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THE BLUE ROSE: My Novel-in-Progress

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

For two years I have been working on a novel called The Blue Rose.

It tells the story of Viviane de Ravoisier, the daughter of a French marquis, and David Stronach, a Welsh gardener who travels to her chateau in Brittany to design and plant an English-style garden. The two fall in love, but their passion is forbidden. David is driven away  and Viviane is married against her will to a duc. She is taken to the palace of Versailles where she witnesses the early days of the French Revolution. Through her eyes, I tell the story of the fall of the Bastille, the abolition of the nobility, and the beginning of the Terror.

I imagine the Chateau de Belisima-sur-le-lac looking a little like this chateau in Brittany, the Château de Trécesson:

I first discovered this chateau when someone posted a picture of it on Facebook, wondering what the chateau was called. It was so like what I imagined Viviane's home looking like, I went and searched on the internet until I located it and it has been my desktop picture ever since.   

I have a very visual imagination and so I am always printing out pictures and sticking them in my notebooks, or pinning them on Pinterest (you can check out all the pictures on my Pinterest page if you like.) 

I also like to collect small artefacts that help inspire my imagination. 

The first is a small miniature of a 18th century French noblewoman that I bought on Etsy. It's the most exquisite little painting, and it has worked its way into the story as a miniature of Viviane's mother, who died the day she was born.  

My other treasure, I found in an old antique shop in France when I was there two years ago researching this book. 

It is a huge old key. The man in the antique shop told me that it was the key to a chateau that had been burned during the french revolution. The key was found in the chateau well 270 years later. No-one knows who threw it in the well, or why. This story really intrigued me and so I bought the key, and it now hangs on my wall. 

This anecdote too has worked its way into the story.

I have now finished the first major draft of The Blue Rose and will soon embark on the final edit and proofread. It's been such a marvellous adventure writing this book, I can't wait to share it with you. 

THE BLUE ROSE: my work-in-progress

Monday, February 12, 2018

In recent months I have been slowly but steadfastly working away on on my novel-in-progress, The Blue Rose.

So far, I have written 44,000 words.

My star-crossed lovers, Viviane and David, have met and fallen in love, but been torn apart by cruel circumstance.  

Those early scenes are all set in a chateau in Brittany, which I imagine being like the beautiful medieval fortress, the Château de Trécesson

My heroine Viviane has lived there all her life, not even travelling far enough away to see the sea, which is never far away in Brittany. 

My hero, David, is a Welshman and the grandson of a poor pastor. He has come to the chateau to build a garden for Viviane's father, the Marquis.

But, of course, a lowly gardener must not fall in love with a Marquis's daughter. 

Viviane is now at Versailles and desperately unhappy. Her own inner turmoil is reflected in the escalating violence in the streets. For, in the world of my book, it is July 1789, and the Bastille is about to fall.

I'm aiming for a total word count of around 120,000-125,000 words, and so at 44,000 words I am more than one-third of the way through the book. However, I've only written about a quarter of my planned story.  

I'm not worried about this.

I always write much more than I need as I discover my story, and so the first section will need to be cut back strongly. I will do that when I finished a rough first draft (what I like to call my 'discovery draft') as I will then have a stronger idea what must stay and what can go.)

The title of the book is inspired by an old fairytale set in China called 'The Blue Rose'.

You will just need to wait to find out what this has anything to do with a novel set during the Terror of the French revolution ...

Desperate to know more?

Read my earlier blogs about the inspiration of The Blue Rose.


THE BLUE ROSE: I've started writing the new novel

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

I've begun writing my new novel, The Blue Rose.

it's always really thrilling to start putting words down. I've been thinking and planning and day-dreaming this novel for about three months now (I began work on it on Sunday 23rd July, on the night of the new moon). 

For those of you who have not been following my creative journey with this novel, here is a brief outline:

The Blue Rose is a historical novel for adults set in the late 18th century and moving between France during the 'Terror' of the French Revolution and Imperial China, a mysterious and scarcely discovered land of mandarins with long curving fingernails and concubines with bound feet. The book is inspired by the true story of a quest for a blood-red rose that blooms even in winter.

This is a picture of Rosa semperflorens, the ruby-red repeat-flowering rose brought back from China in the late 18th century. It is the ancestor of all our modern-day red roses.

In the past three months, I have been to London and spent a week in the Chinese archives of the British Library:



I went to Paris and Versailles where many of my scenes are set:



I travelled to Wales to research the life of my hero, a Welsh gardener (and along the way visited Caerphilly Castle and Tredegar House and Fleur-de-Lis, a most unusually named Welsh village where I imagined my hero may have grown up). 



I also visited many 18th century gardens for inspiration for the romantic garden at the heart of The Blue Rose.

Cerney Garden, in the Cotswolds


Coughton Court, in the Cotswolds 
I'd already filled up one notebook with timelines, scene outlines, character sketches and research notes, and have now typed up all my thoughts and ideas, then printed them out to stick in a new notebook. 

During the last few months of thinking and day-dreaming and planning, a few of my ideas have changed. I had initially imagined my heroine living in a chateau in the Loire Valley. I even visited the Loire last year to get some ideas and inspiration. I had a very clear idea of what the chateau looked like, however, and nothing I saw seemed close enough. Then one day someone posted a photo of a chateau in Brittany on Facebook and it looked so much like what I imagined my heroine's home to look like that I had to go and read up about it. It's called the Chateau de Trecesson and it sparked so many ideas for me that I had to move my story from the Loire to the Paimpont Forest in Brittany, a place deeply steeped in Athurian mythology. I also changed my heroine's name from Rosemunde to Viviane. As soon as I had the right name for her, she came to life in my imagination.

