Eight Ladies Writing

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?