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Q&A with Marielle Thompson - Where Ivy Dares to Grow

Where Ivy Dares to Grow

By Lucy Shardlow

We are thrilled to welcome Marielle Thompson to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release Where Ivy Dares to Grow, out on 27th June 2023.

Traveling to be with her fiancé’s terminally ill mother in her last days, Saoirse Read expected her introduction to the family and their ancestral home would be bittersweet. But the stark thrust of Langdon Hall against the cliff and the hundred darkened windows in its battered walls are almost as forbidding as the woman who lies wasting inside. Her fiancé’s parents make no secret of their distaste for Saoirse, and their feelings have long since spread to their son. Or perhaps it is only the shadows of her mind suggesting she’s unwelcome, seizing on her fears while her beloved grieves?

As Saoirse takes to wandering the estate’s winding, dreamlike gardens, overgrown and half-wild with neglect, she slips back through time to 1818. There she meets Theo Page, a man like her fiancé but softer, with all the charms of that gentler age, and who clearly harbors a fervent interest in her. As it becomes clear that Theo is her fiancé’s ancestor, and the tenuous peace of Langdon Hall crumbles around her, Saoirse finds she’s no longer sure which dreams and doubts belong to the present–and which might not be dreams at all . . .

Where Ivy Dares to Grow

Hi Marielle! I just wanted to start by saying how much I enjoyed reading Where Ivy Dares To Grow. The gothic, time travel narrative was a step out of my reading comfort zone but I soon fell in love with your spellbinding novel!

Thank you so much! And I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it even though it was out of your comfort zone! Where Ivy Dares to Grow mashes together elements from lots of different genres, so it is definitely my hope that it appeals to readers who might not read too much gothic fiction, since there’s also aspects of romance, light fantasy, historical fiction, and a little bit of psychological mystery.

Can you start off by telling us a little bit about the process of writing Where Ivy Dares To Grow? Did you always know you wanted to write for the gothic genre?

I tend to have really clear, full-formed scenes just drop into my head and then the rest of the story unfolds from that moment. And that absolutely happened with this book; I saw the scene of the main character wandering through a wintery garden when she suddenly slips back in time to a Spring day and sees a mysterious man from another era. I also knew, immediately, that this book would be about mental health. As a history lover, I had the Moberly–Jourdain incident on my mind for a while (a real-life event from the early 20th century in which two women claimed to have slipped back through time on the grounds of Versailles) and really wanted to incorporate that timeslip element into a story somehow. This seemed the perfect fit.

The gothic genre is absolutely my comfort zone; I have a Master’s degree in Romantic and Victorian Literature & Society, so I knew that the timeslip would be to the 19th century and that I would incorporate elements of the gothic genre that I love like the spooky sentient manor, the unignorable past, the doomed romance, the heroine who questions her own mind, but give them a bit of a modern twist. My studies also focused on the personal letters and diaries of Romantic, early nineteenth century, writers, so I felt already familiar with that voice and the customs of the era, and so I made sure to incorporate a time travelling journal that mirrors the intimacy of the personal writings of those authors and poets I studied. I also often say that depersonalization-derealization disorder, the dissociative disorder that both I and my main character have, feels so much like living in a gothic novel, where the ghosts come from your own mind and your body is the unfamiliar, terrifying estate you are trapped in. So, since I knew mental health would be central to this story and narrative, leaning into the gothic genre was a natural fit.

You mention in your author’s note that at the heart of writing Where Ivy Dares To Grow was to show what life with depersonalisation-derealisation disorder (DPDR) can be like. What was your experience in creating a piece of fiction that features this disorder? Did writing the novel help you to make sense of your own diagnosis?

Writing Where Ivy Dares to Grow definitely helped me make sense of my diagnosis. It was hugely gratifying to create a new reality in this story, to show someone with DPDR not being the villain or their mental health being used as an othering plot twist. The story is really Saoirse, my main character, coping with her mental health but also how the people around her respond to her diagnosis and how these stigmas make her fear herself and her mind. But, despite that, it is a story of her learning to accept and love herself not despite her disorder, but simply realizing it is a part of who she is – but getting there is in no way easy for her, and it was not for me either.

But writing this book helped me get there. A lot of the process of writing this story cathartically mirrored what I was going through, and with a happy ending. It was also so freeing to write, especially as I was unpublished and was really just writing it for myself, though I, of course, hope that readers who have struggled with their own mental health and/or diagnoses can relate to and feel validated in Saoirse’s story.

