Page 39 - West Dorset Living Dec:Jan 2019
P. 39

Sally: How are you today?
Alan Titchmarsh I’m very well thank you. I’ve just seen my book for the first time actually, and I’m chuffed to bits with it. I’d buy it!
Now obviously, you've written lots and lots of gardening books. The last time we spoke you mentioned you had been down to France by train. You enjoyed that I believe?
Yes I did! We went all the way to Cannes. You see the countryside change. You see Normandy turn into Provence, and from
a gardener's point of view, it's wonderful seeing apple orchards turn into orange groves. It’s a lovely part of the world which in a way is why Rosalind ended up there, because she loved it, and that wonderful Cote d'azur.
Have you been there recently?
I go there every year for a long weekend, my agent has got a house down there. Sometimes I fly, sometimes I go by train.
So we were talking about
your gardening books, but
Mr McGregor was your first novel - Who may I ask was your inspiration for that?
Well me! (laughs). But I deny any affair with
a newsreader! But you see the thing is, nobody ever asks P.D James ‘How many people have you killed in real life?’. But in this instance I did write about what I know best.
So when did you discover you had a talent for storytelling? Well I tried it back in 1998 with Mr
McGregor. It was 1997 and the reason that The Scarlet Nightingale is dedicated to
Jilly Cooper is it was Jilly really. Jilly and Rosamunde Pilcher are two great authors who I admire. I didn’t want to be one of those "I want to write a novel as well" kinds of people. They always said: “There’s a novel in all of us, and generally speaking that’s the best place for it.” But both Jilly and Ros were encouraging me, saying
“do it!” they said “we read your gardening tips, you’re a good writer. And Jilly, bless her, took the first half a dozen chapters
of Mr McGregor and sent them back, all marked up with red ink, basically with constructive criticism, and it was just really encouraging.
So how many fictional books have you written now?
This is number eleven. And it’s my seventieth book. One for every year!
And your latest, The Scarlet Nightingale, where did you get the name from?
I wanted a name that resonated. Imagination is the answer really isn’t it, it’s simply that. The Nightingale has always had romantic connotations, but also there’s something ethereal about it. So that was a codename during the war.
So what was it about the war that particularly appealed to you on this occasion with this novel?
I’d yet to write a novel set during the second world war, but both mine and my wife’s parents were involved with it. We were a generation once removed from it,
but we got the stories. My wife’s mum was in London during the war, and went down into the cellar when the air raids were happening. I remember her saying “We laughed, but that’s because we had to.” And you know, you wouldn’t think about that. You’d just think about all these people crouching in their cellars, quaking with fear. Of course you are aware, but you are living with fear so you find a way with coping. And they did. It’s rather like surgeons,
who have this black humour. It’s a survival mechanism. It’s the same sort of scenario.
So is it always that your latest novel is your favourite, or do you have a particular soft soft for one?
Well you see it’s like saying "you have
ten children, which one of them is your favourite?" Well you hope that you’ve developed a bit with each novel but I hope they are all a good read! The pressure
 "the thing is, nobody ever asks P.D James ‘How many people have you killed in real life?’. But in this instance I did write about what I know best."
A horticultural hero and a fixture on our TV screens for the past four decades, Alan Titchmarsh has carved out a monumentous career - and one centred around humanity and kindness. Sally Thomson caught up with him on the eve of the publication of his new novel, The Scarlett Nightingale, to dicuss writing, gardening and all things in between...

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