The Jewel Garden by Marilyn Pemberton
It was a time when women were starting to rebel against Victorian conventions and to strive for their independence. This is a story of Hannah Russell’s physical, emotional and artistic journey from the back streets of the East End of London to the noisy souks and sandy wastes of Egypt; from the labyrinthine canals of Venice to the lonely corridors of Russell Hall in Kent. Hannah thinks she has found love with Mary De Morgan, a writer of fairy tales and one of William Morris’s circle of friends. But where there is devotion there can also be deceit and where there is hope there also dwells despair.
Q&A with Marilyn Pemberton
Where did the inspiration come for your current book?
Despite having done a tremendous amount of research when writing the biography of Mary De Morgan, a Victorian writer whom I became quite obsessed with, there were still gaps I was never able to fill with facts: why did she never marry, why did she go to live in Egypt, how on earth did she become the directress of a girls’ reformatory in Helouan, why did George Bernard Shaw despise her? So I decided to fill the gaps with my imagination, the result being “The Jewel Garden”.
Do you have a special ritual that you do when you finish writing a book?
Not that I am aware of. Probably sigh with relief and then start the next one.
What was your favourite read of 2018?
One of the writers I “met” on FaceBook is Karla Forbes. We communicated for a while about the difficulties of self-promotion and I read one of her books out of curiosity – and ended up reading all eight of her Nick Sullivan series one after the other. They are thrillers and I really enjoyed them. They are “Fallout”, “The Third Wave”, “Sniper”, “The Gift of Death”, “Counterfeit Killer”, “Snake Hunter”, “Fractured”, “Cronus”.
Could you, please share with us a photograph that tells a story?
I took this ‘photo when I was staying in Porlock. North Somerset. It is part of the grounds of Worthy Manor in Ashley Combe. At the time I was writing the biography of Mary De Morgan (“Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary de Morgan”) and I found that her brother William had stayed at the Manor and that Mary had holidayed in nearby Lynton and would have had to go up the infamous Porlock Hill. I chose the ‘photo as the cover for the book as it seemed appropriate in a multitude of ways. I also think it is a lovely ‘photo.
If you could pick three books that have influenced your life, what would they be and why?
George MacDonald’s “The Golden Key”. It is a fairy tale but not of the Disney kind. I studied it during my MA module on Children’s Literature and it inspired me to go onto do my PhD, my thesis being “Glimpses of Utopia and Dystopia in Victorian Fairylands.” It tells of two children, Tangle and Mossy, who go on a journey to the “country whence the shadows fall”. The story is about relationships, life and death. It is absolutely beautifully written, spiritual and incredibly deep. Every time I read it I understand something new. I always cry at the end when Mossy and Tangle end their journey by using the golden key to open a door into a rainbow and they climb the staircase out of the earth, accompanied by beautiful beings of all ages. It finishes, “They knew that they were going up to the country whence the shadows fall. And by this time they must have got there.”
Mary De Morgan’s collection of fairy tales, “On a Pincushion.” I “discovered” Mary De Morgan whilst researching Victorian fairy-tale writers for my PhD. I loved her stories, which critiqued Victorian society and I became quite obsessed with her and found her to be a fascinating person. After my PhD I wrote her biography and after that I wrote my debut novel, “The Jewel Garden”, which tells of a fictional relationship between fictional Hannah and Mary de Morgan. I am now onto my second novel and I have the beginnings of a third simmering in the back of my mind. So if it wasn’t for Mary De Morgan I might never have started writing fiction.
Any of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. I was a tom boy and George (Georgina) was my role model.
If your book had its own theme song, what would it be?
Schumann’s Nacht-Stücke and Romance in F are both referenced in the book and the former is played at Mary’s funeral so maybe one of those would be appropriate.
If your book was made into a movie who would you like to play the main characters?
The two main characters are women who are 20 and 30 years old at the start, and age to their 50s by the end. I am not a great film-goer but just trawling the internet for current British actresses and by looks alone, Helena Bonham Carter for Mary and Emily Watson or Emma Watson for Hannah.
Do you have any questions for your readers?
I am interested in knowing if readers understand that although “The Jewel Garden” includes a woman who really lived, the majority of the story is from my imagination. I do include events that happened but I also include events and relationships that certainly didn’t. I would hate to think that readers would go away believing that, for instance, Mary really did deceive her friend.
Lastly, if you could say something to your reader before they start your book what would it be?
Read the excerpts from Mary De Morgan’s fairy tales that start each chapter, then go and read the whole tale. Most of them are now on the Internet.
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