Yesterday we launched my fortieth novel, Secret Gardens, in the allotment at the back of our house, in Bagthorpe Gardens. These allotments, along with Nottingham’s Hungerhill Gardens (where the novel is set) are the oldest in the world. We’re lucky to have one. For health and safety reasons, not to mention the risk of having to cram everybody into the house if it rained, I couldn’t invite as many people as I would have liked, but please join us for a virtual book launch today. Raise a glass, eat a cake, and, most of all, please buy a copy of the book. (Yes, it’s a bit cheaper on Amazon, but they don’t have it in stock yet. That said, I’d really appreciate any Amazon reviews you have time to leave.)
As my speech in the short video says, I’ve been planning this book for the best part of nine years, but when I proposed it, back in 2003, publishers weren’t interested in allotments, and told me that there were already ‘enough’ YA novels about asylum seekers coming out. These days, people can’t get enough allotments and the issues around asylum seekers and the disgraceful way that this country treats them have only become more urgent. By the time I came to write ‘Secret Gardens’ in 2008 and 2009, I had developed the skills to tell the story in simple language, at only a quarter of the length of my normal YA novels. The novel is for everyone, but is accessible to ‘reluctant’ readers and those with English as a Second Language ie the people that the story is about. I developed these skills over nine previous short novels, most of them with Barrington Stoke, to whose founder, Patience Thomson, the novel is dedicated.
Aazim is fifteen. His family is about to be deported. When Immigration come for them, he hides in the allotment that the city council has given to his family. Soon he meets twelve year old Nadimah, who has been trafficked from the Ivory Coast to work as a servant. Soon, the pair have to go on the run and they have to find work. Their new country is full of secret gardens, from the cosy countryside to farm fields and desolate beaches. To help you picture these places, there are some brilliant line drawings from one of my oldest friends, cartoonist Brick, author of the superb graphic novel memoir, Depresso.
Thanks to everyone who came yesterday. You should be able to glimpse yourself above. Many thanks to film maker Graham Lester George for making the video, which is under a creative commons license, so please feel free to share it anywhere. And if you’d like to donate to the Nottingham Refugee Forum Destitution Fund mentioned in the video, go here.