Monday, May 16, 2022

Robin Farrar Maass Interview - The Walled Garden


Photo Content from Robin Farrar Maass

Robin Farrar Maass is a lifelong reader and writer who fell in love with England when she was twenty-two. She enjoys tending her messy wants-to-be-English garden, painting watercolors, and traveling. She lives in Redmond, Washington, with her husband and two highly opinionated Siamese cats. The Walled Garden is her first novel, and she’s already at work on her next novel set in England.

        
  

Greatest thing you learned in school.
It has to be learning to read in first grade—I’ve never forgotten the wonder of it!

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
More than anything else, I think reading influences my writing. I’ve been a voracious reader all my life—I actually got in trouble from my mother sometimes for reading “too much”! (What does that mean??) Even now, everything I read makes me want to tell better stories and try new things in my own work, so that my books might be able to nurture readers in the same way books have always nurtured me. I’ve always used books to help me live my life, to gain insight, find comfort, and explore other worlds.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
I think storytelling is just vital, to give hope in hard times like this pandemic we’re just coming out of, to help us make sense of our lives, to remind us who we are and who we want to be, and to give us alternate worlds and stories to live in.

Beyond your own work (of course) what is your all-time favorite book?
That’s such a hard question! I think it has to be Dorothy L. Sayers’ 1935 novel Gaudy Night. There are so many things I love about it. First, Sayers is a great writer. She was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University in the 1920s, and she’s incredibly well-read in multiple languages in a way I dream of being. Second, the setting: Oxford in the 1930s. There’s ancient beauty there, but also a sense of unease. Europe is still haunted by the horrors of WWI, and of course, we can feel WWII lurking just around the corner. Third, embedded in the classic mystery format is a heartfelt, deeply considered questioning of exactly what is a woman’s place in the world, which remains, even after almost a hundred years, amazingly resonant. You can feel how high the stakes are for Sayers’s fictional alter ego, Harriet Vane, and thus, for Sayers herself. And fourth, Lord Peter Wimsey, surely the world’s most perfect man!

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I started blogging twice a month on my website robinfmaass.com last fall, and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve been writing a lot of essays and guest posts like this for various book-related websites and enjoying that too—it’s a different kind of writing than novel writing.

I’m also about a quarter of the way into a new stand-alone novel about an American artist who’s been married to a Brit for ten years when she discovers that he’s been unfaithful. Seeking a fresh start, she moves out of London to a cottage in the countryside where she finds a cache of letters and diaries from a young woman who was evacuated there during WWII. This discovery launches her on a quest to find out who the people in the letters were. There’s a mystery about some paintings that were done during the war that have disappeared, and an abandoned summerhouse the artist claims as a studio, even as she wonders if she’ll ever be able to paint again. There’s also a bearded estate manager who keeps popping up when she least wants to see him—and she hates men with beards!

In your newest book, THE WALLED GARDEN, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
American grad student Lucy Silver arrives in England hoping to solve a longstanding literary mystery and finish her graduate studies in a blaze of academic glory. But as Lucy starts to piece together the correspondence between her late grandmother and Elizabeth Blackspear, the famous poet and garden writer who’s the subject of Lucy’s dissertation, she discovers puzzling coded references in the letters. And when an elderly English aristocrat with a secret connection to Elizabeth offers Lucy access to a neglected walled garden on his estate, the mystery deepens.

As spring turns to summer in Bolton Lacey, Lucy finds herself fighting the Blackspear Gardens’ director’s attempt to deny her access to vital documents in the archives . . . and trying not to fall in love with an attractive Scottish contractor. In the midst of this turmoil, she stumbles upon an illicit plot to turn the historic gardens into a theme park. As she races against time to save the gardens, Lucy’s search for the truth about Elizabeth’s life leads her to a French convent where she uncovers explosive evidence that will change her life and the lives of everyone around her, ultimately revealing a home—and an inheritance—more incredible than anything she could ever have imagined.

