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Robin Farrar Maass is the author of The Walled Garden, which is perfect for fans of Agatha Christie, The Crown, and Downton Abbey.
Robin Farrar Maass is a lifelong reader and writer who fell in love with England when she was twenty-two. She enjoys tending her messy wants-to-be-English garden, painting watercolors, and traveling. She lives in Redmond, Washington, with her husband and two highly opinionated Siamese cats. The Walled Garden is her first novel, and she’s already at work on her next novel set in England.
Here’s the synopsis for The Walled Garden:
American grad student Lucy Silver arrives in England hoping to solve a longstanding literary mystery, write her dissertation, and finish her graduate studies in a blaze of academic glory. But as Lucy starts to piece together the correspondence between her late grandmother and Elizabeth Blackspear, the famous poet and garden writer who’s the subject of Lucy’s dissertation, she discovers puzzling coded references in the letters—and when an elderly English aristocrat with a secret connection to Elizabeth offers Lucy access to a neglected walled garden on his estate, the mystery deepens.
As spring turns to summer in Bolton Lacey, Lucy finds herself fighting the Blackspear Gardens’ director’s attempt to deny her access to vital documents in the archives . . . and trying not to fall in love with an attractive Scottish contractor.
In the midst of this turmoil, she stumbles upon an illicit plot to turn the historic gardens into a theme park, and becomes determined to stop it. As she races against time to save the gardens, Lucy’s search for the truth about Elizabeth’s life leads her to a French convent where she uncovers explosive evidence that will change her life and the lives of everyone around her, ultimately revealing a home—and an inheritance—more incredible than anything she could ever have imagined.
Let’s get to know Robin as she talks favorite novels, writing inspiration, setting and more!
What are some of your favorite novels?
I love novels so much, it’s hard to narrow it down! But here are a few I return to again and again: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher, Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym, The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan, Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon, A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, and A Room with a View by E.M. Forster.
When did you know you wanted to become an author?
Gosh, I don’t know—maybe it was when my poem about autumn was “published” in my fifth-grade newsletter! In other words, I think I’ve always wanted to be an author. I’ve had many jobs over the course of my life, but writing is the only thing I’ve ever really wanted to do. In many ways, I think it was being a reader that made me want to be a writer. I’ve always wanted to create a fictional world that would give readers the same pleasure and sense of refuge that well-created fictional worlds have always given me.
What is the inspiration behind The Walled Garden?
More than 20 years ago, I had a dream about a young woman and an older English gentleman. I started writing about them, trying to figure out who they were, and the young woman eventually became Lucy Silver. I’ve always been drawn to stories of young women setting off to make their way in the world, like me at twenty-two, naïve and hopeful, and both well-educated and completely ignorant at the same time.
The older English gentleman became Sir Edmund de Lisle. I was intrigued by the idea of a young American woman and a crusty British aristocrat coming from completely different worlds, but still being able to forge a connection and eventually solve an old mystery.
Why was England the ideal setting for your book?
I grew up in a very small town in Washington state and when I was twenty-two, I got on a plane for the first time in my life and went to England—and I never got over it. I’d grown up reading Agatha Christie and Mary Stewart, and going to England was like coming home for me. I’d just read Gaudy Night in college and I fell in love with Oxford, which made me want to write my own novel set there. Along the way, I became obsessed with gardens and the idea of secrets being hidden in the garden. And I’ve always loved houses, especially old houses, so creating my own English country house—Priory House, where Sir Edmund lives—was definitely part of the fun!
What do you hope are some of the key takeaways of the novel?
The two main underlying themes that I had in mind while I was writing The Walled Garden were that true love lasts forever (yes, I’m a romantic!), and that knowing the truth—no matter how hard it is—can set you free.
As far as takeaways go, even before the pandemic, I went through some very difficult times while I was working on The Walled Garden. Yet I felt (and still feel) that the world is a beautiful place and that, ultimately, all will be well. I’ve always wanted to create a fictional world that would help readers sustain their sense of hope, no matter what they’re going through or what’s happening in the world. If The Walled Garden can provide readers with a sense of solace and comfort in the midst of the uncertainties of life—or even a refuge to return to when times are hard—I’ll feel that I’ve accomplished that goal.
What are you currently reading and what’s on your TBR list?
I just finished Anthony Horowitz’s A Line to Kill—so good. I’m currently reading The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, and Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life by Bret Lott.
Some of the books on my TBR list include: Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr, Love from London by Sarah Jio, All the Queen’s Men by S.J. Bennett, and The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman.
Click here to order The Walled Garden on Amazon.