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. 

The Fall of a Sparrow
by Griselda Heppel
Ante's Inferno by
Griselda Heppel

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. 

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst
by Griselda Heppel 

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.

With Magdalen College in background

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.


Susan Price said…
That's a beautiful cover, Griselda.
Peter Leyland said…
Yes, that is a great cover, Griselda. I'm sure that if I was still in my middle school teaching career I would be looking at your book for my students. I know all about the fritillaries in Oxford too. In normal times my walking group would be out there this month. Good luck with the book launch and Happy Easter.
Kirsten Bett said…
Hi Griselda, love that your little houseguest appeared bored with the flowers, then couldn't stop talking about them, and that the fritillaries now will be a star in your new book.In Dutch they are called the kievietsbloemen or flowers of the northern lapwing, because in closed form this appears like an egg of named bird. Each year there's a race on who'll find the actual egg first. It's a sign that spring is coming!
Hello Griselda, love the cover, again by your amazing wood-cut printer friend. And shall look forward to reading the book, and possibly at last found something our rather discerning great niece(s) (descendants, all, of Dragons) would read! Must get a copy for the one who's been stuck living with her Grandmother here, due to Covid stopping first school and then international flights... I too love fritillaries, the Magdalen ones are the best - though we have a few in the not-so-new-now developments by the Canal and even one or two in the garden. And story sounds exciting...lots of mystery as usual!
Griselda Heppel said…
Thank you all for your lovely comments! So glad you like the cover. It’s unusual to use wood engravings nowadays but i just love the detail and sense of mystery they can give. Delighted that you think your great-nieces might enjoy the book, Clare - DEFINITELY worth a try �� Gosh COVID has really turned her year upside down, not to mention her grandmother’s. The thought of being in loco parentis again with all that responsibility of getting the dear ones to log on to the school website every day and work as normally as possible..... argh. I’d never have managed it with my own children, let alone grandchildren whose lives are now so much more advanced.

Kirsten I’m fascinated by the Dutch word for fritillary. I knew kieviet meant lapwing but not what its egg looked like so immediately looked it up (isn’t google a wonderful thing?). And I see exactly why the flower has taken that name - the Dutch have considered not just the speckled pattern but the shape, as you say, before the flower has fully opened. I am now tempted to check what the flower is in all kinds of languages, perhaps beginning with English, since I have no idea where the word fritillary comes from (except that there is a fritillary butterfly... but why?) No doubt someone can tell me.
Griselda Heppel said…
Ha ha those weird question marks were meant to be a happy smile emoji. Oh blogger.... sigh.
Reb MacRath said…
A cover every bit as lovely as the accompanying photos. Plus for me an exciting new word: fritillary!
Griselda Heppel said…
Belated thanks, Reb! Delighted to introduce to fritillaries.

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