Title: A Memory of Violets: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor
Release date: February 3rd, 2015
Publisher: William Morrow
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Hazel Gaynor comes a beautiful historical novel about Tilly Harper, a young woman who finds the diary of an orphaned flower seller who was separated from her sister in Victorian England, and her journey to learn the fate of the long lost sisters. Gaynor’s research into the events that inspire her novels is outstanding, and the world of the Victorian flower sellers on the streets of London in the late 1800s is utterly fascinating.
In 1912, twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves her sheltered home in the Lake District for a position as assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls in London. Orphaned and crippled girls wander the twisted streets with posies of violets and cress to sell to the passing ladies and gentleman, and the Flower Homes provide a place for them to improve their lives of hardship.
When Tilly arrives at Mr. Shaw’s safe haven, she discovers a diary that tells the story of Florrie, a young Irish flower girl who died of a broken heart after being separated from her sister Rosie. Tilly makes it her mission to find out what happened to young Rosie, and in the process learns about the workings of her own heart.
London. March, 1876
Mammy once told me that all flowers are beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others. “Same with babies,” she said, ’cause I was after saying that little baby Rosie looked like a rotten old turnip, what with her face all purple and scrunched up. “All babies look like rotten old turnips at first,” Mammy said. “She’ll be all smoothed out by Lady Day. You wait and see.”
She was, too. All smoothed out. After turning into a real pretty little thing she was then, ’specially with that hair. Red as the flames in the costers’ smudge pot fires.
“Sure, there’s no denying the Irish in that one.” That’s what Da said. Don’t think he ever spoke about Rosie again. Barely noticed her, other than to let out a roar at her or give her a wallop when she was after bawling too much. Awful mean to Little Sister, so he was, so I gave her all the love I could find in my heart, to try and make things nicer for her, like.
Truth be told, I loved little Rosie Flynn from the very first minute I set eyes on her—even with her squashed-up turnip face. I’d never had nothing of my own, not until Little Sister was born—my very own sister, what had lived. Not like them other poor babies what had been born all blue and quiet. Like wilted violets after the frosts, so they were. But not little Rosie. Pink as a carnation she was, bawlin’ good ’n’ proper in her vegetable pallet cradle, and there I was, smiling at her like a great eejit. Loved her to bits, so I did.
When Rosie was small, Mammy’d throw her into the shallow with the stock money and we’d head off to Covent Garden in the soot-black dark. You’ve to get to the Garden good ’n’ early, see—four or five o’clock—so as to get the pick of the best blooms after the shopkeepers have bought their stock. We’d leave our cold, stinking room at Rosemary Court and walk by the light of the gas lamps, Rosie’s little turnip face peeping out o’ the basket and Mammy striding along like a great ox.
“Keep up, will ye, Florrie Flynn,” she’d shout over her shoulder. “For the love of God, it’ll be Christmas before we get there at this rate.”
And I’d gallop along behind, clinging to her skirts so as not to get lost or snatched away by one of them bad men what takes little children and teaches them thievin’ and such—like the natty lads. As unsteady as a tune on a hurdy-gurdy machine, so I was, going up and down, up and down, my good leg dragging my bad one along as best it could. Awful painful it was, for me to walk. My leg won’t grow proper, see, ’cause of the polio I had as a baby. I’ve an old stick for a crutch, but it’s about as much use as a frozen water pump.
About the Author
Hazel Gaynor is an author and freelance writer, writing regularly for the national press, magazines and websites in Ireland and the UK. Her writing success has been featured in The Sunday Times Magazine and Irish Times and she has also appeared on TV and radio. Hazel is a guest blogger and features writer for national Irish writing website writing.ie for which she has interviewed, among others, Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks and Cheryl Strayed. She also writes ‘Off The Shelf’, a book review blog for Hello magazine online, in addition to her own writing blog Whims & Tonic. Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and appeared as a panel speaker at the Waterford Writer’s Festival in 2011 and 2012.