The Memory Tree
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Note: THE MEMORY TREE was previously published in 2016 as THE TRYSTING TREE.
The Memory Tree...
Its hollow heart holds a century of secrets.
A man without a memory walks away from the battlefield, while a young woman grieves beneath the tree that will guard her secret for a hundred years.
Ann de Freitas doesn't remember what she witnessed when she was five years old. The truth lies buried in the beech wood, forgotten for forty years. Can love unlock Ann's heart and mind?
Connor Grenville is restoring the walled garden where his grandmother, Ivy used to play. Before her death, she tried to destroy the family archive. Who was Ivy trying to protect? And why?
When a storm fells the Trysting Tree, revealing a century-old love hidden in its hollow heart, Ann and Connor begin to sift through the past in search of answers. What they discover changes everything.
"The story doesn't start here. I need to go back. Back to a time when the beech tree still stood, when I didn't know the truth about my family and Connor didn't know the truth about his. Right back to a time when the twentieth century was young and the beech still kept its secrets..."
THE MEMORY TREE: The Untold Story
THE MEMORY TREE covers a century in the lives of three families, beginning in 1914. Whenever I finish a novel, I show it to a few people: my agent, husband and daughter, my 91-year old Mum (who has a sharp eye for typos) and several friends. Two of these early readers pointed out that there was a lot missing from the book. They meant scenes that were referred to, but not described. This was because much of the novel is told in the form of diaries and letters.
Re-reading, I was staggered to see how much important material I hadn't written. It almost looked as if I hadn't written any of the big scenes. Instead I'd written what comes before and what comes after. In some cases I hadn't done more than refer to major events. I panicked. Would this be unsatisfactory for the reader? Was my approach superficial?
I was all set to think about inserting new scenes when I started to wonder why so much was missing. I realised I'd written a book where almost all the big events happen "offstage". I'd set out to write a book about a family history, presented partly as oral history, but also as an incomplete archive that has been badly damaged by fire, a collection of letters, diaries and photographs that raise more questions than they answer, the biggest one being, why did someone try to destroy the archive?
After much discussion with my early readers, I decided not to re-write. There was so much missing, so much the characters didn't or couldn't know - but that, it seemed to me, was the point: the story was ultimately incomplete. The reader is left in no doubt about what happened, but the 21stC characters have to deduce a good deal from the evidence that survived the fire, filling in the blanks with imaginative guesswork.
Will this make for a satisfying read? I hope so. A family history is, after all, always incomplete. It's random, often sketchy, biased and ultimately unsatisfactory, because we want a beginning, middle and end. But it's the gaps that intrigue us. The mysteries. The untold story.
All I know about my grandfather's involvement in WWI is that when he came home, my grandmother burned all his clothes and he refused ever to speak about his experience. That's the sum total of my knowledge - of anyone's. Even his silence is hearsay. He died when I was two.
Years later, when I was a teenager, Wilfred Owen & the War Poets loomed large in my life. Britten's War Requiem (a setting of Owen's poems) became a favourite piece of music. I've now written two novels featuring WWI soldier heroes. (The other was THE GLASS GUARDIAN.) I wonder now, did my grandfather's refusal to speak have a more profound effect on me than anything he might have said?
Looking back over my previous novels, I can see my obsession is writing about what is not seen, not said and not known. I've written about negative space and the characters' search for something that might somehow fill it. They are looking for completion. They're people in search of more than just Mr/Ms Right. They want a surrogate family (Gwen in HOUSE OF SILENCE) or sanity (Rose in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and Magnus in UNTYING THE KNOT) or religious faith (Hugh in A LIFETIME BURNING) or just a fuller life experience (blind Marianne in STAR GAZING).
When I was writing THE MEMORY TREE, I knew it wouldn't be a complete narrative, it would have to be an oblique book. I didn't write about the big events, I described the fallout. For example, there isn't a word about the Battle of the Somme. I wrote about what happened after a soldier walked away from the battlefield, leaving his memory behind as a casualty of war.
THE MEMORY TREE could have been a much longer and more detailed book, but would that have made it a better book? That's for readers to decide. My hope is, what you don't know and don't see will have as much power to affect your imagination as what you do know and see. But it's something of a gamble!
My grandfather died nearly seventy years ago. I have no memory of him, just a few photos, but over the decades, the fact that he, like many, refused to talk about what he'd experienced in the trenches has spoken volumes to me. Perhaps his silence said all there was to say.
A BOTANICAL NOTE
In the novel the "Trysting Tree" is an ancient beech. The beech (fagus sylvatica) is one of Britain's largest and most beautiful trees. It has traditionally been used by lovers. Hearts, arrows, dates and declarations of love have long been inscribed on its smooth grey bark which resembles stone.