Escape to the Paradise Garden

Escape to the Paradise Garden

The word paradise means a walled enclosure or garden and has long been used to mean the place souls go to when we die or the place where God lives. The garden of Eden in the Old Testament is the example many of us think of when we think of the word Paradise. I’ve always loved gardens but health issues mean that my participation in the process of creating and maintaining a garden is limited. An hour of hand weeding leaves me in such pain for days that I rarely risk it. Yet my mind goes inwards, to gardens I have known and gardens I would have liked to create. During the early stages of labour I spent time reading a book on herb gardens and daydreaming about creating such a place for meditation and contemplation. Unless I become wealthy it’s unlikely to happen but I still dream. When I am feeling low and in pain, I go to my paradise garden, in my mind and it refreshes me enough to keep going.

I share the following extract with no comment about its origin or intention:

Dressed and shod in light sandals, she made her way down the garden, her morning pilgrimage. The leaves were almost fully open now, and the grass was thick with bluebells, their smoky smell rising fresh and clean as she passed them. The blossom on the trees was at its peak, the first few petals starting to drop now. If there was a heavy frost now, there would be little fruit that year. Birds hopped from branch to branch, largely ignoring her now; she had begun hanging fat-balls and seed-filled feeders on a bird table near the house, and the birds seemed to appreciate the extra help. She took it as another sign of welcome that the birds did not react to her presence much now; at first there had been alarm calls and a mass exodus of the flocks of goldfinch and long-tailed tits each time she or Alex had gone into the garden.

Her daily exploration of the little wilderness that was her garden had begun to form paths through the long grass; Alex had offered to strim paths for her but she said to wait. The contact with the earth was her way of finding out what the garden held for her and what she could bring to the garden.

It had been the garden that had been the reason for moving here, though the house was precisely what both of them had wanted. They had spent months house hunting, and had begun to despair of finding the right place, before this one had come up. In need of serious renovation, it had charm and was in the right location but it wasn’t until Ginny had taken a walk through the jungle-like expanse of green at the back that it had become clear to them that this was where they were to live.

The estate agent showing them round had wanted to gloss over the wildly overgrown walled garden, explaining the extent of the grounds and mentioning a few days with a gardening company and a skip or two. Ginny had ignored him and had pushed her way through the thigh-high undergrowth with scant regard to the integrity of her clothes. After a few minutes, Alex heard her shout in excitement and had followed.

He found her standing in a dank clearing, close to the archway in the wall that held an ancient and forbidding looking door. Trees almost touched above their heads and at mid afternoon, it seemed they were in a green cave. Moss clung to the worn surfaces of the old bricks that made up the wall; the air felt moist and cool and he could see that the ground cover here was made up of ferns and mosses and other damp-loving plants.

Can’t you feel it?” Ginny exclaimed. “Close your eyes and listen!”

Obediently, he shut his eyes and tried to listen. It was faint but he could hear the movement of water somewhere close to them. He opened his eyes and looked more intently at his surroundings. The ground near the gateway was boggy, waterlogged even, and as his eyes became accustomed to the dim light, he saw that there was a tiny metal grille, almost rusted to one piece, set below the threshold. He moved closer and saw that it protected a slot cut into the stonework and a dark oblong was visible. This close he could see the water trailing into the slot, draining away. Doubtless beyond the door, the water flowed away in a tiny streamlet.

Ginny pointed back to the marshy area and he took a few careful steps that way. The spongy ground seemed to whisper, a wet mouthing of sounds, and when he bent down, he could hear a faint bubbling noise from the wettest area, where moisture puddled, in the middle of the clearing.

It’s a spring,” he’d said, his disbelief and joy clear to Ginny, though to another his calm face wouldn’t have betrayed much.

They’d put an offer in on the house that day, and when it was accepted they had commissioned the work needed to make the house habitable. During the work, Ginny had not allowed anyone to touch the garden. She had taken Alex down there, each time they’d visited while the renovations were in progress, and they had excavated the area with painstaking gentleness. The removal of the mud and debris had revealed a stony basin, placed there centuries ago, that the spring filled and then spilled out of into a rill that travelled under the door and out into the woods beyond. Once this water had been perhaps the only source of fresh drinking water for this area; Alex kept talking about having it tested for purity but Ginny just shook her head. The revelation of the spring had brought greater numbers of birds and small animals to the garden.

