It’s not every day you get a cake made of your book…
Thank you so much to the readers of St Paul’s school Year 6 book club for their enthusiasm and fantastic questions yesterday. It was great to talk to them about the inspiration for my books, from a Herefordshire garden, to trips to India, Africa and Disneyland.
And particular thanks to the two members who baked cakes, including this one inspired by the The City of Light!
The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask is the fourth and penultimate book in The Secret of the Tirthas. The cover is currently being designed, and I’m aiming to publish it early next month. In the meantime, here’s the (slightly edited) Prologue as a taster.
Suddenly, she was awake.
For a while Lizzie stared up, her nose still tucked under the duvet, watching the strip of moonlight that slanted across the ceiling. Then she reached a hand out into the cold and checked her phone wondering whether, with the clocks yet to go back, it might be nearly time to get up.
2.44. Back to sleep, Jones.
She shut her eyes and lifted the duvet over the top of her head. She could sleep forever. It was half-term after all.
But instead of falling asleep again, her mind began to wander. She found herself thinking of that first night she’d slept in this bed, almost a year ago, when she’d sat up and looked out of the window and seen the full extent of her great-uncle’s garden for the first time. His magical, rambling garden of rooms, with its neatly-clipped hedges criss-crossing in the moonlight, the narrow rill in the distance with the yellow folly, the Tower, at its end.
Why did she wake up?
Oh no, why had that question popped into her head? She wished her mind was a bit more rational and orderly. Why did it have to… why did she wake up?
She hadn’t heard anything in her sleep, had she?
She listened carefully, keeping as still as she could. She held her breath.
Nothing, no wind, not the hoot of an owl. Nothing.
So why did she wake up?
A little knot formed in her stomach. Suddenly everything felt strangely familiar, like she had already been in this time and place, experiencing this exact same sense of weird… apprehension… before.
Deja-vu. It was deja-vu.
She looked at the curtains, pale grey in the moonlight.
Look out the window? Don’t think so, not this time…
The feeling passed, and she relaxed slightly. She turned over and closed her eyes.
5, 4, 3, 2…1! It was no good. She pushed back the covers, sat up in her pyjamas, and pushed the curtain out of the way.
She didn’t even need to look around the hedges and rooms, her gaze fell straight on to the gleaming vision in white halfway down the garden, standing near the silver brook.
‘Oh my God!’ Lizzie sucked in breath.
Who was that? What was she doing out in the cold?
Squinting her eyes, Lizzie tried to make out more details of the woman. Yes, she was wearing a dress, a long white dress, that was what was so bright, reflecting the moonlight. But her face was… turned away. She was looking at the back of the woman’s head, at her short, or possibly tied-up, hair.
She felt a burst of panic. What was someone doing in the garden? She knew, her whole being knew from her hard-won experience, that nothing good, and almost certainly only something absolutely terrible, could come of this. What was she going to do?
And then her alarm ratcheted up to a whole new level as the woman began to turn around.
Lizzie’s eyes widened. There was something strange about the woman’s appearance, her face seemed large, somehow rigid, growing in brightness as it turned towards the moon hanging somewhere above Rowan Cottage, as it turned towards… Lizzie.
‘No!’ Lizzie whispered, as the woman fixed her shining face on her.
Moments passed, as they stared across the garden of rooms at each other.
After a while, Lizzie realized why the woman’s face seemed so stiff, almost mechanical – she was wearing a mask!
She couldn’t make out what type of mask, but it was both dark and shiny at once, with splayed out edges bigger than the woman’s face. Although, with all she’d experienced, who knew? Perhaps she was looking at some strange beast, why not an ogre with a gigantic head?
Why was the woman staring at her like this?
‘Don’t just stand there,’ Lizzie muttered. ‘Do something, won’t you?’
I have already posted about the amazing ‘garden of rooms’ in Herefordshire that inspired The Secret of the Tirthashere. Now there are two more books out, I thought I’d share a few more photos of the garden, including some of the rooms that feature in those books.
ABOVE: The Wedding Cake Tree in the real Miss Day’s Garden. I’ve no idea who the real Miss Day was though – there’s no clues on the Garden’s original map, so she remains a mystery. In The Book of Life this garden is overgrown, abandoned by Evelyn Hartley when her cowardly brother fled the World War One draft through the tirtha to Louisiana.
ABOVE: The view that inspired the scene when Lizzie looks out of her bedroom window on her first night in Rowan Cottage and sees the criss-crossing hedges in the moonlight. The garden right below her is the Sun Garden.
ABOVE: Two South American gods who haven’t (as yet) featured in the stories. And BELOW a photo of them as they are now in a different garden – always pretty glum, but now somehow glummer!
BELOW: The Rill looking up towards The Tower – this place is going to get a lot more important later on.
BELOW: Excerpt from the original list of the Garden Rooms. The Edwardian Path features at the start of the forthcoming book, The Lady in the Moon Moth Mask. The Gothic Garden will come into its own soon, too.
BELOW: The plan of the whole garden is on the first post I mentioned above, but here’s a detail of the Sun Garden and area beyond. It includes the Gothic Garden, and the site where I imagined the Indian Garden.
BELOW: As I wrote in my previous post, the garden has sadly now been mostly grubbed up. Here’s one of the rescued Easter Island heads (the middle one, I think, that Lizzie jumped on to on her way to activating the tirtha…)
BELOW: Some of the garden’s lovely flowers and trees
And finally me, working on the first draft of The City of Light in the garden.
The Secret of the Tirthas was inspired by a unique garden in a remote part of Herefordshire. The garden consisted of over 20 hedged rooms, laid out over two acres behind a sixteenth century cottage. It was designed and constructed by the landscape designer Lance Hattat and his wife.
Here’s a sketch of the layout:
The rooms were inspired by seemingly random themes, ranging from South American gods to the designer’s favourite Edinburgh restaurant, to Easter Island statues and the elusive Miss Day.
Original and startling sculptures were supplied by a range of artists but particularly the talented Helen Sinclair.
The garden only covered a small area, but the intricate rooms with their range of features – ponds, towers, statues, brooks, summer houses, orchards, bridges, arches, fountains – all served to create a sense of a much larger space, with a seemingly endless sense of discovery and surprise.
The layout of the garden in The Secret of the Tirthas is largely based on the original layout, with a few notable exceptions – The Indian Garden is entirely new, for instance.
I’ve heard that the garden has been significantly dug out and replaced by a vineyard now, which is a terrible loss to those who knew and loved it (it was open to the public for most of the summer). I hope the books can help to preserve at least something of that special garden in rural Herefordshire.