Monday, 16 May 2016

A Walk on the Not So Wild Side: Bodnant Garden

When we first moved to Wales we lived just around the corner from the beautiful Bodnant Garden, and would visit practically every weekend. I loved it because of the extensive woodland walks, the stunning view of Snowdonia, and the beautiful rhododendrons, which reminded me of Exbury Gardens in the New Forest (Hampshire) near to where I grew up - and the inspiration for the area when my books are set. So last weekend, when the sun was out, we decided to go back and see if anything had changed.


The house at Bodnant
Bodnant Garden was created when the estate was bought in 1874 by Henry Davis Pochin. At that time it consisted of Victorian shrubberies and a sloping lawn, and the house, built in 1792, was typically Georgian. Henry enlarged and altered the house, and created what was to become the famous laburnum arch.


The laburnum wasn't out,
so this photo is from a previous visit!

But it was his grandson, Henry McLaren (the second Lord Aberconway), who would go on to develop the garden over the next fifty years, including designing the series of Italian style terraces overlooking the mountains.

Below is a photo of the Lily Terrace, named for the water lilies which bloom from June to September. It was designed around two existing cedar trees, which had been planted in 1875.



The Lily Terrace and Snowdonia
(taken from the Croquet Terrace above)

Below the Lily Terrace is the Canal Terrace, with an open air stage at one end and The Pin Mill at the other.


A glimpse of the 'stage' from the Lily Terrace above

The Pin Mill and the 'canal'

The Pin Mill was originally built as a garden house in about 1730 at Woodchester in Gloucestershire. Later it was used as a factory for making pins and then as a tannery. By 1938 it was in a very dilapidated state. Lord Aberconwy bought it and had it transferred to Bodnant.

The Pin Mill

The interior

From the Canal Terrace we took the path descending through the Rockery to the River Hiraethlyn, which is bordered on each side by the Dell. The conifers here are massive (over 100 feet) and were planted in 1876.


The Old Mill 

Since our previous visit, the garden has now been extended beyond the waterfall and Mill Pond to include Far End and the Skater's Pond, with this cute little island in the middle. (That's going in a book!)

Skater's Pond

Tadpoles!

Finally, on the way back up the hill towards the house, we passed 'The Poem', overlooking the Dell and built by Henry Pochin as the family mausoleum.


The Poem


Sources & Links:

Bodnant Garden (National Trust)
Bodnant Estate Website


Related Posts:

A Walk on the Wild Side & the Lonely Knight
Walking the Walls of Conwy


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Tuesday, 3 May 2016

I Need a Hero

This week I'm talking about the kind of hero I love to write.  

When I first began writing, my heroes were always tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed and had a good sense of humour - mainly because I was married to a man who is tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed and has a good sense of humour - and I still am! But I soon realised it's not such a great idea to try and shoehorn one's husband into every story - he won't always fit. Besides, I would hate to think any of my heroes could be taken out of the environment of their own book and carelessly plonked into another with only a change of name and hair colour. I've worked hard to ensure they all have their own very different flaws, quirks and problems, which is why I love them - and why the basic idea for my stories has to come before I create them (see My Writing Process).

Not me, or my husband, or my house
(which is lucky, as they seem to have a serious case of woodworm)
For example, in my current work-in-progress I wanted to give both hero and heroine a whole heap of trouble relating to their respective (and very eccentric) families. The hero's way of dealing with this is to studiously ignore the fact he even has a problem, whereas the heroine is planning on being a little more proactive - maybe too proactive. And, because I'm evil, obviously all their best efforts to avoid a crisis are about to go horribly wrong. It sounds simple, doesn't it? Characters creating themselves and the story writes itself? The reality is not quite as easy as that.

So what kind of heroes do I like writing best?

I'm very fond of the stranger-comes-to-town-and-is-he-all-he-seems hero (pretty much like any western you've ever watched). Why? Well, think about when you meet someone for the first time, and they tell you their name, and maybe a bit about their job or their family. What if it's all a pack of lies? Or, worse, they're pretending to be someone else entirely?


I also find anti-heroes fun to write, but not necessarily more popular with readers. If obnoxious, he has to have some redeeming qualities or he'll come across as a complete arse - or, in romance terms, an 'alpha-hole'. In Why Do Fools Fall in Love I had two possible heroes (going on the principle of why have one when you can have two): the wise-cracking Luke and the tortured-by-his-horrible-childhood Ross. (Spoiler alert). Guess which one my readers liked best? Luke. And why was that? Because Ross had one (and, as it turned out, almost fatal) flaw: he treated women horribly, including the heroine. And by the time he'd realised his mistake it was too late. So he'll have to put in a lot of work if he wants to find his HEA.

If I have a hero-with-a-tragic-past, like Greg in Breathless, he's got to have a very good reason for the whole brooding mysteriously thing, unless he wants the heroine to mistake his hidden depths for basic sulking. In Greg's case he felt responsible for the death of his sister. Bryn in Nemesis has a similar background but, as his personality is more proactive, he feels he has far more important things to do than stakeout a graveyard and look moody - like solve his cousin's murder.


As most of my books do have a murder to solve, I've had heroes who've been police detectives or investigative journalists. It's easier that way; the police are very picky about who they let walk all over their crime scenes. I also like using characters who are celebrities: Luke in Why Do Fools Fall in Love, Zac in Breathless and the heroes of my Proposal series, because they come with their own (usually self-inflicted) set of problems.

I don't describe a hero's physical appearance much beyond hair and eye colour. This is deliberate. I know what the character looks like inside my head, but I want the reader to do some of the work too. Too much detail from me will read like a 'most wanted' poster. And, by basing a character on a real person - a hot actor, for example - I'd be assuming that because I find a certain type of man attractive, my reader would too. Surely it's better to let them cast their own hero? The other danger to casting a famous actor as the hero of a novel is that (assuming I've never met him in real life) I'd be reusing the character he is most famous for playing rather than the man himself - a bit like fan fiction. I'd rather be original. And I do my best to ensure my heroes are too.


Perfectly Imperfect (Why rockstars make the best romantic heroes)


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