Hearts and Bones

PhotobucketTherese here. Today’s returning guest is author Kate Lord Brown. Kate’s second novel, The Perfume Garden, was published in earlier this month by U.K. publisher Atlantic. Here’s the back-of-book description:

The Perfume Garden combines the gripping storytelling of Kate Morton with the evocative settings of Victoria Hislop to tell this sumptuous story of lost love and family secrets set between modern day Valencia and the Spanish Civil War. High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco’s forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled, the garden, laden with orange blossom, grown wild. Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed in her mother’s will, she has left her job as London’s leading perfumier to restore this dilapidated villa to its former glory. It is the perfect retreat: a wilderness redolent with strange and exotic scents, heavy with the colours and sounds of a foreign time. But for her grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed here during Spain’s devastating civil war, Emma’s new home evokes terrible memories. As the house begins to give up its secrets, Emma is drawn deeper into Freya’s story: one of crushed idealism, lost love, and families ripped apart by war. She soon realises it is one thing letting go of the past, but another when it won’t let go of you.

Kate has worked as an art consultant, curating collections for palaces and embassies in Europe and the Middle East, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She was a finalist in ITV’s the People’s Author competition in 2009, and has written for magazines including Condé Nast Traveller and Blueprint. Enjoy her post!

Hearts and Bones

Happy Father’s Day. I saw Nicholas Sparks talk recently at the Emirates Literary Festival – it was more like a rock concert than an author talk, the audience went completely wild. Have you ever seen grown women whooping and screaming at a literary festival? Nope, neither had I. One thing that stayed with me from his session was that his most successful books are based on his family’s history, and many of his characters are modelled on the people he knows and loves.

  • Do you think that is the secret of his success, that his books are rooted in reality, that they have a beating heart of truth?

All of us have our ‘bones’, the keys to truth and depth in our work. I was watching our new puppy yesterday – he’d managed to wedge his bone behind the frangipani tree in the garden, and he was hunkered down, determined to get at it. Goldberg famously talked about ‘writing down the bones’, and as writers we need to show just as much determination as that puppy to get at them.

  • What are your ‘bones’? What themes and stories recur in your writing?

Maybe for you, like Sparks, they are events and people from your own family. Mining your own past is a great way to kick-start a fictional story. Here’s another prompt you might want to consider:

  • What are your ghosts? What are you running from? What do you fear most?

Polish up that chip of ice all writers are supposed to have lodged in our hearts, and set your ghosts loose on your protagonist. Stand back, pen poised, and watch the action explode.

PhotobucketCertainly ‘The Perfume Garden’ is full of my own bones and ghosts. I asked myself – as a parent, what’s the worst thing that could happen? The story weaves together a contemporary and historical tale about one family and the devastating effects of the Spanish Civil War. What ties the two storylines together though is love – particularly parental love, and the things we will do to protect our children. The book is dedicated to my parents, and my parents-in-law. Sadly, this is my first father’s day without a Dad to call for a chat, or send a card to. He passed away suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, before I had a chance to give him a copy of the book that’s dedicated to him. Today I’ll be thinking of him, and celebrating the father of my children – I hope you have a great day with yours, and take the chance to let the Dads of the world know just how treasured they are.

Readers, you can learn more about Kate and her novel The Perfume Garden at her website or on her blog. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. And check out her book trailer, just below. Write on!


Photo courtesy Flickr’s MizEnScen



  1. Carmel says

    I’m so sorry to read of your sudden loss. Life does seem to send us good things though, like the publication of your novel, to help us through the tough times.

  2. Jill says

    I am also sorry to hear about your loss.

    Thank you for the tip about unleashing the ghosts of our pasts onto our protagonist. I usually try to keep myself out of the characters’ personalities, but the truth is, we can probably really do some good writing if we dig deeper into our closet. I will try this and see how it goes.

  3. says

    Hi Carmel – thank you. It does, life goes on and on, and we remember the good, and look to the future.

    Hi Jill – thank you. Great, give it a try and I hope it unleashes a lot of energy in your work. Whether you use the piece in published work or not, it’s also very cathartic.

  4. says

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks for this post. I agree with you on mining our pasts for great stories. The authority and compassion even in works of ficiton are a result of what we’ve learned from our own trials.

    God bless,

  5. says

    Cool video. And thank you so much for this post. I loved the questions you suggest we use when we’re trying to use our “bones”. Great idea.
    One of my greatest fears has always been losing one of my children so my first pubbed book was about a couple whose baby dies at birth. I think writing about characters who overcome real life obstacles brings readers to your writing.

    • says

      Hi Patti – thank you. It was a really fun thing to make the video (and a great exercise to hone your story down to the basics – just a few lines to tell the tale).

      Hi Donald – thank you, and I’m sorry for your loss too. I remember you covered these ideas brilliantly in ‘Writing The Breakout Novel’ – how emotional impact in a story comes from things that grab us by the heart in real life.

      Hi Kristan – thank you. Yes, authentic emotion is the powerhouse of our work, for sure.

  6. says

    I’ve only read a few of Nicholas Sparks’ books, but even from that small sample size, yes, it’s clear that his better work comes from the heart and bones of his family and his life. I’m glad he recognizes that, and I think it’s valuable for all of us as writers to remember.

    I’m so sorry about your loss. The book sounds wonderful, and it’s a great honor to your father, I’m sure.

  7. says

    So glad to read about this new book!
    Re: discussion
    I also found much inspiration in Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.