This is a – very exciting – first for me on the blog! I’ve got a wonderful Q&A with Jane Allison, author of The Gardener’s Wife. Thank you to Cahill Davis Publishing for having me on the tour.
Let’s start with the description of the book then we’ll get into the Q&A.
Emma Holt has been happily married for many years to the gardener of the local Quaker school. Headmaster Philip Manners, on the other hand, has been unhappily married to the Bishop’s daughter for just as long.
When Philip finds Emma in the school library, he can’t help but be intrigued by her. Emma, dealing with her two eldest sons going off to war, is overloading herself with work to keep her mind focused. Philip, meanwhile, is trying to understand how his students could enlist when he teaches them pacifism, but is also struggling with his conscience: is he really falling in love with another man’s wife?
When conscription finally arrives and all the eligible men are called up, Emma and Philip find themselves unavoidably tangled up in each other’s lives more and more. Emma is pushed to her limits with worrying about her sons and trying to juggle all her new duties, while Philip, invalided out of the fighting, can’t help but rush to comfort her when the worst happens overseas.
With Emma torn between the loyalty she has for her husband and the passion she’s been missing for so long with Philip, will she fight to hold on to Philip or stand back when events conspire to rip them apart for good?
Q&A with Jane Allison
What inspired you to write this book?
I had heard about the fortitude and incredible energy of my Great Grandma, known to all as Gram. I only knew her as an old lady who lived in the big house in Ackworth and had done so for years and years. But I had heard a lot about her mainly from her granddaughter Betty who admired her above all others. She had talked about her incredible baking and her first world war experience as the assistant station master at Ackworth station, there being no men to do it. All had gone to war.
So I had considered writing a novel based on her story for quite a while during my teaching career and was often prompted by the girls in my Drama Group to write the novel when I retired. They knew me well as we worked on school productions together closely. They fancied the idea of their teacher being a novelist and I used to joke with them about it!
If you could set the scene for this book in one sentence, what would it be?
Imagine a mother in the years of the first world war, whose anguished love for her sons out in the killing fields of France is shared with her stalwart husband, but who finds herself falling in love with a man who is very much above her station in the everyday life of the village, the headteacher of the renowned school at the top of the village.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
This is a very difficult question, for there are many people I can count as inspirations to me over the years. However, I must bring it down to one and that has to be my brother John. From buying me poetry books and novels to stretch me, to speaking the right word at the right moment to move me on to new things, it has been him. Leaving for Sussex University as a fearful girl, prone to homesickness, he wrote me a letter to encourage me to go for it. The words that have stayed with me forever in that letter were, ‘You will find people are life-giving’. And indeed he was right!
Then I should add how he gave me challenges all the way along, and I’ll just mention one of the many. As a young minister’s wife in our first appointment in Co Durham, feeling very purposeless in the Methodist machine of the busy church, he suggested to me that I should go over to Durham University and ask in the college where Anglican clergy were trained, if I could join them and do some theology alongside the ordinands. If he hadn’t suggested it, I would never have had the courage to do it but I did it and the rest is history! They allowed me to study in all the classes for free which was in fact incredibly gracious of them, and I went on to take my MA in theology as a result of that far-off day.
Thanks are due to many wonderful people over the years but indeed brother John started it!
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do for fun?
There’s quite a list!
Top of it is to be with my beloved grandchildren and play with them: get them writing poems, drawing together, digging dams on a beach . . .
Then it has to be cooking – cooking and entertaining my friends and family, especially curries, recipes gleaned from my many friends from all around the world. I also love going to the theatre and playing the piano.
In your opinion, what is the hardest part of writing or being an author?
I would say sitting down, to begin with, a head full of ideas and story lines and then bringing them all together into a coherent whole. After that, it is managing the plot to cover the different important moments in its development and getting it just right. It can take a while sometimes, down to a feeling of writer’s block until the way is smoothed again and it falls into place. My book in the end I would say almost wrote itself in some parts where it simply flowed. A blessing.
Favourite quote from the book?
‘I want my mummy.’
‘I’m sure your grandma will be looking after her, sweetheart. I think perhaps she has gone to be with Jesus because she was feeling so poorly. Now she will be better. Trust Grandma to see to it.’
‘Can I see her with Jesus?’
What do you hope for readers to get out of the story?
I would like them to identify with Emma and Philip and the way in which the agony of their consciences and their love for Jack helps them to be strong. And the character of Jack is a fine one to be admired of itself. But also, I hope this story enables the reader to feel something of the dreadful pain of that war as it is shared by Will in particular.
Thanks to Jane for these wonderful answers. I think it’s great to find out how a book ‘came to be’, and learn more about the author behind the book.