Dutch edition of 'The Forget-Me-Not Sonata'
UK Edition of 'The Forget-Me-Not Sonata'
The Hurlingham Club in Buenos Aires is a little piece of England, home to the small Anglo Argentine community where gossip is devoured as eagerly as the scones and Earl Grey tea. Here Audrey Garnet grows up and loses her heart to Louis Forrester, the talented, troubled young man who sets tongues wagging with his eccentric behaviour and chequered past. Finding in Audrey the one woman who understands him, Louis composes especially for her a brilliant piece of music: the forget-me-not sonata. To the hypnotic melody of this magical tune they embark upon a secret love affair.
But a family tragedy brings their romance to an abrupt end and Audrey, ever the dutiful daughter, thrills her parents by accepting Louis’s successful, respectable elder brother, Cecil, as her husband. It is a sacrifice she bitterly regrets. Despite the pleasures of family life and, in time, beloved daughters of her own, Audrey hears the sweet, plaintive notes of the forget-me-not sonata echo through the years as a reminder of the love that she has lost.
Epic in scope, lyrical in tone, The Forget-Me-Not Sonata is a passionate voyage of self-discovery, and an exploration of the true meaning of love.
After writing two novels based in South America I was reluctant to change location. My grandmother was Anglo-Argentine and grew up in the English colony of Hurlingham just outside Buenos Aires. In those days it was a town in the countryside, now it’s very much part of the city. I returned about eight years ago with my mother and tried to find the house where she grew up. She used to talk of a beautiful garden, but when we found the house the garden was only half the original size, the other half was taken up by a big, modern video store.
My grandmother used to tell me stories of her days growing up in the Argentine and after she died my mother and her sister, Naomi, helped me with my research. I was fascinated by this lost world and the stories of Eva Peron.
The Hurlingham Club was built by a group of Englishmen frustrated that there was no sport in Argentina. The Brits taught the Argentines how to play football and polo – only to watch them grow better at both! My grandmother spent most days at the club playing golf, swimming and enjoying the endless round of parties. It seemed idyllic. Then, because of my grandfather’s job, they moved to Brazil and my grandmother was devastated. My grandfather believed that the only education worth having was an English one and my mother and her sister were packed off and sent to boarding school in England where they only returned home once a year at Christmas. My mother was eight. It’s unimaginable now. My grandmother must have been heartbroken, not only losing her beloved Argentine, but her daughters as well.
I decided on a theme I could get my teeth into: enduring love. It is possible to love someone one’s entire life and never have them. I got talking to an old lady at a wedding who confessed that although she had been married for sixty years, she had never stopped loving, and pining for, her first love. I thought that very romantic and tragic and my mind started whirring with possibilities. I used to look at old people and assume they could barely remember their youth, now I know that time passes so swiftly, changing us on the outside, but inside we are the same people and our memories of yesterday are as fresh as when they were first created.
I’m very sentimental and love to keep everything of significance in boxes, scrapbooks and diaries. The Ombu tree had letters, The Butterfly Box had a special box, and The Forget-Me-Not Sonata has music. There’s nothing like a piece of music to take you back….
The English Colony of Hurlingham
Buenos Aires 1946
‘Audrey, come quick!’ Isla hissed, grabbing her sixteenyear- old sister by the arm and tugging her out of her deckchair. ‘Aunt Hilda and Aunt Edna are having tea withMummy.Apparently,EmmaTownsendhas been discovered in the arms of an Argentine. You have to come and listen. It’s a hoot!’ Audrey closed her novel and followed her sister up the lawn to the clubhouse.
The December sun blazed ferociously down upon this little corner of England that resisted with all its might integration with those nationalities that had come before and fused into a nation. Like a fragile raft on the Spanish sea the English flew the flag and flaunted their prestige with pride. Yet the heady scents of eucalyptus and gardenia danced on the air with the aromas of tea and cakes in an easy tango and the murmur of clipped English voices and tennis echoed through the grounds against the thunder of Argentine ponies and the chatter of the gauchos who looked after them. The two cultures rode alongside each other like two horses, barely aware that they were in fact pulling the same carriage.
Audrey and Isla had grown up in this very British corner of Argentina situated in an elegant suburb outside the city of Buenos Aires. Centred around the Hurlingham Club where roast beef and steak and kidney pie were served in the panelled dining room beneath austere portraits of the King and Queen, the Colony was large and influential and life was as good as the cricket. Palatial houses were neatly placed behind tall yew hedges and English country gardens and joined together by dirt roads that led out onto the flat land of the pampa. The sisters would compete in gymkhanas, play tennis and swim and tease the neighbouring ostrich by throwing golf balls into his pen and watching in amusement as he ate them. They would ride out across the vast expanse of pampa and chase the prairie hares through the long grasses. Then as the sun went down and the clicking of the crickets rose above the snorting of ponies to herald the dying of the day, they would picnic with their mother and cousins in the shade of the eucalyptus trees. They were languorous, innocent times untroubled by the pressures of the adult world. Those pressures awaited their coming of age, but until then the intrigues and scandals, passed about the community in hushed voices over scones and cucumber sandwiches, were a great source of amusement, especially for Isla who longed to be old enough to create ripples such as those.
When Audrey and Isla wandered into the Club they became aware at once of the faces that withdrew from their cups of china tea and scones to watch the two sisters weave their way gracefully through the tables. They were used to the attention but while Audrey lowered her eyes shyly Isla held her chin high and surveyed the tables down the pretty slope of her imperious nose. Their mother told them it was because their father was a Chairman of Industry and a very important man, but Isla knew it had more to do with their thick corkscrew hair that reached down to their waists and glistened like sundried hay and their crystalline green eyes.
