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Travel to locations of The Fair Botanists with Sara Sheridan

  • Submitted: 27th September 2023

Travel to locations of The Fair Botanists

A most wonderful literary journey today as Sara Sheridan – soon to be appearing in the Women’s Fiction Festival in Edinburgh – takes you on a journey to that very city and its amazing garden and plants…..

The Fair Botanists set in Edinburgh by Sara Sheridan

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

Sara Sheridan

The Fair Botanists was written during lockdown over the spring and summer of 2020. I was living in the West End of Edinburgh at the time in a Victorian building. The building wasn’t constructed when the book was set in 1822, but was close to the city’s New Town . In modern times it’s become subsumed by it.

I’d lived in Edinburgh for most of my life, but lockdown put a new twist on the city centre. There were hardly any cars on the roads and everybody shopped locally. We became more aware of our neighbours and also of the wildlife – we could hear the birdsong and the tumbling Water of Leith which flowed nearby.

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

I hadn’t written much about my hometown before – certainly not since my early, contemporary novels. Edinburgh is a city that lives its history. It’s a major tourist centre (which was another big change during lockdown). It’s full of stories and still considers itself an Enlightenment city – a European city if it comes to that. Every day I would walk through the streets that appear in the novel, the closest to their Georgian incarnation in over a century, because it was so quiet! It made it easy to imagine the physical experience of living there in the period.

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

The Botanical Gardens (c) Wikipedia

The Botanical Gardens (c) Wikipedia

With the archives closed and the Royal Botanic Garden too (where

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

The book is partly set) I was lucky that I had completed most of my research before lockdown started, but that daily walk provided rich detail – an experiential connection to what life must have been like. A reflection in a wonky window pane or a door slamming further down the street provoked twists and turns on story ideas. I was living in a research resource, it turned out.

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

Botanical Gardens Entrance (c) Wikipedia

Botanical Gardens Entrance (c) Wikipedia

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

However, the history Edinburgh presents to tourists, while interesting, is not the history that I was primarily interested in writing about. Most of our stories from the past are male and white and upper class, dripping in privilege. I was interested in something more textural and in fact, more real. The prevailing narrative is always superficial and not incorrect in itself, but like today, people are varied and opinions diverse.

The Palm House (c) Wikipedia

The Palm House (c) Wikipedia

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

One of the things I wanted to address was the visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 (George does not arrive in the city until the very end of my book). It is generally said that Edinburgh was delighted to receive the king, and that’s true of the majority but in an Enlightenment city in the years after the French revolution, of course there were republicans. Or simply people who weren’t interested.  Similarly we hear stories about Sir Walter Scott and his involvement in organising the visit. Scott appears in the book as does his long-suffering wife, Lady Caroline, who is sick of her husband’s near obsession with royalty. It was fun to write scenes from behind the curtain of the received history.

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

The Waterfall (c) Wikipedia

The Waterfall (c) Wikipedia

Booktrail locations in The Fair Botanists

The book focuses on women’s lives which is where the majority of unrecorded stories reside. We do not value our foremothers’ achievements nearly enough, or know their stories. For me this is an important and live issue. If young women do not know the amazing history they come from, it makes achieving things today more difficult. Men do not live in this world, their contributions over history are both commemorated and honoured. In 2018 I remapped Scotland according to women’s history in my imaginary guide book ‘Where are the Women?’

The Fair Botanists Sara Sheridan

In the Fair Botanists I created a world where books written by women are on the shelves, and paintings by women hang on the walls. I squeezed in the stories of our real great great grandmothers wherever I could and developed female characters in fiction – some of whom work with the received history and some who subvert it. For me celebrating the diversity of where we come from is important. And also Joy! So much history forgets the fun. Perhaps it is this last thing that got me through lockdown in one piece. Since the book came out, readers have really responded to the light touch of the story and being able to glimpse some of those missing in action from our history.

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass:  The Fair Botanists

Twitter: @sarasheridan  Web: www.sarasheridan.com/

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