Following on from the previous question, what was it like developing the character of Saoirse? Did you find character development easier by taking inspiration from your own experiences?

In some ways yes, it was easier to create this character, but it was also sometimes difficult as a result of that closeness to my own experiences. In personality, Saoirse and I are extremely different, with vastly different families, histories, and passions, but that connection of experience with DPDR was a major overlap that I definitely pulled inspiration for from my own experiences. The narrative of this book is extremely close, putting readers so deep in Saoirse’s head that sometimes it was really challenging, emotionally and mentally, to write and put myself back in that struggling headspace again. But it did allow me to intimately get to know my main character and understand some of her worldview.

Alongside Saoirse, another character who I became intrigued by was Theo Page, the ancestor of Saoirse’s fiancé Jack. Although they try to fight it, both characters cannot resist being drawn to one another. I wonder if you could tell us a little bit more about the development of this relationship? What was your main objective in creating a romance between two characters from different time periods?

The relationship between Theo and Saoirse was something that really dropped into my head wellformed along with that initial scene. Mostly I knew how I wanted them to interact, and how I wanted their connection to come from a shared loneliness and mental isolation that few others in their lives believe or understand. In that sense, having them be from different centuries I think allowed me to normalize these feelings and show that connection and understanding can be found in unlikely places.

But, of course, I also loved how having a romance divided by centuries of time created so much inconvenience and high-stakes tension. From the beginning Saoirse – and thereby readers seeing the story through her eyes – know that this romance is likely doomed, due to this time distance. And yet, Saoirse, and hopefully readers too, still dare to hope that it will somehow work out.

Whilst reading your novel, I became particularly intrigued by Langdon House. Not only is this house the perfect nod to gothic literature, as it is so eerie and haunting, but it is also the place where Saoirse is able to slip back through time. I was wondering where you got your inspiration for creating Langdon House from? Is it based on any other manor houses that you have visited or did you simply allow your imagination to run wild?

Langdon Hall wasn’t inspired by any one house, but a combination of many manors in different countries. I saw many unique castles and estates while living in Scotland, as well as while travelling in England, that really captured my curiosity. Even though I never entered most of these places, they all seemed so unique and sentient, with a story to tell (or imagine). I live in Switzerland now and the country is dotted by isolated, beautiful houses as well, including the Château de Chillon, an absolutely stunning manor that many writers stayed in, including Mary Shelley, Victor Hugo, and Lord Byron, to name just a few. Visiting this house in particular I could feel how much history and emotion thrummed in every stone of the estate, and time seemed to feel a bit thinner as a result of that rich history. I really wanted to capture that feeling in Langdon Hall.

There is so much that your readers can take away from this book as you deal with a range of complex and taboo topics such as mental health, illness and neglect. What is the key message that you would like readers to take away from reading Where Ivy Dares To Grow?

This is a heavy story, but it is still one of hope and self-love and -acceptance. Mental health struggles can feel so deeply isolating and lonely and all-consuming. I hope that this book, even in some small way, can provide readers some comfort in that loneliness, and provide a friend in the darkness.

As Where Ivy Dares To Grow is your debut novel, I would love to discover more about your journey as an author, but in particular as a female author. Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer? And, how have you found the journey to becoming a published author?

My books, not just Where Ivy Dares to Grow, are largely about women finding their sense of self and voice, in many ways. And writing those stories has really been the way that I’ve found and come into my own sense of self, especially with my mental health, and has helped me to embrace aspects of myself that I may not have done otherwise. Even though for most of my life I’ve thought of myself, in my head, as a writer, for a long time I wasn’t actually writing anything. It took me a while to find the courage to be vulnerable enough to try – which is funny considering my debut is such an intensely vulnerable story! My journey to publication has had lots of ups and downs and learning curves, of course, but I’m so lucky and privileged to have found myself surrounded by a team and loved ones that are so supportive, which really makes all the difference.

This was such a fascinating read! Full of so many secrets and a compelling love story. It is one that I am sure so many people would be interested to read. So finally, where will readers be able to access Where Ivy Dares To Grow?

Readers can access Where Ivy Dares to Grow in paperback, ebook, and audio formats, anywhere books are sold worldwide – and, if possible, I would encourage readers to grab a copy from their local indie bookstore!

Where Ivy Dares to Grow

Marielle Thompson is a writer and lover of all things gothic, haunting, and romantic. Her writing is inspired largely by her experiences with mental health, particularly living with a dissociative disorder, and her studies in literary history. She holds two Masters degrees in Romantic & Victorian Literature and Creative Writing, respectively.


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