On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, Trevor Millum describes what inspired him to research his father’s life and write his new book, Son Of The Secret Gardener.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Trevor Millum, author of Son of the Secret Gardener – the true-story of a gardening father and son who worked in some of the grandest gardens in England, including the garden that was the inspiration for the children’s classic The Secret Garden.
The Son of The Secret Gardener is based on the detailed gardening diaries of Trevor’s father and is a window into a bygone world of the great houses and the many servants who working in them.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’ve worked in education in one way or another all my life: as a teacher, advisor and writer plus being a visiting poet in schools. My wife and I are keen gardeners and as I learned more about The Secret Garden and its author Frances Hodgson Burnett, the more I became intrigued by my own family’s connections.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
Since I was about six!
When did you take a step to start writing?
I was always writing something… Stories, mainly. They would be a mix of Biggles derivatives with a bit of John Buchan thrown in. I borrowed an old typewriter from a neighbour when I was in my teens and then there was no stopping me.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
My first book was a cut down version of my PhD thesis, so maybe I should count the years it took to write the thesis plus the time to make a book out of it – so, about five years. It was called Images of Woman and was about advertising in women’s magazines back in the 1970s. Not much has changed since then, I discover!
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
About a year. Although I suppose the idea had been there for a while; I just needed to get on with it.
Focusing on your latest release, what made you want to write Son Of The Secret Gardener?
Having retired, I had time to look through my father’s things properly. I hadn’t fully realized the uniqueness of the garden diaries he kept. And then I got to thinking about his life and that of his own father and that led me back to the connection with The Secret Garden.
The more I investigated, the clearer it became that my granddad was the ‘secret gardener’! Then I really had to get it all down on paper.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Son Of The Secret Gardener?
One of the biggest challenges was deciphering and then transcribing his diaries. They were in pencil and some entries were smudged and others used abbreviations I didn’t recognize.
What was your research process for Son Of The Secret Gardener?
As well as the diaries, I had letters and other papers in my dad’s collection. I was also able to contact the two biographers of Frances Hodgson Burnett who were helpful.
The Millums are mentioned in their books. That led me to a document signed by my grandfather and great uncle written to FHB when she left for America and stored in the University of Boston Library, USA. They kindly sent me a photocopy. That was my happiest piece of research!
How did you plan the structure of Son Of The Secret Gardener?
This was quite difficult as I had to meld the narrative aspect with the diary entries. I tried various ways, took advice and finally settled on what seemed to work best.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Son Of The Secret Gardener need?
I am lucky to have a couple of friends who are good critics and are not afraid to say what they think. Often family members are too kind to give useful advice, but my son was very helpful too. It’s difficult to say how much editing it needed: it just gradually took shape.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Know your stuff, start with achievable goals and really know what it is you want to say.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I am intending to put together a collection of short stories I have written over the years. Some have been published before but it will be good to revisit them and see how they work as a collection.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am very pleased with the book. It’s a lasting tribute to my gardening dad and granddad and also preserves aspects of history which could otherwise be lost.
Connect with Trevor Millum:
- Facebook: Trevor Millum
- Twitter: @MillumTrevor
- Or visit his website: www.mouseandmuse.co.uk
Son of the Secret Gardener: The Story of the Gardening Father and Son behind the famous novel (paperback, £11.50) will published on 4th April 2022 by Quadrant Books (www.quadrant-books.com) and available through bookshops and internet booksellers.
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