The Forgotten Garden
A lost child
On the eve of the First World War, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her – but the Authoress has disappeared without a trace.
A terrible secret
On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell O’Connor learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.
A mysterious inheritance
On Nell’s death, her grand-daughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold – secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.
Sea voyage and a narrow cobbled lane
The Forgotten Garden was born out of two images that wouldn’t leave me alone.
My husband’s family migrated from Sweden to Australia in the early years of the twentieth century and my mother-in-law, who’s a keen family historian, often told us stories of their sea journey.
There were seven children in the family and they were left to their own devices for the most part because their mother was busy below deck with her infant son.
As the ship crossed the equator one of the four-year-old twins died from sunstroke.
I couldn’t get this story out of my mind-the beautiful Swedish children on a sunny deck, long white dresses and long blonde hair-and in my imagination the focus narrowed so that I saw only the little girl twirling along the deck. Somehow the deck became a wharf, and the little girl obtained a small white suitcase, which she was sitting on, all alone as night began to fall.
Who was she?
Why was she alone?
And what would happen to her if no one came looking?
The second image that presented itself when I was in the dreaming stage of The Forgotten Garden, was of a woman hurrying along a narrow cobbled lane. I knew it was London in the early twentieth century. I could see only the hem of her long skirt, but I could hear it rustling and her heels clipping, as she hurried along the road.
Who was she?
Where was she going?
Why was she in such a hurry?
I always knew that when I figured out the answers to these questions I’d be able to write the stories to which the two images belonged.
It was a great surprise though, when I finally worked out who they were and what they were doing, to also realize that they belonged together in the same book.
Deeply personal inspiration
When my Nana turned twenty-one, her beloved father told her that she wasn’t his biological child.
I don’t know whether he could have imagined the impact this news would have, and I certainly never spoke directly with my Nana about it, but it was a life-changing event for her-discovering that she wasn’t who she had thought she was.
Nana never told anyone else, keeping the truth about her parentage secret from her friends and sisters until she was a very old lady and decided, finally, to tell her three daughters.
In The Forgotten Garden, Nell experiences a similar event. In Nell’s case, however, discovering that she was a foundling is completely identity shattering.
She withdraws from her family and friends, breaks off her engagement, and spends the rest of her life on a quest to discover her true identity.
Finding the perfect location
It took me a while to find an English location for The Forgotten Garden: I knew it had to be coastal and I wanted a history of smuggling because it fed into the overarching fairytale feel I was hoping to create.
I auditioned a number of stretches of English coastline before coming, by chance, across a mention of a place called The Lost Gardens of Heligan. It turned out that Heligan was a grand country estate in Cornwall, owned for many centuries by an aristocratic family called the Tremaynes.
Along with the house and farms, Heligan was also home to the most glorious formal gardens. Generations of green thumbs had scoured the globe bringing back samples of the world’s varied vegetation, and a team of thirteen gardeners were in charge of maintaining the Antipodean garden, the Italian garden, and the African garden, to name but a few.
In 1914, however, when World War I broke out, the entire garden staff enlisted and none returned.
The Tremayne family moved away, the garden grew over, and time and people forgot what had once been.
It wasn’t until late in the twentieth century that a garden archaeologist, who had grown up nearby, returned home and rediscovered the entrance to Heligan.
With a BBC film crew recording the project, the garden was restored and is now open to the public. The idea of a once-glorious, much loved garden that time had forgotten was too irresistible for me to leave alone. My story had not only found its Cornish location, it had also acquired a forgotten garden (and a new title!).
Along with having the pleasure of bringing Cornwall to life, I used my home location for the first time in the forgotten garden. Literally my home location.
Nell’s little timber worker’s cottage in the hills of Paddington is the house I lived in with my family while I was writing the book, and the Antique Centre, where Nell and Cassandra have their stall, is a real place. It was such a pleasure weaving a location I’m so familiar with, and for which I bear such great fondness, into my story.
I love reading groups. Books, friends, sometimes even cake and coffee (or wine, so I’m told. . . ).
Writing is a largely solitary pursuit, but storytelling is not. For me, it’s a joy each time a single reader picks up one of my books and brings its world and characters back to life; the idea that they might then get together with friends and talk the characters and storyline over is a complete delight.
So, here are some discussion points to get you and your group started . . .
‘. . . a dark, suspenseful feast for history-lovers.’— Sunday Telegraph
‘. . . immediately captivating and atmospheric . . .’— Bookseller & Publisher
‘. . . a sense of mystery and adventure that generations of childhood Enid Blyton readers will identify with.’— The Courier Mail
‘. . . a delicious book to get lost in.’— Sunday Telegraph
‘A foundling, a book of dark fairytales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied—are all elements pulled together to build a tale that is compulsively readable.’— Good Reading
‘. . . a magical book.’— Newcastle Herald
‘A tale of gentle mystery and quiet adventure . . . It is the stuff of fairytales mixed with the reality of the present day.’— SA Life
‘. . . a captivating tale of century-old secrets, family and memory . . . Beautifully written and plotted.’— Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin
‘Wonderfully written, this is one of the best reads this year.’— Woman’s Day
‘. . . [an] addictive blend of mystery, romance and suspense.’— Illawarra Mercury
‘A compelling, richly layered mystery . . .’—Australian Women’s Weekly
‘. . . once in a while [a] book comes along that you can’t put down, you even put off going to work so you can finish it. You also know that at least once in your life, you will pick it up to reread. This is such a book . . .’—Armidale Express
‘The story is full of twists and turns that kept hold of me all the way through—and kept me guessing until the final chapters.’—Evening Gazette (UK)
‘Morton gracefully weaves three narratives . . . The resolution to the mystery tantalizes throughout . . . a long, lush, perfectly escapist read.’ — New York Daily News