For our final book club selection before we break for the summer, we’re featuring the second book in Ellen Herrick’s magical Sparrow Sisters series, The Forbidden Garden. It’s the story of Sorrel Sparrow and her rare gift for nurturing plants and flowers. Sorrel travels from her New England home, to an English country estate, where she’s been asked to revive a Shakespeare garden imbued with family secrets. Gardeners, art lovers, and romantics will love the fairy tale Herrick spins. I had chance to interview the author and ask her some questions. She’s also happy to answer any of your questions in the comments field.
Q. You write such beautiful characters in The Sparrow Sisters. How did the idea of the sisters come about?
A. I wrote The Sparrow Sisters while I was living in London. It was an unusually cold winter and I began to long for summer in New England. I was homesick, really, and I wrote myself home, in a way. The Sisters came to me almost like a fairy tale, “Once there were four Sparrow Sisters…” I wanted to tell a story that seemed both real and magical and there is something about sisters and the number three that feels enchanted. Their names and their gifts grew out of that enchantment.
Q. When you started to write your first novel about the Sparrow sisters, did you know you were writing a multi-book series?
A. Not at all! I thought I might write more about the little town by the sea, Granite Point, which is a character in itself and filled with stories, but I didn’t intend to tell more stories about the girls! Except… Sorrel had a story that needed telling and an adventure that needed exploring!
Q. The women in your book are deeply intuitive and almost magical. Did you set up rules to govern their abilities as some fantasy writers do? Or did their abilities emerge as you wrote?
A. I didn’t have rules because I honestly didn’t know where I was going with the book until I got there! I don’t outline, silly I know, so each writing day I say out loud, “Once upon a time…” and see where it takes me. It seemed fitting that each of the sisters had a unique gift tied to their gardens and that their gifts would also tie them to each other and their town. In other words, I make things up!!!
Q. Your book is so stunning, visually, in terms of your descriptions of the gardens and art. Where do you draw your inspiration?
A. I am a keen gardener, self-taught and always learning. I am also an accomplished home cook with some training so writing about food and flowers is a natural to me. I am inspired by all my senses, including smell, so my gardens reflect that. I am most at home in a great, blowsy, overblown flower garden filled with scent and soft colors. As for art, perhaps spending nearly twenty years in London where I raised my three children and traveled hither and yon with them primed my eye and ear to the great painters and planters in the world. In fact, when I started writing The Forbidden Garden I was back in America and quite homesick for England in the summertime!!! Also, I always write with music. I build playlists over time for each book and the notes will always bring me back to a character or scene when I need it.
Q. You write about overcoming loss in both of your novels. In this book, your protagonist, Sorrel, has this terrific line: “I am the product of every kind of loss you can imagine, and I am stronger and smarter for it.” Is this your world view too?
A. I think it is part of my world view. I lost my mother when my first son was an infant. And, you’ll see this is a theme for me. I felt so very lonely for her. It was like being homesick and knowing you’ll never be able to go home again. I think much of my writing is about longing: longing for home, for people who are gone, for a season, for childhood. While there is no doubt I am stronger and smarter for having loss and sadness in my life, I am also softer in some ways.
I know that I made sure my children believed in magic from the start, and I taught them that anything is possible with imagination and hard work. Look at me! I published my first novel at 57!
Q. Have you started your next book and can you share what it’s about?
A. I have started book three and it is Nettie’s turn this time! Her gift is tied to food and cooking so expect lots of yummy meals around the Sparrow table and lots more insight into Nettie and Ben Avellar’s relationship. And… magic, of course!