As she reached this private sanctuary, she saw that a pair of goldfinches were splashing in unrestrained enthusiasm in the spring and she stopped to allow them their bath undisturbed. Birds had started to nest weeks ago and she suspected there were many eggs and chicks hidden in the trees around the garden. If she woke early enough she would stand here and listen to the chorus that greeted the rising sun. Mixed with the trickling of the water, pure and clear, the music of nature blocked out the world beyond the garden walls.

After a few moments attending to their plumage, the tiny birds flew away in a bright sunburst of colour and she was alone.

I’m never alone. Not truly.

She took a few more steps and reached the bench Alex had made for her from two slices of a fallen tree and a section of the wood made into a rough plank. It was redolent with the beeswax he’d coated it with, and the surface was starting to achieve a sheen on the lightly smoothed surface. He’d not attempted to polish it, just to render the wood usable without getting splinters. Every day, rain or sun, Ginny sat here for a few moments at least. Some days, she would be here when Alex came home in the evening and he would never be sure if she’d been there since he’d left that morning. When he asked her once what she was doing, she was silent for so long he had to ask it again.

I’m listening,” she had said and did not explain further.

“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” ~ sexism and the strong female character

“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” ~ sexism and the strong female character

When Jane Austen wrote Emma, she could not have predicted how popular the book would still be two hundred years later, or that she was quite wrong about Emma herself being unlikeable. Critics of the character complain of her meddling and her lack of true self awareness, but the reality beyond this is that in Emma, Austen created a female character that many of her readers envied. Wealthy, attractive, and with sufficient leisure to pursue her own interests, Emma was a woman of substance and relative independence. I say relative, because at that time, truly independent women in Georgian/Regency Britain were few, far between and entirely demonised. Emma was a safe compromise in many respects; Lady Susan, in the incomplete novel of the same name, was much more of the kick-ass who would suit more modern tastes, and was considered entirely a rotter.

Since the 1970s, there have been great strides made for equality, yet in the last few years, I’ve seen indications of backwards movement. In the USA, a worrying number of states have legislated in ways that affect women: some have now not only made abortion illegal, but have given parental rights to men whose victims of rape have carried their babies to term. Birth control, miscarriage, abortion, all seem subject to legislation that very much reduces women to incubator status. Leaving aside employment issues, it feels as if much of the hard work of feminists for the last century is being eroded at such a fast rate.

In literature and in film, the need for strong role models for young women and girls, could not be stronger, yet we get Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele. Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of the original books, surely neither of these is remotely the kind of role model I’d want for a daughter of mine? Thank goodness for Hermione Grainger, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena Warrior Princess, Black Widow, and a host of other kick-ass women who didn’t wait for anyone else to save them!

There’s a whole other post involved in analysing those famous strong female characters, not least discussing why it is that they’re all pretty women and those who don’t fall into that category are disparaged for it, like Brienne of Tarth   (who is described as being pig-like.) But what is also interesting is the reactions of others TO strong female characters; it’s not uncommon for readers to intensely dislike such a female (as Austen expected people to loathe Emma) because the character somehow flies in the face of what is expected of a woman in their society.

Chloe from Square Peg (and to a smaller extent, Isobel from Fairies) has divided readers. The majority see her as fiery, take-no-nonsense (I’d use kick-ass for the third time this post) and strong. But on occasions a number of people have said they don’t like her; they see her bluntness as rudeness. Women of my generation in particular have been brought up to somehow sugar-coat things, to be polite when rage is the only sane reaction, and to put the needs of others ahead of our own. Chloe’s grandmother (whom I hope to write more about in the sequel, provisionally entitled Rough Edges) grew up in harder times, lived through war and loss and being a single parent when that marked her as a fallen woman; her upbringing (plus some probable Asberger’s) meant Chloe doesn’t mince her words. But put Chloe’s words and actions into the mouth and hands of a man, and you get a very different feeling. It comes down to this: people often see a strong female character as one who highlights and calls attention to the basic inequality that underpins much of our so-called modern society. If a man can say or do it, people still have a problem with a woman saying or doing the same thing.

