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****Fiona Glass’s DECEMBER ROSES is #223 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.
Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? My latest book is called December Roses. It’s a gay ghostly romance set in a mysterious English garden and I wanted a title that reflected both the gardening aspect, and also a sense of something fading and/or not quite in its right time. The title is taken from a famous quote by J M Barrie (Right): "Someone once said that God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December." It seemed to fit the book absolutely perfectly. This is a rewrite of an earlier version which was called ‛Roses in December’, but I changed the book fairly substantially so I wanted a slightly different title to set it apart from that.
A chance remark by a Twitter friend made me take another look at it last year and I felt that it had too many sub-plots which shifted focus away from the main storyline, so I set about rewriting it to remove some of those, and also to give the love interest, Richie, more of a back-story. That took me about four months and I self-published the result in (appropriately!) December 2020. So from start to finish the process took over 20 years, but I was only working on the book for a fraction of that time.
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? I do all my writing on a computer thanks to a permanent wrist injury which makes handwriting for long periods uncomfortable. The computer has changed and upgraded over the years, and we’ve moved house at least twice, so the physical set-up has changed too. However, I like to have a permanent desk (in a separate room if possible) with a proper office chair and a wrist support. Currently my "office" is a tiny room (about 7 ft by 4 ft) which was the nursery when the previous owners had the house. There’s just enough space for the desk, chair, a couple of bookshelves, and me, but it gives me an enclosed space I can retreat to when I want to write. It also has a window looking out across a neighbour’s cottage garden, which gives me inspiration. I still use WordPerfect for all of my writing, which I do directly to screen. Once I have a completed, edited and formatted book, I convert to Word, and then transport the Word document straight into Kindle KDP.
What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I write whenever I get inspiration, since I’m lucky enough not to have a full-time day job (other than looking after the house and my hard-working husband!). Quite often I find it easiest to write in the mornings, up to about 11.30 when my brain decides it needs feeding again and switches off. If the writing is going well, I can often go back to it in the later afternoon and sometimes I even have a short burst of creativity in the evenings, although if I write after about 9 pm it rarely makes sense and I have to delete most of it and start again. I’ll have a cuppa while I’m writing but I can’t cope with listening to music because it drowns out the character voices in my head. If I can’t hear my characters, they don’t feel real and I can’t write the dialogue that I hang the rest of my writing around.
Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. I kind of wanted to include the book’s ending because for me that’s the most emotional part, and leaves me with a few sniffles every time I re-read it, even now! However, that would be giving far too much away, so here’s a piece from earlier in the book. I can’t quote meaningful page numbers because I have to take them out in order for the Kindle formatting to work, but it’s from the end of Part Three: Spring 1995, which is just over half way through the book:
A wet branch slapped him across the face and brought him back to his surroundings. As so often when he was out here he hadn’t been paying attention to where he was going, and now he was looking at something he recognised—the high stone cliffs of the ‘Great Wall of China’. Which meant he couldn’t be far from the lake, and the little bridge, and the pagoda with its line of bells. And where Richie’s garden was, Richie might not be far away.
He quickened his pace, eager to find the pagoda and ring the love bell and see if Richie replied. The path zig-zagged down between the rocks, a little muddy but otherwise just as he remembered it, but when he got to the bottom he paused for a moment, confused. Last time there’d been a view across the lake. Now the view was obscured by a hostile jungle of bamboo and giant rhubarb, and the ground at his feet was a mess of brambles and mud. Admittedly it had been dark before, but the moon had cast a rippled silvery path across the lake to the arch of the little bridge. Perhaps he just hadn’t gone far enough along the path? But going further only produced more mud and undergrowth, until he turned a final corner and the bamboo parted at last. Nat took one look at the scene it revealed and stopped. Was this even the same place? So much had changed. The lie of the land was the same, but the lake had shrunk to a muddy, reed-choked pond; the Chinese bridge was a line of rotting piles jutting from the ooze; and the pagoda was a burned-out shell, roofless and charred, with weeds rioting through the gaping holes where its windows had been.
Fire. Flames crackling, devouring everything in their path. Dust and smoke, acrid in the nostrils, choking back the supply of air. Darkness, shot through with orange and red, flickering lights from hell. The screams, the whimpers, the choking sobs, as people around him died. Richie, trapped and burning, his face twisting with agony... No, none of that was real. Nat pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes, willing the visions away. God knew where that last thought had come from; he hadn’t even met Richie back then and Sean, thank God, had been nowhere near the fire. But this—this was here and now, this was on his doorstep, or in the hospital’s back yard.
His first coherent thought, once he was capable of thinking again, was why didn’t anyone tell me about the fire? This wasn’t just some out-of-hand barbecue; this was a serious blaze. There would have been fire engines, or the ‛green goddesses’ the army used themselves. There would have been patients evacuated and staff running about and all the gossip afterwards. But there’d been none of that. Nobody had said a word. Nobody, except perhaps... was this the danger Elsie kept banging on about? If so, he might owe her an apology. But how had she known this would happen, all those weeks ago?
