|Ante's Inferno by|
All my books are set at different times of the academic year. This doesn’t just give variety; it also contributes to the atmosphere of each. For Ante’s Inferno, it’s the autumn term with its dark, damp days and solemn theme of Remembrance; The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst unfolds against the bleak light and cold winds of January/February; and now the mystery running through The Fall of a Sparrow is all the more poignant for its setting in the early summer term, a season of hope and bright spring flowers.
One flower in particular. If you look closely at the bottom left-hand corner of The Fall of a Sparrow's cover, you may spot it.
As a young teenager, my son had a delightful German exchange friend called Niklas. The boys quickly bonded over their common language of computer games, and my biggest problem was finding things for them to do which got them away from their wretched screens and into situations where perhaps a little English chat would be needed. One Easter, I managed to coax them on to a bus into the city centre, determined we should make at least one museum visit (this being Oxford, after all) – only to discover that all museums were closed. ‘Right,’ I announced. ‘That’s it. The fritillaries it is.’
Triumphant grins turned to looks of horror when it dawned on the boys that I was talking about… a flower. No turning back, though. I marched them down the High Street to Magdalen College, through several quads until we reached the Fellows’ Garden, where the path skirted a large, fenced off meadow in which this loveliest of spring flowers was in full bloom.
|Fritillaries in Magdalen College Fellows' Garden|
Thousands and thousands of fritillaries dotted the grass, their purple and white checked petals seeming to flow together to create skeins of colour against the green. The boys maintained a lofty lack of interest, gazing around out of sheer kindness to me before heading home at the speed of light. Ah well, I thought, I’d tried.
On Niklas’s return to Germany, his mother emailed her thanks, adding an urgent question: her son couldn’t stop talking about some amazing flowers he’d seen. Bell-shaped, their petals looked as if they’d been cross-hatched with pen and purple ink. What could they be? From a dictionary we discovered that the German for fritillary is Schachblume, or ‘chessflower’ – a perfect description of its fine, almost startling chequerboard pattern.
|A chessboard, finely drawn with pen and ink. |
aka a fritillary
So the boys had been intrigued, in spite of themselves, by this magical flower. Somewhere I must have stored up the memory because in The Fall of a Sparrow, fritillaries play an important part. Bringing my heroine, Eleanor, face to face for the first time with the mysterious little boy, Davey, these delicate, fragile blooms form a major clue both to his identity and the enigma at the heart of the story.
And they bloom in April.