My novel Always Gardenia began with a question.
Could I write a book in homage to the genius British writer Barbara Pym?
Fans of Pym’s novels share an affliction, “what-to-read-next-itis.”
When we’ve finished all of her thirteen novels, and have reread them, and re-reread them, we are bereft and search for books by other writers that might offer the same satisfaction.
If you love Barbara Pym’s novels, you know what I’m talking about.
If you don’t “get” her (“Nothing happens” is a common complaint), then off you go to read wahtever it is that you enjoy.
If you haven’t read Barbara Pym, lucky you! Start with Jane and Prudence, Excellent Women, maybe even the posthumously published but, in my opinion, hilarious Crampton Hodnet (who could resist such an enigmatic title?).
So as a bereft Pym fan, I decided to write a novel that would channel Pym’s wry humor (I know, hubris!) as well as her attention to “trivial” details of food, clothing, plants, home decor, and, of course, tea-drinking.
I’d create characters involved with the small dramas of life that most of us could recognize–no violence, no complicated childhood memories, no addicted parents, no political intrigues.
Pym’s stories are set in small-town, pre- or post-World War II England, often with the Anglican Church and its jumble sales, curates, vicars, and seasonal rituals and flower arrangements as a focus.
I couldn’t presume to write of this world, so I would set my story in contemporary Seattle. This would enable me to research settings for scenes and also add in accurate horticultural and weather details for the three-month time span of the narrative.
I pulled out my collection of Pym’s novels. Before I left for my day job in the morning, I reread some Pym passages and then started to write.
I tacked these quotes on the bulletin board by the desktop computer (with no internet connection!) that I used to tap out my daily goal of 500 words:
“The goal of a writer is to please and satisfy himself, and the true writer always plays to an audience of one. Let him start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine, and he is as good as dead, although he may make a nice living.” E.B. White
“No, I must keep to my own style and go in my own way. And though I may never succeed again in that, I am convinced that I should totally fail in any other.” Jane Austen
“So I try to write what pleases and amuses me, and hope that a few others will like it too.” Barbara Pym
How comforting! I didn’t have to think about trends, or how to write for a best-seller market, or how to appeal to some unknown editor at an unknown publishing house at an unknown point in time.
My only task was to write a book that I wanted to read, a novel that “pleases and amuses me.”
So I did that. Always Gardenia is the result.
COMING NEXT FRIDAY: Naming Names