He took a cautious step towards the ruins, half expecting them to flicker and fade, revealing the structures he remembered in their place. They stayed stubbornly real, and the nearer he got, the less anything made sense. There were brambles rioting through the open gaps where the pagoda’s gothic windows had been, and a young sycamore straggled out through the roof. It took years for plants that big to take hold, for timbers to crumble and a roof to collapse in on itself. So, had it all been a dream, the pretty Chinese garden and the reflections on the water and the tinkling sound of the bells? Wishful thinking, a sanctuary when he’d needed one? His snort of laughter echoed in the still air, but inside he wasn’t laughing at all. This was proof his illness was worse than he—or any doctors—had thought. The wonders of China had never existed outside his head.
He sank down on the cracked stone base of the pagoda and put his head in his hands. An eternity of deep breathing later the dizziness faded and he was back in the garden in spring, with the sun shining through the fretwork of broken timbers at his back and a couple of coots pacing solemnly towards the pond. In their black-and-white livery they looked like ushers at a funeral, and he shivered and rubbed the goose bumps on his arms. For God’s sake get a grip on yourself. Things were scary enough without him adding to the effect.
The chill of damp stone percolated through his pants and he was already shivering; stay out here much longer and he’d freeze to death. He hauled himself to his feet, the toe of his boot catching against something hard in the mud. Bending, he realised it was one of the pagoda bells, half buried in the ground. He must have seen this before, perhaps when he’d come with Richie that first time, and his subconscious mind had stored it and reproduced it in full glorious technicolour without him ever realising. With one finger he levered it out of its muddy grave. It was grubby and etched with verdigris, and there was no way of telling whether it was the love-bell or not, but it still tinkled sweetly when he shook it. He clutched it tight in his hand for a moment before tucking it away in a pocket; he’d give it a wash and cadge some polish from Elsie, and hand it back to Richie the next time they met.
He took the long way back to the house, to see whether anything else looked familiar now he was seeing it with new eyes. A path at the back of the pavilion led round in an arc to the stand of pine trees. He’d been here before with Fred, looking for his stick, but not really recognised it. Now he could see it was the Scottish glen, stream blocked somewhere and the grassy banks choked in shrubs. If he followed this path further it should bring him to the flight of steps where he’d had his fall, and up them to the mysterious, elusive terrace where all his adventures had first begun.
He couldn’t find the steps at first, and passed them twice before he realised where they were. The sunken path had been raised and levelled and now only the top few treads showed above the ground, so mossy they blended with the soil. At the top, sure enough, was the terrace, or what was left of it. Bushes had run wild, box hedges bolted, and the central pool had cracked and dried, its fountain knocked askew. But a few straggling roses still thrust their blooms towards the light, and with the sun casting dappled shadows like this it was a pleasant place to sit. He could still come out here sometimes, and smoke a forbidden cigarette.
Thinking of smoking reminded him of Richie. Did his lover know about the fire? If so, was he upset? He’d been so fond of the pagoda, and the rest of the garden, and Nat had the impression he spent a lot of time out there. How would he break the news, if Richie didn’t already know? The answer hit him like a fist to the chest. There might be nothing to tell; or if not nothing, then nobody to tell it to. Because if he’d imagined the glorious garden of yesteryear, then maybe he’d dreamed up Richie Douglas too.
Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? If I’m honest the whole book was a bit of a roller-coaster for me; I really feel for the main character Nat who’s been on quite a journey. He’s in an army rehab unit recovering from injuries he receives in a Belfast bombing and has discovered the garden, and its elusive inhabitant Richie, and fallen in love with them both. I like to put my characters up trees and then throw rocks at them, so it’s at this point that everything he thinks he knows about Richie and the garden starts to come crashing down. That was hard to write about because I care about him, and having to describe him being hurt like that was almost as bad as having to hurt someone in real life. However, it’s not all gloom, because the book does have a ‛happy for now’ ending and it was lovely to be able to bring Nat through his problems to a happier place.
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt? I’ve just read the excerpt back and realised that unlike much of the rest of the book, this has survived more or less intact from the earlier version. It seemed to work really well, describing both Nat’s discovery and the impact it has on him, so I didn’t feel I needed to add anything or take anything away. So I’m afraid I don’t have any deletions to share with you!
Biography of Fiona Glass:
“I've always been passionate about history. I studied Ancient and Medieval History and Archaeology at Liverpool University, and some of my favourite authors include Dorothy Dunnett, Mary Renault, Mary Stewart, and Daphne du Maurier, all of whom write about history in one form or another. I particularly love anything that weaves different time periods together (such as du Maurier's The House on the Strand or Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden) or introduces an element of the supernatural (Stewart's Thornyhold). My own writing reflects this, often focussing on how the past sends echoes into the present.
Several of my books explore the world of ghosts and/or the slippage of time. In December Roses a soldier wounded in Northern Ireland recuperates in an army rehab unit with a beautiful garden where past and present inhabitants collide to startling effect. In Got Ghosts?, a clumsy medium awakens a malovelent spirit in a haunted English manor house with hilarious results. And in vampire romance Echoes of Blood, a lonely man finds himself drawn to a group of men who have a unique take on history.”
My short stories can pick up on the same themes, but also include a wider range of genres. Many of them have been published in anthologies, magazines and online, most recently with the Library of Rejected Beauty, Fox Spirit Books, and Paragraph Planet.
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