Please can you tell us a bit about your new book, The Forget-Me-Not Sonata?
It’s a sweeping love story based in the Anglo-Argentine community of Hurlingham in Buenos Aires, beginning just after world war II and finishing in the present day. It centres around Audrey Garnet, a dreamy, sweet natured girl, who loses her heart to Louis Forrester, the talented, troubled young man who sets tongues wagging with his eccentric behaviour and chequered past. Finding the one woman who understands him, Louis composes especially for her a brilliant piece of music: the forget-me-not sonata. To the hypnotic melody of this magical tune they embark on a secret love affair. However, a family tragedy brings their romance to an abrupt end and Audrey pleases her parents by marrying Louis’s successful, respectable elder brother, Cecil. It is a sacrifice she bitterly regrets. Despite the pleasures of family life and, in time, beloved daughters of her own, Audrey hears the sweet, plaintive notes of the forget-me-not sonata echo through the years as a reminder of the love that she has lost. It’s a passionate voyage of self-discovery and an exploration of the true meaning of love.
The Argentine setting is beautifully evoked in The Forget-Me-Not Sonata, and this is clearly a place that you love. Why did you feel it would make a good backdrop for this novel?
My first novel was based in the Argentine, it was an allegory of my love affair with the country, and clearly my heart is still there! I love writing about both Latin America and England. I enjoy colouring my novels with the magic and sensuality of Argentina then taking my reader somewhere very different, to the quaint charm of the English countryside. I’m a sensualist and I love nature. The flat plains of the pampa, eucalyptus trees and jasmine scented humidity provide a sensual feast and the perfect setting for my young lovers. I feel I write best when I am as in love with the place as the characters in my books. Also, I needed a country far away from England in order for the plot to work – I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the story for those who have not read it! I should mention too that my mother was born in Hurlingham and her mother, my grandmother, was three generations Anglo-Argentine. I have incorporated some of her stories, which are wonderful.
Audrey is lucky enough to have the attention of two young men! Which of them would be more your type if you had to choose: charming Cecil, or passionate Louis?
Louis, without question! Cecil would, of course, be the right person to marry in terms of stability. With Cecil, life would be secure though I fear a little beige. Louis would be a gamble but how colourful life would be! He’s unreliable, self-indulgent and perhaps a little too passionate but he’s wonderfully attractive, sensual and talented. Marriage to Louis would be fiery, unpredictable but in my view, you only live once and I’d rather live and love intensely.
The relationships between sisters in the book plays an important part in the story for both generations – were you drawing on your own experiences? (Sorry to ask this, but I’d ask any other author, especially with two sets of sisters with such different relationships!)
I am a sum of my experiences so I would say that, yes, I draw on my own life, often without even realising it. Tara and I are opposites, like Audrey and Isla and Alicia and Leonora, though to have two sisters in a book who are very alike would be rather dull so I had no option. However, I don’t base any of my characters on my sister and none of them bare any resemblance to her, or myself, at all.
Audrey’s youngest daughter, Grace, has a rather special gift. Have you ever had any spiritual experiences and do you believe in life after death?
A lot of Grace’s experiences are my own, although her gift is much greater than mine! I most certainly believe in life after death and the world of spirit. I have seen quite a few spirits, especially my grandmother, though sadly, I haven’t learnt how to communicate with her because she could have been very helpful while writing this book!
Which other authors do you enjoy reading?
I’m a bit old fashioned, which is probably reflected in my books. I love Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Laura Esquival, Fannie Flagg – then the old classics like Dumas and Austen, which I re-read time and again. I recently read ‘The Rice Mother’ by Rani Matika, (I hope that’s how you spell her name, I have since given my copy to my mother so can’t check!) which was brilliant. I like quirky books with colourful characters and big, sweeping love stories like Anna Karenina and The Count of Montecristo.
Alicia is rather mischievous at school (to say the least!). What’s the naughtiest prank you were ever involved in at school?
I’m afraid I was a bit of a goody-goody, I became vice head of school at Sherborne! But the story of Alicia riding the pony bareback in the field is autobiographical. At Hanford it was forbidden to go near them in the fields (we were about 8 years old, so that’s understandable) and as a dare a friend and I managed to catch a couple and canter around bareback, which was great fun. Needless to say we were caught and banned from riding for the rest of the term – nothing like as bad as Alicia’s punishment!
This book has a twist at the end that puts a completely different perspective on the relationships between the characters – was this something that you planned from the beginning?
No. Usually I know how the book will end. I don’t plan them in much detail, I know the themes I want to centre them around and where it want to book to go to, but then I let my imagination lead me as I write. This one, however, was entirely different. I had a very clear idea of the plot and how it would end. About three chapters from the last I was thinking about the ending and feeling rather pleased with myself, when suddenly I came up with a totally unexpected ending that was so much better. I then had to change various things at the beginning to make it plausible, but it surprised me as much as I hope it will surprise my readers!
And finally, are you able to tell us a little bit about your next project?
I am happy to say that I have finished my next book. It’s called The Swallow & The Hummingbird and centres around a fighter pilot who comes home from the war to the girl he has always loved. Unable to adjust to life in the small Devonshire village where he grew up and where he feels no one understands what he’s been through, he asks his sweetheart to wait for him just one more year while he goes and works on his uncle’s farm in the northern province of Cordoba in Argentina. There he falls in love with an American woman and breaks off his engagement to his childhood love. Years later a family tragedy brings him home and he is faced with memories, regrets and the realisation that his love for her never truly died.