The French actress Marine Vacth who looks how I imagine my heroine Viviane would look

My character outline for Viviane 

Brittany in the time of the French Revolution

Chateau de Trecesson in Brittany

The Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard, who is my visual inspiration for my hero David

I began writing on Friday October 20th (again on the time of the new moon) and now I am aiming to write one chapter every week (that's about 4,000 words). There will be weeks when I simply cannot manage it, but I'll try. 

So far my word count is 5,665 words and so its very much early days ... however, once I get into the flow those words will start piling up fast.

Want to know more about The Blue Rose?  Read about the first inspiration for the novel.


THE BLUE ROSE: the first flash of inspiration

Sunday, August 06, 2017

I have began a new novel!

It has a working title of 'The Blue Rose' and is is set in the late 18th entry, moving between France during the Terror of the French Revolution and Imperial China. It draws upon a fairy-tale set in China about a quest for an impossible rose. 

I first got the idea for it about eighteen months ago when I was reading 'Chasing the Rose' by Andrea di Robilant, which was one of my Best Books of 2015

In one passage he wrote:

'In 1792, Gilbert Slater, a nurseryman from Knotts Green, Leyton, introduced a dark, rich crimson rose known in China as Yue Yue Hong, or 'Monthly Crimson'. Europeans had never seen a rose of that colour (called pigeon's blood). The cultivar, which became known as 'Slater's Crimson China', quickly spread to France ... It became the ancestor of many of the red roses we have today ...'

How fascinating, I thought. Surely Europe had red roses before 1792?

And then, I thought ... 1792. That was right at the beginning of the French Revolution. That was when the Tuileries was stormed and Princesse de Lamballe's head was paraded around on a pike. 

Andrea di Robilant went upon to say:

'Around that time ... Sir George Staunton, a young diplomat and enthusiastic gardener, travelled to China as secretary to Lord Macartney. Taking time off from his embassy, he went looking for roses and found a lovely re-flowering silvery pink specimen in a Canton nursery, which he shipped to Sir Jospeh Banks, the powerful director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew.'

I had read about the Macartney Embassy before. Britain wished to open up trade with China, which was still very closed to the West. Britain was importing tea and silk and Chinese porcelain in great quantities, but China was buying nothing in return. So in 1793 Lord Macartney and his entourage travelled to Peking to meet with the Emperor. At that time, it was Chinese custom to kowtow before the Emperor, a ritual obeisance that involved prostrating oneself on the floor and knocking one's forehead to the ground three times, then repeating the gesture another two times (i.e.e three acts of prostration, nine knockings of the head).  

Lord Macartney, as a representative of King George III, refused to kowtow. The Emperor refused to open trade. 

I knew about this failed ambassadorial journey because it was one of the things which led to the Opium Wars between Britain and China in the 19th century. I did not know, however, that the British had brought roses back with them.

I was so interested by this that I went browsing amongst the many books on roses I have on my shelves (I've always been a rose fancier.) I discovered that the introduction of the China roses to the West at the end of the eighteenth century revolutionised rose cultivation.

For the first time roses could be grown that had more than one flush of blossoms. And for the first time Europeans could grow a rose that was truly red, long considered the symbol of passionate love.

I know a good story when I see one. I knew I had to write a novel inspired by this epic journey to China and the discovery of the first blood-red rose. I was, however, deep in the writing of a novel about the Pre-Raphaelites and ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I scribbled down a few notes, all the while wondering if I could find some clever way to weave a fairy-tale into the narrative.  

Quite some time later, I was reading about Victorian literary fairy tales and I found a story called 'The Blue Rose', written Maurice Baring, an English diplomat and man of letters. It is set in China, and tells the story of the Emperor's daughter who will only marry the man who can bring her a blue rose. Once again I felt that shudder of joyous recognition. I had my fairy-tale.

The months passed, as I researched and wrote and rewrote and edited Beauty in Thorns, my reimagining of 'Sleeping Beauty' set among the passions, scandals and tragedies of the Pre-Raphaelites.  Then the novel was launched, and I embarked on a whirlwind tour, talking and teaching and telling stories.  

The weeks galloped past.

Always so much work to do! Blogs to write and emails to answer and books to sign. I could spend all day every day doing nothing else.

So I found the date of the next new moon, and I wrote in my diary, ‘Start new novel!’

It’s a small and pleasing ritual of mine, this idea of always beginning a new project at the time of the new moon.  It gives me a set date to work towards, and I like to imagine I harness some kind of natural lunar magic. Once I knew my starting date, I could scramble to get all my other jobs done so my desk and calendar was free. I also bought myself a beautiful new notebook, another ritual of mine.

For this novel I chose a notebook with a blue roses & peacocks on a red background - 'Enchanted Evenings' by Paperblanks - it's perfect!

An empty notebook is a prospect of infinite possibilities

And so, on the evening of Sunday 23rd July, when the new moon first rose, I settled down to work, typing up my first ideas, drafting rough timelines, printing out maps and drawings of 18th century fashion, and sticking it all into my new notebook along with all my little scraps of notes where I had scribbled down ideas in the preceding months. 

In the two weeks since, I have begun my research, established the time frame for my story, created rough character sketches, found a thematic structure for the novel, drafted up my first plan and written my first line.

I love beginning a new novel!   

And I hope you have loved this blog post. You will be able to follow my journey from the first flash of inspiration to the final proofreading check, before 'The Blue Rose' is published in mid-2019. 

Please feel free to leave a comment - I always love to know what you think. 

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