Jilly: The Seeds of a New Story

How was your week? Did you learn anything new?

It’s been good news/bad news here. The good news is that after a frustrating few days when I couldn’t get a grip on my new story, on Tuesday things fell into place. A propos of nothing I had a flash of insight that gave me a premise for the book and the GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) for all the main characters. As a bonus, I even figured out who owns the story.

The bad news is, it seems farming and gardening are important to the new WIP, and I have a brown thumb. My mother and grandmother were excellent gardeners, but I don’t even have houseplants, because they take one look at me and give up the ghost.

It would have been great if the Girls had sent up a plot I knew something about, but I’m not complaining–I’m grateful to get a workable idea. The garden stuff is important, but it’s a vehicle for the characters and conflict, and as long as I get those right, everything else is fixable. My current plan is to invest in oodles of agri-research, pretend I know what I’m doing, and then find some kindly green-fingered beta readers to sanity check my efforts.

I spent the rest of my week investigating the history of farming, paying particular attention to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. From there I went down the following rabbit holes:

Tips, tricks and traps for growing beans
My grandpa used to grow peas and I have a vague memory of his garden, plus I watched the team growing them on one of my Ruth Goodman history reenactment DVDs (for more on those, click here). I’m guessing/hoping beans might be similar. The internet says they are easy to grow, good for the soil, very sensitive to frost. They like sunny, well-drained soil rich in organic matter and will rot in heavy, soggy, cold soil. They’re susceptible to aphids, mites, beetles and various diseases. They’re nutritious, versatile, good fresh or dried, one of the world’s oldest foodstuffs. Just what I need.

The story of the Great French Wine Blight
I don’t know much about gardening, but I love wine and I spent about fifteen years helping out at a small wine importing company. So I remembered the story of the phylloxera bug, which had a taste for European vines and almost wiped out the French wine industry in the 1800s. It’s a great story, with some very black moments before the happy ending. Lots of good material. Click here to find out more.

The development of the role of head gardener
While I was noodling around the interwebs waiting for inspiration to strike, I found The Head Gardeners, Toby Musgrave’s book about the forgotten heroes of horticulture. There’s a Head Gardener in my story, so I bought the book and I’m really enjoying it. Click here for Toby Musgrave’s website and information on his other books, including one about intrepid plant hunters and another about Empire and how tobacco, sugar, cotton, tea, opium, quinine and rubber literally changed the world. I’m planning to read both of those when I’ve finished with The Head Gardeners.

The history of glasshouses and orangeries
I knew glass would be a scarce and super-luxurious commodity in a horses-n-swords world, but I wanted to know what came before the spectacular glasshouses of the Victorian era. Turns out that the Emperor Tiberius’s gardeners figured out a way to grow cucumbers in the dead of winter, and Korean horticulturalists had developed temperature controlled plant houses by the 1450s. Not to mention the sumptuous orangeries of the Italian Renaissance. With a stretch here and a twist here, I’m confident I can find something that will fit my story.

I also spent a happy day investigating forts, fortresses, keeps, star forts, bastions and all manner of fortified communities, but that’s a story for another week 😉

I’m excited about my new WIP (hope it lasts!) and I think the material I collected will come in useful. I’ll keep you posted 😉 .

What did you learn this week?

5 thoughts on “Jilly: The Seeds of a New Story

  1. That’s so cool! I’m something of an armchair gardener (meaning I have more books than fields), but my MIL is the real deal in our house, as far as veggies and bedding plants go. One thing that I love to read is The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Actually, I haven’t read it in several years, but it’s got lots of old-timey lifestyle pieces, and information about planting. Planting by the moon was something my great-grandmother did — leafy things in the first quarter, stems and fruity things (botanical fruit) in the second; when the moon started waning, that was good for root crops in the third quarter, and finally one spent the dark of the moon weeding and destroying insects. There are complications to the system — every three days or so, the moon is in a different astrological sign, which means all sorts of things.

    It can be a great planning device, because you MUST plant in these three days, or you will have to wait another month for optimal times. OTOH, if you procrastinate, it’s very easy to procrastinate yourself out of a garden. My MIL doesn’t follow anything like that; if a crop fails, she replants. Which, really, is the best advice for planting or writing. Do the work, even if conditions aren’t “optimal” and be prepared to rip up everything and do it again if necessary. That will give you the best all-around garden, if you work every day on it.

  2. I’m the opposite kind of gardener from Michaeline. I do almost everything by trial and error, reading almost nothing. Which is weird because I’m usually Little Ms. Research.

  3. This is GREAT! One tried-and-tested gardener and one armchair expert, with bonus MIL resource. Be ye warned, I plan to pick your brains shamelessly 😉

    • LOL, pick away. Doing always trumps reading about it, though.

      I will tell you my favorite thing to do with plants: replicating them! I like to cut slips of this and that, and root them in water or potting soil. I’m cloning them! Right now, I’ve got a bunch of thriving baby sages, thymes and lemon thymes (oh, and two lemon verbenas) sitting in the window waiting for spring. Now, if I can remember to properly water them, I should be able to plant them out and have lots of lovely sausage and things next summer!

      (Keep your fingers crossed for those poor plants! I’m not always the best at watering them. But herbs are tough.)

  4. I’m always really thrilled when ideas germinate! Good luck with the story, Jilly. I’ve got no words of wisdom about gardening. Luck—good, bad, or indifferent—is how my garden grows.

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