A Romaniac Interview with Juliet Greenwood.
Good Friday morning to you, Juliet, and welcome to our blog. It was great to meet you at this year’s Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference where your love of nature was even more apparent in person. What did you think of the teaching garden at the Penrith site?
Thank you, lovely Romaniacs. It was great to meet you too. Sorry I couldn’t make it to your famous kitchen parties – I was with you in spirit!
I adored the teaching garden at Penrith. I love my garden at home, and I’ve recently installed a polytunnel, so to find the unexpected gem of a horticultural garden at Penrith was wonderful. I enjoyed every minute of the conference, but there was so much to take in it was great to be able to disappear for a few minutes into the peace and quiet of the gardens. I loved the little meadows of wildflowers amongst the ponds and the cottage garden feel of the beds and those polytunnels full of produce and surrounded by herbs were just to die for. It was a perfect place to sit and read and absorb everything – and take notes for my own garden!
How are you taking advantage of the late burst of summer?
Well, I suppose my answer should be that I’m catching up with my garden. I’ve done a bit of tidying, so it doesn’t totally disgrace me, but I’m making the most of the sun by going out and seeing other people’s gardens. The sort of grand ones that belong to castles and stately homes. I live in the Snowdonia National Park, where people come from all over the world on holiday to see the sights. It’s really easy to take where you live for granted and not make the most of it, so that’s what I’m doing now. I’m going out with friends, being a tourist at home! So far we’ve spent a day at Portmeirion, which is one of my favourite places of all, and visited Gwydir Castle and the lovely grounds at Glynllifon. I’m planning a trip round Anglesey next, if we get any more sun, and then probably back to Portmeirion again…
In what ways do the seasons affect you? Which inspires you the most and why?
Now that I live halfway up a mountain, I’m so much more aware of the seasons than when I was in London. Having a collie, who needs lots of exercise whatever the weather, helps. I’m so glad I live in a place where the seasons give a rhythm and a pattern to the year. Winter is time for log fires and beavering away at the next book. It doesn’t take much for us to be cut off up here. A bit of snow and the cars stay put. Whichever way you go it’s steeply downhill – and we’ve all seen too many cars that have gracefully slid into stone walls to try. My day job’s office is based by the sea, when it never snows, but like most employers round here they take a look at the hills and know I’ll be working from home for a few days! Spring is always a miracle. I feel full of optimism and energy and buzzing with new ideas. And summer – when we have one – is a great time to be out enjoying the countryside and the sea and relaxing with friends. I love summer evenings. That’s when my garden is great for parties or for just sitting listening to the sounds of the neighbours (the ones that aren’t sheep) enjoying being outside. But my favourite season is autumn. I love its richness mixed with fragility, the crystal clear quality of the light, and the sense that every day is precious and must never be taken for granted, for tomorrow everything might be encased in ice. Exhilarating!
You post amazing landscape pictures on your Facebook page. Have these images sparked ideas or are you simply sharing the sheer beauty of the natural world?
Thank you, I’m glad you enjoy them! I’m really lucky to live in a beautiful part of North Wales, with the mountains on one side and the sea on the other, and a few ruined castles thrown in for good measure. I studied photography when I lived in London and the best advice my tutor gave me was to always keep a small camera in your bag because you never know. I love sharing the unexpected things I come across while on the daily dog walk, like a stunning sunset or finding an octopus on Llanfairfechan beach. I do find the images sparking ideas too. They creep into my books when I least expect them. It was an early morning walk on a beach in Cornwall that inspired one of the central scenes in ‘Eden’s Garden’. Even though I didn’t know it at the time.
Eden’s Garden is a time-shift, based partly now and partly in Victorian times. It follows two women, living a hundred years apart, each trying to find their own true path in life and in love, despite the conventions and expectations that still surround us as women. At the story’s heart is a fading mansion with a neglected garden that holds the key to a mystery and an extraordinary secret. I loved writing the novel and I was so excited when Eden’s Garden was chosen by the Welsh Books Council as Welsh Book of the Month for May this year.
How did it feel when Eden’s Garden hit the top 100 best sellers Amazon list, and then continued to climb?
Gobsmacked! There’s no other word for it. I’m an unknown with a small publisher and it never crossed my mind that it would go anywhere near the bestsellers, except in my dreams. I was scrabbling around hysterically trying to work out how to do a screenshot when it got to 97, so it was very exciting when it crept up further and further and ended up in the top 50 of the Historical Fiction kindle charts. I’m still cheering inside!
The book is based in Cornwall, Wales and London. What are your connections to these places?
