Books and gardens… what’s not to love?

physisIt’s an exciting day today. Well, an exciting week. Something to celebrate. The Birthday itself may be over but the 50 days have a long time to run.  So we move on to other celebratory activity.  Not only have I got the first lot of washing out on the line – optimistic perhaps, there is sun but also frost on the ground – and were my back not still ‘teetering’ I’d be out there digging (honest) but because it is I’m inside typing ( I know people take time off work for bad backs but mine has been of the kind that means I’m only comfortable when sitting at my computer – how lucky am I? I would be an employers dream no?)  because of this, and before it gets warm enough to go out and sit in the sun, I can tell you all about Catherine Czerkawska’s latest publication THE PHYSIC GARDEN. 

Well, actually I can’t tell you ALL about it because it’s scheduled as a review on both the Indie eBook Review site and its successor Reading Between the Lines on Thursday 21st.  (That in itself is a small hommage to Dennis Potter who cut the mother of all deals to have his final works KARAOKE and COLD LAZARUS shown across BBC and Channel 4 networks. It was a great idea but it meant that one couldn’t get them on DVD for YEARS while they argued over the rights)*

Which is an example of the folly and stupidity of the broadcasting and publishing industry. Of which The Physic Garden has had more than its fair share of experience.  More of that on Thursday.   I’m bursting to tell you about this book because it has gone right up there in my Books of the Year 2013 (or any year).  Generally I like Catherine’s writing.  But this one is a tour de force. On the surface it’s nothing like her last publication  Ice Dancing but actually, the characters are just as well drawn so in an important sense it is.  It shows the freedom now afforded to writers who can control their own publications.  It’s possibly more challenging than some of her earlier romance/historical fiction but it’s equally readable.  It has depths. Hidden and obvious. It is just magnificent. I can’t praise it highly enough.  As you’ll see if you read my review on Thursday.

But before that, you can find out about it for yourself.  It’s available now on Kindle as an ebook.  Believe me I shall be ‘encouraging’ (that means harrassing) Catherine to get it out in paperback as soon as possible.

Here is how Catherine describes it on Amazon.  It’s got to make you want to read it…

‘What am I afraid of? That a million thoughts, feelings, memories, will come rushing back to overwhelm me? I cannot begin to describe to you the terror – there is no other word for it – engendered by the thought of him, even now, and yet he was as kindly a man as you could wish to meet, one who inspired trust and friendship in equal measure, a man who inspired great love in all those who knew him. I used to think it an unmitigated blessing, used to envy him. But now, with the wisdom of my years, I realise that it can be a peculiar curse and a burden, to be a man whom people love.’ 

The Physic Garden is the story of a close friendship and a betrayal so shocking that it pervades the whole novel, like the memory of a nightmare. As a young man, William Lang worked as a gardener at the old college of Glasgow University but he has spent most of his subsequent life as a printer and bookseller in the growing city of Glasgow. When the novel begins, in the mid 1800s, he is in his seventies, widowed and living with his grown-up family. He has just received a parcel containing a book called the Scots Gard’ner, as well as a handwritten journal. With these volumes comes a letter saying that they were left to him by Thomas Brown, a gentleman who has recently died at his country house in Ayrshire. So many years later, the unexpected legacy of the books reminds William of his youth when he and Thomas became unlikely friends. The memories come flooding back. 

Some of this is based on truth. There was a gardener in Glasgow called William Lang. There was a nineteenth century lecturer in botany at the old college of Glasgow University whose name was Thomas Brown. It is clear from surviving correspondence that the two men, who were not very far apart in years, struck up a friendship. It is also clear that Thomas valued the work William did in collecting plant specimens for him. Later, when William found himself struggling to cope with a polluted garden and the necessities of providing for a widowed mother and younger siblings, Thomas Brown helped him as far as he could. The printed books mentioned are real. But the rest is entirely fictional.

Here’s a wee taster of my review:

‘This is not just a good novel. This, I contend, is a great novel. I had such a feeling of emotional engagement and empathy for William Lang that it actually broke my heart a bit when the denouement was revealed. Yes it’s true. I kept telling myself, it’s only a story but WHAT a story. It is a beautiful, elegant, at times elegaic expression and exploration of betrayal. If you ever want an example of how writers can achieve great things without intervention – this is it.’ Cally Phillips, Reading Between The Lines

And for more about it by Catherine, read her blog post on Authors Electric  It’ll give you more insight and whet your appetite. Then just click and download. And READ. It’s that simple.

If spring sun and the chance to get out in the garden and a great new book which you can take out with you on your ereader isn’t enough, then you have no soul.

And when you’ve finished reading The Physic Garden you might well give those Dennis Potter films a go. Because your brain will be nicely warmed up for seeing the possibilities of depth of narrative he utilises.  With all of these works my advice is LOOK CLOSELY, LOOK DEEP and be prepared to be shocked and moved in equal measure.  For me the best writers put their heart into their work and none of the stories I’ve mentioned today will disappoint you if that’s what you’re looking for.

I’ll be writing more about both Catherine and Dennis this week and I leave you with something to get you thinking (you have to watch right to the end) about not just broadcasting, but publishing and narrative in general.

* Note, it is now possible to get both of them as DVD and you can also watch online at Channel 40D or even on YouTube.


Now I’m rushing to finish my work so that I can get out in the garden with a good book AND TV series. Sometimes new technology is just WONDERFUL.  And having a dodgy back can be a silver lining as well. Digging. Huh, that’s for another day. Today I’m celebrating depth in narrative. Why not join me?


About callyphillips

2 Responses to Books and gardens… what’s not to love?

  1. Julia Jones says:

    Ok. It does sound wonderful ….

    • It is indeed. As much as the story I love the structure. So I enjoy it both as a reader and respect it as a writer. And today I discovered that I’m now old enough to ‘potter’ in the garden and not feel guilty that I’m not working harder! That’s a cause for celebration.

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