In the last four weeks I've done eight school visits and every one has been a joy. Amongst the questions which have come up is whether I use experiences from my own life in my books. The answer is yes and no. I think most writers put bits of themselves into their books, whether it's a small character trait or something which they have seen or heard. What I do think is important is the ability to remember what it was like to be a child or a teenager and, for me, broad beans are something which takes me straight back to childhood. My father grew loads of vegetables. The garden was his passion and his escape. My mother was a great cook and one of my favourite meals in the summer was gammon, new potatoes and broad beans in parsley sauce. This year we extended our vegetable patch. It's still not very big but I've managed to fit in beetroot, French beans, runner beans, potatoes, onions and of course broad beans (Meteor is the variety I chose).
I didn't plant the beans straight in the ground but into segregated seed trays, one seed to each compartment, and I brought them on in the greenhouse. Every single seed germinated. I planted them out a couple of weeks before Monty Don on Gardener's World and immediately worried that I had got it wrong. We'd had a couple of good days and I was brimming with optimism that the good weather would continue. I should have known better. Another cold snap followed but my beans didn't seem to mind and they have thrived.
About two weeks ago I pinched out the leafy tops and we ate them in a risotto with some prawns and then last Saturday I couldn't wait any longer. We were having our first barbecue of the summer to celebrate my husband's birthday and I wanted some broad beans to decorate my salad.
I could feel that most of the pods needed a little more time to fill out so I didn't pick many, just enough to sprinkle over my salad.
But, returning to those childhood memories, it is the podding of the beans which really takes me back. I am instantly transported to our little thatched cottage with its crooked walls and low, beamed ceilings. I am probably not much more than four years old and sitting in our kitchen at the grey Formica topped table, digging my impatient little fingers into that seam at the side of the broad bean pod. I loved that moment when you split the pod open from top to bottom. It was like unfolding the pages of a precious book. And inside, there they were, pale green beans lying in little hollows which followed their contours exactly. They looked so snug and cosy in their little beds and I loved the softness which surrounded them. It felt like the most luxurious cotton wool and it seemed almost cruel to disturb them but come out they must. I vividly remember the satisfying plink as the beans bounced into the old saucepan with the slight dent in one side and I remember how important I felt to be trusted with this job.
So broad beans are just one part of a whole bank of memories which enable me to get back in touch with what it feels like to be a child. Hopefully, taking myself back in time and catching hold of specific events which have a special place in my heart, will help to make me a better writer and as a result help me to connect with my young readers.
Thank you for reading this post and I hope you have a happy week.