Celebrating women’s wrinkles, women’s wisdom and the power of gardens: Interview with UK Author Juliet Greenwood
I’m so excited to introduce readers to novelist Juliet Greenwood. Her novel Eden’s Garden has just been released from Honno Press. Juliet is a writer and active participant on She Writes. Eden’s Garden follows the intertwined stories of the Meredith family of Plas Eden, a dilapidated mansion with a collection of mysterious statues in its overgrown garden, and the servants who once served there.
Juliet’s wonderful blog post, last month, for my ‘Loving Your Creative Self’ series made me want to know more about her latest novel and writing practice.
1) Where did the idea for your current novel come from?
The idea originally came from a Celtic myth of a woman made out of flowers to be a perfect wife. In the story, the woman is punished when she stops being what simply what other people want her to be.
As I’ve grown older, that story has gained so much resonance. While men are venerated as they grow older and wiser, women are still valued for being young and pretty and pleasing. I feel passionately that women’s life experiences are rich, complex and testing and we should be celebrating our wrinkles as a badge of honour, not hiding them in shame.
So Eden’s Garden is about two women, living a hundred years apart, who each have choices to make and a journey to follow. It is, I hope, a positive, life-affirming story as they each become a little older and wiser – and infinitely more human – along the way.
I also love gardening and visiting gardens, so the garden in the book was inspired by many gardens, primarily the one at Plas Brondanw, which was home to Clough Williams-Ellis who built the famous Italianate village of Portmeirion. http://www.brondanw.org/
2) What does your writing practice look like?
When I’m preparing my ideas for a book, I have an A4 lined notebook which is usually to hand wherever I am. That way I can make notes and jot down ideas as they come to me – whether in the middle of the night or idly watching TV.
When I’m writing, I write straight onto the computer. I aim to write around 1000 words a day. At this point I don’t edit, I just concentrate on getting the story down so I can see it as a whole. A first draft will always change, so I think I’ve learned to trust that. Unless a book takes a completely unexpected direction, I’ll work steadily through a first draft and then go back and edit. I usually have a rough idea of the beginning and the end of the book and the main characters. But of course all that can change – and usually does!
3) What (or who) inspires you to write and why?
Telling women’s stories and exploring women’s lives are what inspires me to write. In my ‘day’ job, I work on oral history projects. So often the women come in saying they have nothing to say and they’ve led an ‘ordinary’ life. But if you can persuade them to speak, their lives are usually an extraordinary and touching mix of many experiences, with tragedies overcome and compromises made with resilience and courage. Women’s experiences are so often dismissed as merely ‘domestic’: as small and insignificant, while important things like wars and politics take place elsewhere. Even if you are Jane Austen.
4) Will we see more of your main characters? What’s your next writing project?
Eden’s Garden is a completely self-contained story so there won’t be a sequel. I’ve started a completely new project, which this time has a Dickensian theme. Like Eden’s Garden, I feel this one will also be about women growing older and wiser through some pretty hard-won life experience – but in a very different way…. So watch this space!
5) Who is one writer that you’d love to know was reading your work?
That would have to be Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre is my favourite book. I love Jane’s passion and independence and her struggle to be a free spirit in a world that valued wealth and superficial beauty and doesn’t understand her at all.
6) You’re an avid gardener and that passion figures in your writing. When did you take up gardening and why is it important to you?
I took up gardening nearly twenty years ago, when I bought my cottage. It was the first home I had ever owned and I’d always yearned for a place where I could sit and read in the sun and grow things. The cottage was shabby and needed plenty of work, but I fell in love with the large and totally overgrown garden on sight. I’d been living in London for the past ten years and I’d really missed seeing nature and greenery and watching the changing of the seasons.
I’ve always loved creating order out of chaos, so the challenge of turning a neglected wilderness back into a peaceful haven was wonderful. I suppose that’s where I really fell in love with gardening itself. Unfortunately, soon after I started I became ill with glandular fever, which led to years of M.E./Chronic Fatigue syndrome. That was when my garden became the most amazing place of healing. Being ill taught me to sit and appreciate the life going on around me. I’m well now, but I’ve learnt a passion for coaxing nature into doing the work for me and to sit quietly watching the beauty of the seasons as they change.
7) What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
To write about the things you feel most passionately about. When you are starting out as a writer you have to make some compromises to fit in with the market and give yourself the best chance of being published. But the thing that will make you stand you – that will give you that elusive thing known as a ‘unique voice’ – comes from feeling passionately about your characters.
For years, I was afraid to expose my deepest feelings in my writing. I was lucky; I was given the amazing chance of working with an editor, who was like personal trainer stretching me to do more and reach deeper inside to tell the story I had wanted to tell all along. So my tip would be to go for it: feel passionately and stretch yourself even further than you think you can go. After all, you’ve nothing to lose. And if nothing else, it’s one exhilarating – if at times painful – ride.
Juliet Greenwood is the author of Eden’s Garden, published by Honno Press in March 2012. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edens-Garden-Juliet-Greenwood/dp/1906784353
Eden’s Garden follows the intertwined stories of the Meredith family of Plas Eden, a dilapidated mansion with a collection of mysterious statues in its overgrown garden, and the servants who once served there. If you love ‘Downton Abbey’ and the novels of Kate Morton, this is the book for you!
After working in London for years, Juliet now lives in a traditional Welsh cottage halfway between the romantic Isle of Anglesey – where Prince William and Princess Catherine have their home- and the beautiful mountains and ruined castles of Snowdonia. As well as novels under her own name, Juliet writes stories and serials for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’. She is a passionate gardener and proud owner of a cutting from the grape vine in Hampton Court Palace, London. She lives in hope of grapes.
Links: Website: http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/