Digging down to the roots



When writing a guest blog article for Head of Zeus to co-incide with the UK launch of Bone Meal for Roses, I had to begin with this disclaimer: I have been known to abuse innocent metaphors.

In some cases, I’ve been guilty of drawing them out and hammering them so thin that they dissipate in disgust. That being said, the opportunity to liken the launch of my new novel (which, even in its title, Bone Meal for Roses, includes a reference to growing things), to the opening of the first, spring sweet-pea bloom in the flowerbed outside the window where I write, is just too darn tempting to pass up…

Even without my heavy-handed metaphor bashing, the realm of words has long been hitched to gardening and agriculture. Books and trees both have leaves, for heaven’s sake, and one is actually made from the other. Then you can ‘nurture the germ of an idea’, ‘prune the text’ and ‘watch the story unfold’ while you ‘leaf through the pages’. It’s all, frankly, a bit much.

So why, then, did I feel so compelled to write a book set in a garden?

The isolated, otherworldly garden at the heart of Bone Meal for Roses is a sanctuary for Poppy, a little girl who has been rescued from terrible circumstances by her unconventional grandparents. Here, in a haven of colour and texture scented by lemon-blossom, Poppy gradually heals and grows up. However, this is also the place where, in a moment of terror and desperation, the teenaged Poppy makes a choice that transforms the garden into the landscape of nightmares.

Bizarrely, for a self-confessed metaphor-junkie, the appearance of a garden in this coming-of-age tale had little to do with the opportunity to torture words such as ‘blossoming’ or ‘ripening’; it actually emerged out of my own childhood struggle to find my place in the world.

At sixteen, I was adrift. My mother’s long illness had sliced up much of my childhood into strange, hospital-scented pieces, and when she died, I was somewhat severed from her history. My dad had lost his own father very young, and was clueless about the man’s journey from Eastern Europe to South Africa in the early 1900s. Dad had also moved away from his Jewish roots as a teen, and this meant that our family was a tiny unit of three. Add to this the confusion of growing up in South Africa during the 80s and 90s: I loved the place fiercely, but wasn’t sure how I fit in.

I just didn’t seem to have any real, historical connection to anything at all.

But then, I got a garden.
It was decades later, but as I dug and snipped, surrounded by green and enveloped by the smell of wet earth, I remembered that my mother had been an avid gardener. In fact, aside from when she was reading novels, it was the only time I remember her seeming content. My maternal grandpa had also been passionate about his garden, and as I began to plant and tend my own, I discovered something akin to a sense of heritage. With soil beneath my fingernails, surrounded by growing things, I felt connected at last. To the past, to my roots, and to the land I love.

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