TEN FACTS ABOUT THE WALLED GARDEN 
  • 1. The characters of Lucy, Sir Edmund, and Sam first came to me in a dream more than 20 years ago. It’s so long ago that I don’t remember details, but I was intrigued so I started writing about these three characters, trying to discover who they were. Lucy and Sir Edmund came to me fairly quickly, but Sam was the most difficult—it took me multiple drafts to figure him out.
  • 2. Elizabeth Blackspear’s garden is based on a real English garden called Waterperry near Oxford. I would live there if I could—I’ve visited it twice and it’s just dreamy! I made some changes to suit the needs of my story, but most of it is just as it appears in the book: the entrance, the Virgin’s Walk, the River Walk, the café, the Garden Shop, and the way the house is situated in relationship to the garden. I made up the Grand Allée and the Grove of Saints, and then had fun situating Priory House, Sir Edmund’s estate, further along the River Walk.
  • 3. When my beloved writing coach suggested to me that Elizabeth Blackspear was a poet as well as a garden writer, I said to her, but that means I’ll have to write the poetry! Her response still makes me laugh every time I think about it. She said, you don’t have to write the poetry, you just have to write something that sounds like the poetry! Needless to say, all of Elizabeth’s “poetry” in the book was written by me.
  • 4. Using the Victorian Language of Flowers to develop the code in Elizabeth’s letters to Amanda Silver, Lucy’s grandmother, was one of the most fun parts of writing the book. There are so many great Victorian meanings for plants that I didn’t get a chance to use, like: Beauty is your only attraction (Japan rose), Affection beyond the grave (Green Locust), Alas! for my poor heart (Deep red carnation), I change but in death (Bay leaf), and Your charms are engraven on my heart (Spindle tree).
  • 5. I’ve been trying to grow a Maiden’s Blush rosebush in my own garden for the past four years, sadly, without great success. I’ve gotten a few flowers with that famous scent but it’s a bit sulky here—perhaps the conditions don’t suit it. I’m starting to think it needs English soil to really thrive!
  • 6. The Duke of Charlborough is based on a real duke whom my family and I overheard being interviewed by a local newspaper at the café in the garden of his famous country house.
  • 7. I had a ton of fun making up flower-themed dresses for the Flower Fête. I created a mood board of images and I’m still dreaming about the dress I would wear if I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.
  • 8. As I mentioned above, I’ve had a lifelong love affair with Oxford, and my original intent was to set the book there. But as I wrote, my fictional villages of Bolton Lacey and Bolton St. George began to take on lives of their own, and I ended up (regretfully) cutting most of the Oxford scenes. But I couldn’t cut the tea scene at the Old Parsonage!
  • 9. I especially enjoyed creating the meals in The Walled Garden because as a reader I love it when authors give you the details of what people eat. I love savoring food vicariously (no calories!) but I also think it’s really fun to recreate literary meals from your favorite books with friends. There’s something about food that takes you inside that literary world in a tangible way.
  • 10. Le Couvent de St Geneviève in Dijon (while completely fictional) was inspired by a B&B run by an elderly order of nuns where I stayed in the hills above Florence in 2007. My room was very spare and cell-like, but the villa was an absolutely gorgeous place with an enchanting garden and amazing sweeping views out over the Italian countryside.
What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
First of all, I would hope they’re just enjoying the story! Ultimately, what I’d really like people to come away with is a sense of hope—and a feeling that they’ve been able to escape to another world for a while, one they would like to come back to. Writing The Walled Garden sustained me through some hard times in my own life (even pre-pandemic) and I would be delighted to think that it could help readers persevere and not give up hope, even when times are hard.

What part of Lucy did you enjoy writing the most?
As a fairly reserved person myself, it was very liberating to have Lucy be able to just blurt things out—even at times when she probably shouldn’t!

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Since she’s an orphan who was raised by her grandmother, I think Lucy would enjoy meeting Penelope Keeling from Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shellseekers. I think Lucy craves friendships with older women who can speak wisdom from their experiences into her life. Lucy and Penelope are both deeply intuitive women who are willing to act in unconventional ways. And since Penelope is a gardener like her grandmother, I think Lucy would feel right at home!

