Atmosphere and Memory

Dragon hillNicola here, pulling up a Wench classic blog from a few years ago as I’m travelling at the moment, far from my laptop!

Today I’m musing about the atmosphere of particular places. I’m taking us back a long way in English history, beyond the Regency, beyond those ubiquitous Tudors, to a time before the Norman Conquest when England was split into the Anglo Saxon seven kingdoms. The village where I live has a recorded history that goes back to this distant time – there are actual documents from the era relating to events that happened in this very place over a thousand years ago and I find that mind-blowing. As I walk along the footpaths and over the hills I frequently imagine how it might have looked in that time and try to see all the way back through the mists of history to think myself back there.  I can be pretty successful at this; when it’s quiet and I’m standing on the Ravens’ Fort and all I can hear are the birds singing and I feel the breeze on my face I can persuade myself, for a split second anyway, that I have travelled in time. Then an aeroplane flies over and I think perhaps not after all.

Certain places have a very strong sense of atmosphere. I’ve been to battlefields such as Flodden and Culloden where the whole landscape feels as though it is steeped in the bloodshed and suffering of the men who died there. I’ve visited historic houses that feel imbued with the personalities of the people who lived there, and I’ve wandered happily through gardens that feel peaceful or visited buildings that have a joyous atmosphere. How much of this is down to the emotional memory of the place and how much is down to my imagination, I cannot say. As writers and readers of historical fiction I think we all step into that other world. One of my books looks at “stone tape theory” which was an idea popular in the 19th century and later in the 1970s that places retain emotional memories in their very fabric. This is one theory said to account for ghostly sightings. It’s an intriguing idea around which to build a timeslip novel.

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Memory & Flowers

Anne here, taking a wander through the garden and considering the way so many flowers and fragrances evoke other times, other people. Many of the plants in my garden have come from cuttings or plant divisions or gifts from other people's gardens, and as well as bringing their own beauty and scent to my garden, they evoke memories of those people, some of whom are long gone. Daphne

My daphne is a little bit sick at the moment, and I'm very anxious about it. It grew from a cutting descended from a cutting taken from the daphne that grew in my grandmother's garden many years ago. My mum saved the plant and took cuttings and gave them to friends and family. I adore the scent of daphne, and now every time I smell that divine smell, I think of Nan and Mum. Let's hope I can cure my plant of whatever ails it.

My gardenia came from a cutting from the mother of one of my oldest school friends. She had a wonderful gardenia bush that flowered prolifically every year.


I must have mentioned at some stage how much I loved the scent of gardenias because she never forgot it. Her husband was a very important man, but each year when the gardenia came into flower, she'd make up a beautiful little packet of them, sealed in cellophane, and make him detour on his way to work to drop it off at my place — even when I was living in a shabby student share-house. My gardenia is from a cutting from her plant, and each year when it flowers, I think of Winnie.

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