Wednesday, 19 February 2014

A novelist in our midst ... meet Val Boyle

Val, and the December edition of her novel
Garden volunteer Val Boyle has just published her first novel; she was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work and how Gibside and her sister property Cherryburn have played a role in its creation ...

Val, would you tell me a little bit about yourself? 

I’m a Lancastrian and my husband Kev’s a Yorkshireman:  I taught English and he was a railway civil engineer.  We’ve lived in a few different places but as soon as we came to the north-east in 1988, we put down roots.  I was Head of English at La Sagesse until I was 45; I decided I needed a change, so I did a masters in Library Management and spent 10 years as school librarian at Ryton Comprehensive.  I’ve always wanted to write but didn’t find the creative energy until I finally left work at 55.  I published Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree in December, and in January made a new edition with the photo of Cherryburn on the cover.

I know you (and Kev) as part of our wonderful volunteer team here at Gibside. Can you explain how your volunteering work came about? 

We knew and loved Gibside but it wasn’t until we looked on the Do-It website that we realized we could actually get involved here!  I do some volunteering at the Lit & Phil and the Mining Institute too, but I love being outside and getting muddy, so being part of the garden's Shrubbery Team is perfect for me!
January 2014 edition
Was there an initial impulse or event that made you decide to write Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree?

I knew I wanted to write but didn’t know where to start.  I’m interested in the therapeutic benefits of writing so I went to a taster day with Pen & Tonic.  One of the exercises we did woke up all kinds of memories of my childhood summers on a Lancashire farm, it was like a dam-burst: all sorts of ideas flowed from that.

How did Gibside and Cherryburn influence your novel?

Both places are so evocative, so full of echoes and so soothing to the soul.  There’s something about Gibside that powerfully affects my imagination in the same way as the lost Gardens of Heligan.  For such a place to have been neglected for so long, and to be part of the team bringing it back to life – it’s a privilege.  In Cherryburn, I found the farm where the story is set:  everything about the gardens, the sandstone buildings, the period and the interior was perfect – I could see my characters going about their business.  While I was writing it, I was often to be found in the farmyard communing with my muse!

I know your next project also has a Gibside connection … would you explain a little more about this?

Gibside's Orangery ... inspirational
Working around the Orangery and in the walled garden, especially when we uncovered the planting plates, I felt an imaginative connection with the eighteenth century gardeners and began to think about how Gibside’s fate had been so bound up in the fate of Mary Eleanor Bowes. It was only a short step to empathizing with her and imagining how it must have felt to witness her father’s work coming to its fruition only to have so much of it destroyed in her lifetime.  It’s not only her story, but also that of the estate workers – one in particular.  I’m using real people and events, but with added imagination.  It’s told by Mary Eleanor towards the end of her life, and it’s entirely focused on Gibside.

Many thanks Val, for taking the time to answer my questions, and I know we all wish you every success with your writing.

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If you'd like to read Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree for yourself, then it's available from Gibside's shop and also on Amazon as an e-book and a paperback.  

For more details and information, please visit the novel's website:

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