Joss Whedon, creator of many famous strong female characters, was asked why he still writes strong female characters. His answer? “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

http://genius.com/Joss-whedon-on-strong-women-characters-annotated 

( Square Peg is on a Countdown offer this week; for three days it will be just 99p, then for another three £1.99)

Smell You Later

Smell you later

I’m prone to small obsessions. Little excursions into what you might term “side quests”: finding certain things, discovering certain facts. At present, it’s a way of distracting myself from the insoluble problems of life, and it stops me banging my head against any convenient wall. My current side quest has been going on for a good while, travelling down sensory roads by literally following my nose. I’ve explored a plethora of scents in the last two years or more, letting the fragrance go deep and see what it sparked. Some things are just brewing or festering away, and I know I can’t rush whatever alchemy I may have started.

Part of the search has been to find the scent Chloe (from Square Peg, and other books as yet unpublished) uses. I’ve always known it was a jasmine perfume; it’s one of my own favourite notes in perfumery. I’ve felt as if I might come closer to her if I could find the right one. Decades ago now, I used a jasmine eau de parfum from Culpeper the Herbalist. It was a very lovely scent, and I mourn the demise of the company for many reasons, and the loss of their extraordinary perfumes is one of them. Since then, I’ve searched. Oh boy have I searched..! I’ve tried dozens of perfumes that claim to be jasmine based or have it as the predominant note.

Then I found one. L’Occitane en Provence did a range of iconic perfumes, the Wind Rose range, and one was jasmine. Created from Egyptian jasmine, this was something that hit the mark for me; it matched very closely the scent Chloe uses. And then they discontinued the entire range because it was going to become too expensive. They’ve created another one, less pricey, but it’s mixed with bergamot and it’s not the same.

I sulked. I sulked a lot. I explored online, tried a couple of Arabic perfume houses and their jasmine perfumes, which have been good but a little unsubtle, and with a chemical tang that is off-putting. I looked at Jo Malone, who did a jasmine and something else scent. Not quite right. Plus Jo Malone’s perfumes are created entirely within a laboratory, and I prefer perfumes that start with the real essential oil.

Now social media is a wonderful thing that can bring extraordinary meetings and so, by means of the alchemical serendipity I adore, I came across a blogger who writes entirely about perfume. I got into a couple of conversations and she pointed me to the Fragonard perfume house. Marks and Spencers stock their range and on my birthday (a big birthday) a few weeks ago, I tiptoed into the store to try it.

Fragonard‘s jasmine is all I could hope for. Alas, that day they were out of stock but for the tester, but I came back a few days later and bought my bottle.

It’s as if I have established a telepathic connection to Chloe. She’s never been a girly girl, and the perfume has been one that she adopted for very emotive and powerful reasons. A year ago I began writing a sequel to Square Peg; I wrote perhaps a third of the story and then, defeated by depression, despondency and lack of meaning (and sales) it’s petered out into yet another Moleskine filled with scribble. Now I am hoping that if I spritz myself with jasmine from time to time, Chloe is going to grab me by the arm, and start whispering to me again.

We can but hope.

A Warm Welcome to Vivienne Tuffnell

Guesting today!

Bookpreneur

Viv as pirate (2)I am excited to welcome Vivienne Tuffnell who is here to talk about a  scene from The Bet, a book of ‘family secrets and wounded souls’ – as quoted by a five star Amazon reviewer.

Vivienne says…

My Twitter bio said writer, poet, explorer and mystic and that probably says it all quite neatly. I’ve written stories my whole life, even before I could actually read. My father mistakenly allowed me to use his typewriter from an early age and I was hooked. I’m not sure the typewriter survived very long having me bash out strings of letters in the belief that what I had in my head would magically transform into words others can read. I’ve got better at that. I write novels, short stories and poetry, and I also blog at https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com

It’s very difficult to pinpoint favourite scenes but having narrowed it down, this scene from The Bet stands…

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