by Ella Griffin
One of my Facebook friends has no idea about this but when I was planning The Flower Arrangement, I kept a photograph of one of his ex-girlfriends on my desktop.
She was at least five years older than he was and I liked that she didn’t bother to hide it. There were threads of silver in her long dark hair and lines around her deep-set brown eyes. She looked sad, even when she smiled.
They broke up, he moved on. But I didn’t.
She was the inspiration for Lara, the florist at the heart of my new novel. I changed her name and I invented a whole new history for her. But I couldn’t have done any of it without her face.
Once I have a face, I can start to build up a backstory. I can open a blank document at my desk and set a timer and ask my characters to tell me a secret. And it’s amazing what comes out.
The nightmares that Lara had after her mother died. The money that Mia used to steal from her mother’s handbag. The photograph of Harrison Ford that Katy tore out of a magazine because she wished that he was her father.
None of these details actually appear in The Flower Arrangement. But knowing a character inside out helps me to figure out what will hurt them and heal them when I plan out their stories. I do that in detail too, so that when I start to write, nothing that any of them do will surprise me. Until it does.
Until some of the customers who are supposed to walk into Lara’s flower shop don’t show up and instead, I meet people I’ve never even imagined.
A single mother who has been lying to her seven-year-old son about his dad. A woman who wants to rob the shop. An elderly man whose wife has just been killed in accident.
Until Ted, Lara’s father, floating in and out of a morphine haze in his hospital room wakes up to find a beautiful stranger in a red coat watching him.
Or Phil, Lara’s brother, a man I have earmarked for her assistant, delivers a package to a wedding magazine and sees Katy.
Or Katy’s dog, Pat, an ancient greyhound who is meant to die after eating a stash of her ex-boyfriend’s hash refuses to play ball and trots on into the next chapter of her story, leaving plot havoc and ditched scenes and in his wake.
And I have to turn my back on my big fat files of backstory and plot and trot after him and trust that it will all work out for the best. And the lovely thing is, it almost always does.
Ella Griffin is the author of Postcards From the Heart and The Heart Whisperer and an advertising copywriter and travel writer. She lives in County Wicklow, Ireland, with her husband. Her latest novel, The Flower Arrangement, is out this month.