A big welcome to Fiona Glass as part of her release of December Roses.
A secret garden…
When I first wrote the short story that eventually became December Roses, back in the early 2000s, I wanted to create a grown-up, m/m version of one of my favourite books growing up. That book was Philippa Pearce’s magical Tom’s Midnight Garden, about a boy discovering a garden that only appears at night. I’ve always loved anything involving secrets or hidden worlds – secret passages, Narnia through the back of a wardrobe – and this book, with its haunting descriptions of the garden and its air of mystery, has stayed with me for life. It seemed the perfect set-up for a gay romance, with two men meeting in a world where everything is not as it seems, and that world then forming its
own barrier to their love.
And where better to set that threatened love affair than in a mystical, magical garden of its own? Shortly before I wrote the original story, I’d visited the gardens at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire (one of the English midland counties), and fallen in love with them. Created in Victorian times but later completely abandoned, they’d recently been acquired by the National Trust who were in the process of reclaiming them from the wilderness. And my goodness, what gardens they are!
Designed around a series of ‛rooms’, each section represents a different country or area of the world. There’s an Egyptian courtyard with a yew pyramid, an Italian terrace and a Chilean monkey-puzzle walk. And there’s a secret tunnel that leads to ‛China’, a stunning area of lakes, streams, willow-pattern bridges, pagodas, and yes, even a hideous stone frog!
I drew on those elements as inspiration, although the garden in my book grew with the telling, incorporating aspects from other gardens I’d visited or which were also rediscovered – including Cornwall’s Lost Gardens of Heligan, and Lowther Castle in Cumbria. And as with the garden, the book’s story grew and adapted too, so there’s only a hint of Tom’s Midnight Garden still visible.
December Roses tells the story of Nat, a British soldier injured in a bombing at the height of the Northern Irish ‛troubles’, who’s sent to army rehab unit Frogmorton Towers to recuperate. At first he’s lonely and depressed, but then he finds the remnants of that once-beautiful garden, and meets the enigmatic Richie, and begins to fall in love with both of them. I’m hoping that readers will fall in love with it, too . As Nat himself says, ‛The whole world in a garden. Think how many visitors would come to see that.’ And if you get a chance, go and visit Biddulph Grange for yourselves. It’s open to the public on a regular basis and I (and perhaps Nat!) can confirm it’s an absolutely magical place.
Recovering from a bombing in 1990s Belfast, British soldier Nat Brook is sent to remote army rehab unit Frogmorton Towers to recuperate. At first he’s lonely and depressed, but then he finds the remnants of a once-beautiful garden, meets the enigmatic Richie, and begins to fall in love.
Gradually, though, he realises there’s something odd about Frogmorton. He can rarely find the same place twice, and Richie proves every bit as elusive as the Chinese pagoda or the Scottish glen. Nat begins to question his own sanity, because if the garden is imaginary, what does that make the man he loves?
Faced with the shocking truth, Nat must decide whether to stay with the army – even though that means hiding his sexuality – or find acceptance elsewhere.
This poignant ghost story was originally published as ‘Roses in December’ by Torquere Press but has now been extensively rewritten and republished on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited.