Thursday, 29 March 2012

The story behind 'The Tapu Garden of Eden'

I am often asked about the inspiration for The Tapu Garden of Eden. In fact the story came to me complete and in an instant. Here’s how it happened: 

One day in 1970 I visited my grandmother, who lived in Sandringham, and saw that she had a old tin-framed sepia portrait of a handsome Golden Labrador on her kitchen wall. Where did it come from? Why was it there?

Well, for many years, for as far back as I could remember as a child, she had had a rather eccentric old man for a neighbour. His name was Mr Hogard — that’s what she always called him — and he was Danish. He was tall and thin with long white hair, a long white beard and bright blue  eyes. He lived alone in a tiny one-room cottage set in one corner of his quarter-acre section. The front third or so of the rest of the land was set aside as an orchard while the back was dedicated to a vegetable garden carefully laid out like a mini market garden. It was a very productive vegetable garden, on beautiful volcanic land, that produced more fresh and beautiful fruit and vegetables than one old man could ever eat. So he gave away most of his produce and my grandparents were frequent beneficiaries of his generosity.

But back to the dog photo: Mr Hogard died; his cottage was to be demolished and his orchard and garden uprooted by his heirs to make way for a new full-sized house. (Now, though, the whole section is occupied by an ugly block of flats.) Feeling sad about her lovely old neighbour’s death my dear, kind grandmother made a final visit to the cottage late one afternoon, when there was no one there, and found the old framed photo lying undamaged on the floor amongst all the debris of the demolition. She hadn’t seen the photo before — had never in fact been inside Mr Hogard’s cottage — but she sensed that the dog must have been important to the old man and so saved it from being lost forever.

When my grandmother died I took the picture from her kitchen wall— nobody else in the family knew the story — and it has hung above my desk ever since.

The story of The Tapu Garden of Eden came to me in a flash but it needed writing out in full. The Danish Mr Hogard was my model for  the Norwegian Olav Kirsten, my grandmother the model for Mrs Wihongi and of course the unknown but handsome Golden Labrador dog became Brian, Olav’s beloved Black Labrador. 

I once had two publishers interested in The Tapu Garden of Eden but eventually they both rejected it. And so I published it myself in 2006 and continue to receive wonderful feedback from readers all over New Zealand.