Her eBook series Ivy Lane is the story of Tilly Parker as she makes a new start in a new town with peace and solitude as her goal. But when she meets the vibrant and friendly community at Ivy Lane allotments after buying her own plot, peace and solitude may be the last thing she finds in her new life. We asked Cathy where the idea for Ivy Lane came from and how she used her own experience of allotments to bring her story to life.
Ivy Lane is the story of twenty-eight-year-old Tilly Parker and how taking on an allotment plot brings her back to life. I’m not particularly green-fingered myself, but the idea of an allotment really does appeal. Imagine calling in on the way home from work to pick some fresh peas and strawberries for dinner – delicious! Of course, growing your own fruit and vegetables is a lot of hard work, but from what I learned from the people I talked to when researching this book, a bit of hard graft is precisely what makes harvesting your own produce so rewarding. According to something I watched on television recently, allotments were created during the early nineteenth century as a way of keeping the working class healthy. The exercise was good for their bodies – all that digging does wonders for your biceps! – and by growing vegetables for themselves, they were eating more healthily – and while they were doing all this they were staying out of the pubs! I’m not sure if my mother took on an allotment fifteen years ago to keep herself out of the King’s Arms, but her escapades and endeavours on her plot have been on the fringes of my own life for years.
I know her allotment site very well. It is literally next door to the family home in Birmingham and whilst Ivy Lane’s allotments are completely fictional, some of the details of her site – such as the pavilion and the shop – have been incorporated into the story.
When Transworld approached me to write a novel that would fall naturally into parts, a year on an allotment immediately sprang to mind. As the seasons change, an allotment comes to life: plants blossom, produce fruit and finally die back, ready for new growth the following spring. The perfect backdrop, then, for my main character Tilly Parker to play out an eventful year in her own life. It’s not just the plant life that is so dynamic on an allotment; it’s the people who inhabit this world who create such rich pickings for a writer. An allotment is a place where young families mix with people of retirement age, solicitors rub shoulders with market stall-holders and allotment veterans come to the rescue of complete beginners.
Whenever I visit my mum’s allotment, what strikes me most is the enormous sense of community spirit: people spend time together, solving each other’s dilemmas and, of course, doling out all those surplus courgettes in the summer! For many of the plot-holders, the allotment is a major part of their lives; and, while you can be as self-contained or as sociable as you like, most people are very sociable. As with all things, though, allotments have a pecking order. In Ivy Lane there’s a hierarchy based not on profession or social standing but on expertise and experience, where someone’s success with Brussels sprouts is of far more interest to those around them than the car they drive. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I hope with Ivy Lane that I’ve created an inviting world that readers will want to get involved in and maybe even grow something themselves this year. In fact, I might even be tempted myself. Now where did I put my wellies . . . ?
Check out the Ivy Lane eBooks here to find out more.