Highlighting Historical Romance with Jude Knight’s thoughts on inspiration in a garden
Creative inspiration is an amazing thing. Artists — storytellers in particular — are often asked where their ideas come from. The answer ‘everywhere’, though true, is unhelpful. What questioners really want to know is ‘why did this idea strike you at this time’.
The Greeks credited the muses — nine goddesses who inspired the arts. The Jews spoke of Holy Wisdom. Caroline calls inspiration the girls upstairs. I tend to blame an infestation of plot elves.
Stories and the elements that enrich the weave of a story are all around us all the time. Most people notice one or two of the hundreds of possible ideas that pass them every day. An author might pick up a dozen. Knowing what to do with them matters more.
A couple of years ago, Caroline and her beloved visited New Zealand. On the day they arrived, we had lunch at Hamilton Gardens, which has more than a dozen themed gardens: Japanese, English cottage, Chinese, Maori vegetable, formal Italian.
We were both writing novellas for the coming Belle’s Christmas collection, Follow Your Star Home, and in the Mughal garden, I found a unifying idea that later became the inspiration for the title of the book and the name of the kingdom my hero and heroine rules, and one of the locations for the story. My photos of that garden also appear on the cover.
The book is now published as a prequel to my next series, and is called Paradise Regained.
Paradise is a garden
The garden we found in Hamilton was a chahar bagh. The term means ‘four gardens’. It’s a quadrilateral layout, with the quarters divided by walkways or flowing water into four smaller parts and a pavilion at one end raised on a terrace. One of the world’s most famous tombs, the Taj Mahal, was originally a chahar bagh, though only two of the gardens remain.
Gardens divided by watercourses first appeared in Mesopotamia, and were later adopted by the followers of Islam. It may have been the Islamic influence that fixed the shape to four, referencing the four gardens of Paradise that are mentioned in the Qur’an. Genesis, too, mentions the central spring that feed four rivers, each flowing into the world beyond. The concept travelled with Islam, so charar bagh gardens are found from India to Morocco.
“In Chahār-Bāghs, terraces symbolize the cosmic mountains, the creation of the edifice or throne at the highest level represents the position of God. A great pool is placed in front of the edifice representing the cosmic ocean as the source of all waters which can irrigate the whole garden. The presence of trees, flowers and animals around the edifice complement the figure of the universe” (Farahani, Motamed & Jamei, 2016 — from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321014499_A_discourse_on_the_Persian_Chahar-Bagh_as_an_Islamic_garden).
The wall is a crucial design feature in making this a Paradise Garden. Indeed, the words para daisa mean walled garden — pairi = around, daeza = wall or brick.
As a gardener myself, I appreciate the protection a wall can offer a garden, and I also think of Francis Bacon’s quote as I garden.
God Almighty first planted a garden. And indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures.
This video shows the Paradise Gardens section of Hamilton Gardens. The chahar bagh is on from 3:12 to 3:46, but the rest are lovely, too.
About the Book: Paradise Regained
In Paradise Regained, you’ll find the heroine, Mahjad, relaxing in the chahar bagh her husband built for her as a wedding present. Mahzad and James have called their kingdom, built high in the Kopet Dag mountains between Iran and Turkmenistan Para Daisa Vada — Paradise Valley. And the story is about temptation — particularly for James.
In discovering the mysteries of the East, James has built a new life. Will unveiling the secrets in his wife’s heart destroy it?
James Winderfield yearns to end a long journey in the arms of his loving family. But his father’s agents offer the exiled prodigal forgiveness and a place in Society — if he abandons his foreign-born wife and children to return to England.
With her husband away, Mahzad faces revolt, invasion and betrayal in the mountain kingdom they built together. A queen without her king, she will not allow their dream and their family to be destroyed.
But the greatest threats to their marriage and their lives together is the widening distance between them. To win Paradise, they must face the truths in their hearts.
The courtyard had been designed to catch and hold the fickle warmth of the mountain sun. Even in early winter, Mahzad and her ladies chose to settle in the pavilion, out of the direct heat, though the children and their nursemaids played on the paving by the cross-shaped pool at the centre of the garden.
James had ordered it built: a paradise garden on the Persian chahar bāgh model, centred on water and divided into four quadrants, each richly planted in vivid colours. It had been her wedding present, and somehow, their tribe had managed to keep it a secret from their queen, though the qaḷʿa, the citadel, buzzed with intrigue until James had brought her here, blindfolded.
It had been full summer, and the garden had been glorious but not as beautiful to her eyes as the face of her husband, eyes alight with mischief, with love, and with a promise for later that night when the court was asleep. They had crept down when the qaḷʿa fell silent, giggling when the patrolling guards politely averted their eyes. Mahzad was confident their eldest son, Jamie, had been conceived that night.
She had been so in love, had been convinced that James had forgotten the English woman for whom he was exiled from his home and had fallen in love with her.
Eleven years and eight children later, her love was deeper and stronger than ever, but she no longer believed that James returned the feeling. He was fond of her, yes. He respected her as his wife and queen, katan to his kagan, but the passion of the soul? No. She reached for it with her own and met only the barrier of blank civility with which he armored himself from the world.
When he was home, he was distant if polite, and he had not been home in more than seven months. His trips away had become longer and longer, his letters home more and more formal. He was about the business of their kaganate, which prospered under their rule, but he had never before failed to be home for a birth of one of their children.
Mahzad dropped a kiss on baby Rosemary’s dark hair, handed the sleeping baby to the hovering nursemaid, and sent one of her ladies to summon her secretary. She had work to do. She was co-ruler of their people and did not have time to waste mourning the fickleness of men.
The messenger was only halfway down the long side of the garden when Patma came hurrying down the steps from the zenana, the women’s section of the palace. Even from the other end of the garden, Mahzad could see that her secretary was agitated about something. She had lost the calm she had adopted as chief of Mahzad’s scribes, her usual elegant glide abandoned for a walk that bordered on a run, her eyes wide with excitement. She was not surrounded by the bevy of undersecretaries who carried her desk and writing tools, prepared her ink, ran her messages, and made copies of lesser documents.
No. There they were, just stepping out of the long doors onto the zenana’s terrace. Patma must have hurried some distance to have so outstripped them.
The secretary did not pause when she passed Mahzad’s messenger, speaking over her shoulder as she skirted a small child pushing a toy pony and hurried up the steps to the pavilion. She stopped at the top of the steps to kick off her footwear before venturing on to the rugs that lay everywhere and then composed herself enough to offer a polite greeting, bowing as she said, “Peace be upon you, my queen.”
“Peace, most excellent of scholars,” Mahzad responded, inclining her head as she waited for the younger woman to burst with whatever news she carried.