It was great to set a book in my three favourite locations. Wales is my home and my passion. Although I wasn’t born here, I’ve been visiting since I was six months old and I’ve lived here for the past twenty years.
I love London. I’ve always had family there and I studied and worked there for nearly ten years. It still feels like home when I go back for visits. Plus Dickens is one of my favourite authors. I love his depictions of the hustle and bustle of London streets. It was great to spend time in Victorian London in my head.
Cornwall and Devon are some of my favourite locations. I’ve been visiting since I was a teenager. When I was younger I walked the coastal path with friends, carrying tents on our backs. The last time I chose a more civilised mode of camping, with Emily, my ‘Romahome’ mini campervan. Emily has since succumbed to old age, so next time it’s just going to have to be a cottage on the Lizard. I can’t wait!
The garden in Plas Eden is on a much grander scale of course, but my cottage garden was a wonderful place of healing for me when I was ill for a year with a severe virus and ended up with M.E. I think it was that year when I hit rock bottom and had to rebuild my life, when I was sitting in my garden grown wild, that the first idea for ‘Eden’s Garden’ began to take shape.
If you had to describe you book as a flower, which one would you choose and why?
I think it would have to be a forget-me-not: deceptively delicate, an emblem of memories, both cultivated and wild. Oh, and it spreads like wildfire. (Here’s hoping…)
What have been the best and worst moments of your writing career?
My best moments were working with my wonderful editor, Janet Thomas, at Honno. It was the most incredible learning experience, one that stretched me to the limit and made me so much more professional in my approach. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but it was also exhilarating, feeling that I was being pushed to take my writing to another level. Utterly life-changing. And a total privilege, knowing that someone had seen potential in my writing and was giving me that rare feedback it’s so hard to come by. When I did something and I could see that it worked, then it was the greatest buzz of all!
As for the worst. Mmm. There are so many to choose from. I think the very worst was in my early thirties when I decided it was time to grow up and forget the dream as it was never going to happen, and I needed to settle down to a proper job instead. It’s no coincidence that was the time I became really ill. Which, ironically, was what set me off on the journey to becoming a published writer. So you never know.
Have you any future plans you would like to share?
I’m busily working on my next book, which is based around three women during the First World War. It’s getting a bit nail biting at the moment, so I can’t wait to get back to it every day. My alter ego, Heather Pardoe, is also busy writing a serial for ‘The People’s Friend’, which is based in the Welsh Gold Rush – and yes, there really was one!
Thank you for having me. I’ve had a wonderful time. I feel I’ve joined the Romaniacs for one great party!
My website: http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/
Amazon link to Eden’s Garden: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Edens-Garden-Juliet-Greenwood/dp/1906784353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347440140&sr=8-1
Sometimes you have to run away, sometimes you have to come home.
2011 – Carys agrees, with mixed feelings, to look after her mother after a fall. This decision unsettles everything – her job, her plans, her relationship with Joe. Once home she is drawn back into village life, into her family history hidden in the attic, and into the history of Plas Eden, the ramshackle great house that was so much part of her childhood. Where, at 18 she forced herself to say goodbye to David Meredith. How will she feel when they meet again?
1898 – Ann, destitute, stands on London Bridge. She remembers her last visit to London, a spoilt aristocratic bride, sure of the power of her youth and beauty. Now she is running from everything she trusted. Is the river her only option, or will the Meredith Charity Hospital hide her?
Two women struggling with love, family duty, long buried secrets, and their own creative ambitions. But over a hundred years ago, Ann left a trail, through North Wales, Cornwall and London, that may help Carys find her true path. What is the secret of the statues in the garden?
Juliet lives in a traditional Welsh cottage halfway between the romantic Isle of Anglesey and the beautiful mountains and ruined castles of Snowdonia.
After studying English at Lancaster University and King’s College, London, Juliet worked in a variety of jobs, from running a craft stall at Covent Garden Market to teaching English.
Juliet began writing seriously about ten years ago, after a severe viral illness left her with debilitating ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for years. Juliet always says that M.E. was the worst, and the best, thing that ever happened to her. On one hand, it sent her from being able to walk up mountains with ease to struggling to do the simplest of everyday tasks for more than a few minutes at a time. But on the other, it forced her to re-evaluate her life and her priorities. And it made her a writer.
She is now well and back to dog walking and working on her beloved garden. As well as novels under her own name, Juliet writes stories and serials for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’.
When not writing, Juliet works on local oral history projects, helping older people tell their stories before they are lost forever. .