Where did you go on your first airplane ride?
When I was 22, I got on an airplane for the first time in my life with a friend and went to London—and I never got over it! I’d grown up in a small town in Washington state reading Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart, and going to England was like coming home for me. I’d just read Gaudy Night in college and I fell especially hard for Oxford—it’s my spiritual home—and a city I’ve returned to many times.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I would say travel alone—especially in a foreign country. There’s something about having to navigate another place—by yourself, without anyone else to depend on—that teaches you a lot about how to be comfortable with yourself, and how to roll with the unexpected. I’ve traveled alone in England and Italy, and I think knowing you can do it gives you a sense of resilience that nothing else can give.

Best date you’ve ever had?
My first date with my high school sweetheart. We were both 17. We went to the state fair. Reader, I married him!

What event in your life would make a good movie?
Probably my arrival in Venice in 2001. I was joining a group of watercolor painters touring Italy and I was supposed to meet them at the airport, but my flight was hours late and they left without me. Though I had a voucher to get boat transportation into the city, I spoke no Italian and I couldn’t find anyone at the airport who knew anything about it. It was the pre-cellphone era, so the only thing I could think of to do was keep asking till someone finally contacted the hotel where I was staying, and they got someone to agree to let me get on a boat that would take me to the Rialto Bridge. Then I was supposed to wait there for someone from the hotel to come and meet me. I remember how shocked I was—I’d never been to a place where you couldn’t just get a cab from the airport to your hotel!

So I waited and waited and waited at the Rialto Bridge with a horrible headache and the sun beating down, till it finally dawned on me that no one was coming. By then, I had taught myself the Italian phrases for please and thank you, so I started walking. Whenever I saw a business with an American Express logo in the window, I went in, hoping they might speak English, and said per favore and pointed to the name of the hotel on my travel documents. And the lovely Italians would gesture and point and I would murmur grazie, grazie, and keep going. I have no idea how long it took or how many people I asked before I finally made it to my hotel. When I walked into the lobby, the guy behind the desk said joyfully, “Ah! The missing lady!” I was torn between thinking what a great title that would be for an Agatha Christie novel and wanting to strangle him!

Most frequent song played?
Lucy and Sam’s song is “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. “Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars . . .” Yes, please!

First heartbreak?
I think it would have to be the death of my beloved grandmother Helen when I was eleven. I gave Lucy’s relationship with her grandmother Amanda in the book some of the qualities I still miss in her. She loved flowers and was always beautifully dressed with a necklace and matching earrings. I think my obsession with flowered dresses comes from her—I never once saw her wearing pants.

Favorite things to do alone?
Snug into one of my favorite reading spots with a cup of tea, books, and a stack of the latest British home décor and garden magazines.

Where can readers find you?
At my website robinfmaass.com, and on Instagram and Twitter @robinfmaass.


American grad student Lucy Silver arrives in England hoping to solve a longstanding literary mystery, write her dissertation, and finish her graduate studies in a blaze of academic glory. But as Lucy starts to piece together the correspondence between her late grandmother and Elizabeth Blackspear, the famous poet and garden writer who’s the subject of Lucy’s dissertation, she discovers puzzling coded references in the letters—and when an elderly English aristocrat with a secret connection to Elizabeth offers Lucy access to a neglected walled garden on his estate, the mystery deepens.

As spring turns to summer in Bolton Lacey, Lucy finds herself fighting the Blackspear Gardens’ director’s attempt to deny her access to vital documents in the archives . . . and trying not to fall in love with an attractive Scottish contractor.

In the midst of this turmoil, she stumbles upon an illicit plot to turn the historic gardens into a theme park, and becomes determined to stop it. As she races against time to save the gardens, Lucy’s search for the truth about Elizabeth’s life leads her to a French convent where she uncovers explosive evidence that will change her life and the lives of everyone around her, ultimately revealing a home—and an inheritance—more incredible than anything she could ever have imagined.

You can purchase The Walled Garden at the following Retailers:
        

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ROBIN FARRAR MAASS for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Walled Garden by Robin Farrar Maass.

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