Why Botany?

 

Earlier in January we celebrated the release of debut author Sharon Ibbotson’s thrilling regency novel, The Marked Lord. Today on the blog Sharon tells us a little more about the hero of the book, Fitz, and his slightly unusual talent! 

 

With The Marked Lord being released this month, I’ve had many people ask me questions about the book and my writing process. From ‘What was your inspiration?’ to ‘What do you like to have for dinner?’ (by the way, I think ‘wine’ would be an appropriate answer for both!) I’ve been truly surprised by the breadth of interest in the story. But one point has come up, again and again:

‘Your hero is a botanist? Hmm. That’s different.’

The truth is, I conceived of the hero long before the plot of the book. As an Australian raised on stories of the great botanist Sir Joseph Banks (I went to Banks Public School, lived on Banks Drive, and saw the Banksia everywhere, the great floral emblem of New South Wales) I learned very quickly to love gardening and botany.

Joseph Banks (who appears, albeit in letter form, in The Marked Lord) was the greatest botanist of his time; the man who sent hand-drawn images of Australian flora and fauna back to Mother England during his travels with Captain Cook. Australian flora and fauna are incredibly unique and very special, and at first, the British were disinclined to believe that what Banks told them was true (spoiler- it was very true!)

So, I knew from the start that my hero would be a botanist, and that, at one point in his past, he would’ve been under the tutelage of Banks. I suppose, in one way, it was my way of bringing a bit of Australia into a Regency romance (I have an idea for another regency with an Australian heroine, born in the prison colony and brought back to the UK, but that’s a story for another day…) as well as my love of gardening.

I’m incredibly lucky where I live. I’m in suburban London, but standing in our garden, you wouldn’t know it. For one thing, a river cuts through the back of our land. We have a pond and cascade, full of newts and occasionally visited by ducks and even herons. I have a kitchen garden, full of herbs and flowers to attract bees, and a massive greenhouse (not as big as Fitz’s, sadly) that my very clever husband built me for my thirtieth birthday. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that we are under one of the Heathrow landing paths, and that occasionally our peace is broken by the roar of a 747 engine (although I also love planes, so that doesn’t really bother me) you wouldn’t know you were in London at all. My husband and I are keen gardeners (although I don’t get as much time in the garden now as I would like, with two young children running around) and we’ve dedicated years to planning and planting.

So, when I wrote Fitz, his love for botany was very much my love for botany, and I probably put more of myself into his character than I ever did into Sophy, the heroine. Although Sophy, having been raised so closely to Fitz, and respecting and admiring him as she did (I’m very much a believer that respect and admiration for one’s character comes before love – I know, I know, I’ve read too much Austen) also turned out to have a passion for gardening herself.

In a way, I suppose I also wanted to make a point about beauty, and about it very much being in the eye of the beholder. Fitz, horribly scarred on the outside, is beautiful within. And Sophy, beautiful on the outside, carries her emotional scars tightly on the inside. Many plants are like this too. A rose, after all, is surrounded by thorns. Blackcurrant sage, if left untended, can turn into the spindliest of wooden shrubs. And rhubarb, which I always refer to as the ‘femme fatale’ of the plant world, is tart and sweet on the tongue but nestled amongst highly poisonous leaves. Sometimes, like with Fitz, you must look beyond appearances. And like Sophy, sometimes beauty hides an inner pain.

When I sit down to write a book, I tend to ‘head canon’ the hero before the heroine. I do this because I like to think about what makes him attractive to me, and thus, what will make him attractive to my heroine. I’ve never been one for looks; in all the times I’ve ever been in love, it’s been the personality that attracted me before the looks ever did. So, with Fitz, when I listed his features, I simply wrote ‘scarred’ under the box I reserve for appearance descriptions, before going to ‘personality’ and writing about three A4 pages. As such, in The Marked Lord I don’t shy away from describing Fitz as physically unappealing. He is not your typical ‘scarred regency hero’ type, with a delicate scar running down one side of his face, marring but not obscuring his traditionally handsome good looks. No, Fitz is more like the Phantom of the Opera – completely scarred and disfigured, to the point where he describes himself as a sideshow attraction. Is this a risk? Perhaps. I want my readers to fall in love with Fitz, I want them to understand his appeal to Sophy. But I’m truly hoping they’ll understand that Sophy falls in love with Fitz and his beautiful personality.

Fun fact. The Marked Lord is not the first time Sir Joseph Banks appears in a work of fiction. Far from it. He also appears in Mutiny on the Bounty, that old tale about the sailors who overthrew Bligh and left him for dead in the ocean. Rather miraculously, Bligh and the crew who remained loyal to him survived their ordeal, and Bligh went on to become Governor of… Australia. The same Australia Banks and Cook mapped 36 years earlier.

The Regency period is littered with references to Australian history, and I’m so glad to share a little of it with you all in The Marked Lord.

The Marked Lord is available as an eBook on all platforms and also as an audio book on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. Click on the cover image above for purchasing options. 

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