Writing a sequel to The Secret Garden has been at the back of my mind for years. I was chatting with my editor about books we’d loved as children, and she asked me if I’d consider a sequel – at the time it wasn’t something I’d ever thought about, and I was doubtful. And too busy. But the idea lurked. I did want to make my own part of the story, but I was scared to start. What if it didn’t work, and I spoilt something I’d loved so much?
The Secret Garden was a book I read and re-read as a child, along with A Little Princess, also by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Both were so appealingly different and old. Misselthwaite, the great house on the moor, fascinated me. There’s something so intriguing about the passages full of closed rooms that Mary is left alone to explore. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s writing is wonderfully descriptive, and full of atmosphere. I was gripped by the wailing of the storm winds sweeping across the moor, not quite hiding the crying of a child.
Despite the amazing setting – and I haven’t even mentioned the garden itself – it’s the characters that still draw readers to this book today. I have to admit that I almost prefer Mary as she is throughout the earlier part of the book – Mistress Mary Quite Contrary. Who wouldn’t be miserable and cold and insufferable, in her situation? I was desperate for her to find the way into the garden, and I loved the robin for showing it to her. There had to be a robin in Return to the Secret Garden too – a many-times great grandchild of Mary’s flirting, proud little friend.
Writing my own story about Misselthwaite lurched from being shockingly easy – I suppose because I’d leapt so eagerly into the world as a reader – to deeply frustrating. I wandered happily through the kitchen gardens with Emmie, the child I’d created to explore Misselthwaite again. But then I spent hours (days) forensically reading the original and trying to pin down the geography of the house and gardens to get her back again. I’d never cared that much before, but I had to know how many corners to send her round, and what she was walking on, and which flowers she was lying next to. (There are mistakes in this, I’m absolutely sure. But I did try…)
I suspect that actually, those who love The Secret Garden might not mind if I’ve mixed up the geography, they’ll care far more about what I’ve done with the characters. There are parts of my story that I almost didn’t want to write, but in the end this reluctance made me more certain that the book was working. It’s very odd, feeling responsible for what happens to characters that are so loved!
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