Who do you trust when you can't trust yourself?
Following his release from Prison, Nathan arrives at Cielo determined to change his life for the better.
After prison, and beating addiction, he has a vision, and he’s discovered a talent, a gift with plants.
Max Harrison wants him to create a special garden, The White Terrace, full of scent and white petals, Max wants to die there, his addiction to vodka and grief consuming everything.
Slowly Nathan begins to falls under his spell, Max is full of insight, kindness. His affinity to music,and playing Rachmaninov on the piano reduce Nathan to tears of joy.
Only underneath the surface, and the seductive surroundings of Cielo, Nathan discovers the other gardeners disappeared.
Never to be heard of again.
As he begins to uncover disturbing clues, Nathan must ask himself, just who is Max Harrison?
Can he trust him?
Can he love him?
It was on the third day I decided to explore. I’d seen most of the gardens, at least the area a lawnmower had once tamed and a spade had sunk its steel into. My flat was high up a ladder above some disused stables. A room with a small kitchen area, a cooker, sink, fridge and a few pots and pans and kettle and a tiny table and chair. One chair. The bed was below the window. The window was high up enough on the right side of the building to allow me to see the whole of the top floor of the main house. Outside the main room was a tiny bathroom. No window, but I was used to that. Just enough room to move. Stacey had given me towels, some shower gel. I’d be okay.
My first hour in the flat had been cleaning the window. Stacey and Tom had both carried over my supplies. Buckets, cloths, a broom, and enough food to keep me going for months. That evening as a sharp shower hit the other side of the glass, I polished that window, scraped off the dead flies and allowed myself that view.
There were six windows on the second floor of Max Harrison’s house. I’d not been inside much, only for meals and drinks and always using the old corridor from the back door to the kitchen. To the back of the house were three sets of old French windows, old-style patio doors. Each set had different coloured curtains. Shut, always shut. Yellow, blue, and white, in that order. I could imagine the other side of the glass. White walls, to match the curtains, and so on. They were large rooms, the distance between all three was covered with a whole network of branches, and off those, right at the tips, were the old seed heads. I’d arrived too late to see what must have been the only colour this year. How did something like this ancient wisteria survive? Its roots must bury deep. That afternoon before tea I’d sat there, thinking. Tom was okay with that. Told me it was the best way. Creativity, he said was borne out of thought. Of time to plan. I’d sat there, between the white and blue curtains and traced my fingers in the soil. There were tiny pockets where the ground was wet. Must be from the downpipes, there were four along the entire length of the house. For a start, we’d have to put water butts at least at one end.
Beyond the blue and yellow curtains were two tiny windows, much lower down, to the cellar. Tom had pointed it out that morning, saying he’d have to check that afternoon, it was where he stored his wine. The windows, like most of this house, were that dirty you couldn’t see through. The other side of them was an old grill and ramp where I wondered once upon a time, when this house might have been very grand with lots of people living in it, their supplies would have been delivered here, like a pub. The ramp was covered in the gravel from the drive, over the years it was walked around and ended up here. Moss grew over the metal of the grill.
I knew I could get in, go inside and look. I would have done, years ago. When it was the way I lived. My hands and mind buried in the soil, both dreaming of the flowers I was going to grow, the borders I could create. I lay down pressed into the wall, looking up into the wisteria. How it tangled and climbed. There was still a very faint smell of the flowers now spent, once glorious. That was a real gardening word. One I’d never used in my old life, now everything was glorious or ravishing, exciting and new.
Gardening had given me all of this. That half an hour before Stacey’s pasta, it was macaroni cheese tonight, this was my time, when I could look at an old brick wall, up into the maze of branches of this climber and I’d know, that next summer the whole wall would be the same. Every single wall would have climbers, not all flowering right then, some in spring, others summer, and autumn. I loved the winter berries and wanted to sit here on Christmas Day and watch the frost melt. I smiled as I climbed down the ramp to retrieve my hat.
There it was, floating in the water in the rainwater gulley, amongst the dead seed heads and gunk. Picking it up, it was obvious it was ruined. It smelt vile and I almost threw up. It was black, nothing I recognised. It couldn’t be something Tom might have put down for the wisteria, its roots were too far off to the right.
I carefully wiped my hand on the wild grass at the top of the slope and threw the hat in the large bin near the back door and went in for tea.
I started writing Cielo in August 2014, it goes like this, I used to live on the North Norfolk coast, and one day cycled past this old mansion, it’s still lived in, it had pony paddocks and turrets and was all old flint (the stone of Norfolk) but with lots of newer additions. The sort of house you saw in earlier Midsomer Murders episodes in fact.
I thought what could I do with that house, who would live there? So, Cielo was born. I knew I wanted to do a story about someone with addictions (it’s where I worked in the past and the whole homeless issue is so misunderstood). What if? What if an ex addict goes there for a new start to work in the gardens. Who would own a house like that, half decaying, yet round the next corner - pure luxury.
Nathan was a dream to write, he’s half me, half every hopeless, yet hopeful person I’ve ever met. I knew I had to give him a focus; and gardening seemed perfect. I made him choose gardening as something fresh and new and full of new growth. The roses thing is real, I have Alberic Barbier in my small terrace garden deep in the city of Norwich.
Max is someone I used to know, how he talks, how he is, the two together took a bit of time, I didn’t want Max to overwhelm Nathan, and first person made that easier for me, rather than both narrating, which they did in the very first draft. Someone I was very close to once was that DJ, but it was making that piano come alive which made the book flow for me. I am not musical, but somehow that while piano and the white garden made everything flow from there.
The first draft grew through taking part in my first writing course with Dr Stephen Carver, at the Unthank School of Writing. From there Stephen (a reader with TLC) did two manuscript assessments with me and I sent it out on submission, and didn’t get anywhere. I then met Hayley Webster while trying to re-draft Cielo during NaNoWriMo, we met in a café between Cromer and Norwich during a write-in, and she’s been my mentor and saviour ever since.
Hayley read what was by now my fourth draft and loved it, but suggested subtle changes. I turned that book around in about a month and sent it back and she said it was wonderful, had made her cry and she loved all the food and the flowers and somewhere I knew it was almost right. I sent it out again and ten agents later, nothing.
It sat on my computer until a few weeks ago, when Hayley suggested I sent it to SpellBound Books. So that’s what I did.
Since Cielo I’ve written another novel, The Hunt for Delphi, which is currently having yet another edit! I am now outlining my third novel.
When I am not writing, I am a busy medical secretary at the local hospital working with consultants who look after patients with liver conditions. I have two grown up children, and two grandchildren. My loves in life (since the age of 11 when I read Jane Eyre all the way through), are reading, making up stories about other people, nature, gardening and the joy and pain following my local football team (current state extreme pain).
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