This is the last in our series. In these times of darkness and strife, a post on gardening may seem, at best, trivial and at worst, self-indulgent. However, we hope to persuade you that it can be one of the best sources of inspiration and respite for writers – now, more than ever. If we leave aside the obvious metaphors about germinating ideas, pruning text, and weeding out repetition, there are deeper and more interesting things in store for the green-fingered writer.
For Jason Hewitt, it’s about finding quality down-time. ‘Most of the time, during my day-to-day life, I am either writing, talking about writing, thinking about writing, or at least have the niggling sense that I should be thinking about writing. Don’t get me wrong – I love being an author. But it’s also exhausting. Gardening is the only activity I do that allows me to switch all of that off. Like most writers I spend most of my time staring at a screen so any opportunity to do something a bit more active I take. I don’t mull over plot issues while I’m pottering around my patio, or think about the characters. I’m barely thinking at all, if I’m honest. Instead it’s time to give all of that a rest. We all need to press the ‘off’ button now and again. Some meditate, others jog. I get out pots, seed packets and bags of soil, and dig my fingers as deep into the earth as I can.’
Vanessa Lafaye also relishes the respite from those hours at the keyboard, in addition to other benefits. ‘The writer must experience all the emotions of their characters, which is so draining. Writing the storm scenes in ‘Summertime‘ was very traumatic, having to mete out pain and death to my characters, and I got so immersed in the storm itself. I would regularly stop and sit in the garden, just to breathe and enjoy the stillness and lack of hurricanes in England. I love the flowers and marking the change of the seasons, noticing which plants have survived the snail offensive for another year. Other times, the garden gives me back a much-needed sense of control over my world. When I get a bad review, or things don’t go my way, I take it out on the weeds, and prune the shrubs like hell. However, the best thing of all for me is the sense of peace that comes over me when I focus on gardening tasks. It restores my sense of perspective and proportion, when I get caught up in problems. My mind is freed of its preoccupations and wanders off on its own. It’s not uncommon for it to bring back solutions, once I stop looking for them.’
For Juliet West, the best part of the garden is, literally, down to earth. ‘Our garden is big-ish and un-manicured, which means we’re blessed with hedgehogs, slow worms and stag beetles. Gardening is the perfect escape when I need a break from writing. There are always one hundred and one jobs to do, but my favourite is turning the compost heap. I love the smells, the textures and the sense of something new and nutritious emerging from a pile of rotting leaves, faded blooms and chucked-away peelings. It’s hard to resist the analogy with novel-writing. We begin with a random collection of ideas. We mix those ideas up and let them settle. With luck we’re left with a rich, dark concoction where chapters might take root.’
So, whether you have just a few pots on a balcony, or half an overgrown acre, go out and get dirty, the next time you hit a block, or decide your current draft is the most execrable piece of prose ever to insult the English language. Nature has the power to heal, to inspire, to recharge depleted creative batteries.
Let it work for you.