I have always had a longing inside me of having a garden. Ever since my early teens, I used to collect gardening books and herbal medicine books and pour through them, longing for red currants, wild strawberries, cherries, gooseberries, and all the herbs you can think of. One of my favourite book series back then was the one about Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters; the protagonist a crusader turned monk, head of the monastery’s garden. I read them again and again, always envisioning the good old brother among his plants or making up some concoction in his shed when he wasn’t out solving one murder or other.
There is one passage in ‘Lost’ in which Carl takes Allie back to her childhood and in which she talks about the garden at her family’s summer house. 99 percent of those memories are my own. We had a summer house in a big blueberry forest outside of Björkvik in Södermanland, located more or less in between Nyköping and Katrineholm. The garden was more of an orchard with eight apple trees (predominantly Åkerö) and one pear tree (Gråpäron). I loved those apples. They are my favourite apples of all times, and I haven’t tasted them since I was a young adult. If you like apples and ever find yourself in Sweden, do yourself a favour and try some. I promise you won’t regret it.
The past week, I have binge watched ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’ with Monty Don, following the fantastic work people are going through to transform their outdoor spaces to fabulous dream gardens. What has intrigued me is not just the enormous effort that they have put in to make their vision come true, but also how their personalities show during that kind of strain.
Tonight, it struck me how similar a garden is to writing. I’ve never thought of that before. For me, as is pretty obvious for everyone of you who have read my books, the story is always second hand, and the characters are what is most important. Of course, you can have a story without intriguing characters, but if that’s the case, you don’t actually care about what happens to them, you just want to know how the story ends. So, if the story is the garden design, the characters are the trees, shrubs, flowers, and herbs which gives the story/design life. They can be tall and magnificent, overshadowing everything else, or big and bold with beautiful colours, or small and insignificant but with a wonderful scent. However, what they all share are roots. Without roots they can’t survive. Roots must therefore be transformed into the characters’ backstories.
I realized tonight that I have been sloppy. I don’t actually have thriving roots for all my creations. Most of my characters have a really good, in-depth background, but some don’t, which might not be overall surprising. After all, I have almost 450 characters so far showing up throughout the books. Therefore, I need to get into my garden and get my hands dirty. I will try to create a new spreadsheet for them with a few lines of important events and relations that have shaped their lives and made them to what they are when we meet them in the garden of stories. It will be exciting and revealing and exhausting at the same time, and as the case is with a real garden, the job will probably never be completely finished. There will always be something more to add to the wonderful mix of scents and forms and colours.
Wish me luck.