Ellen Herrick’s debut novel, The Sparrow Sisters, spins an enchanting love story about a place where magic whispers just beneath the surface and almost anything is possible, if you aren’t afraid to listen.
The Sparrow Sisters are as tightly woven into the seaside New England town of Granite Point as the wild sweet peas that climb the stone walls along the harbor. Sorrel, Nettie and Patience are as colorful as the beach plums on the dunes and as mysterious as the fog that rolls into town at dusk.
Patience is the town healer and when a new doctor settles into Granite Point he brings with him a mystery so compelling that Patience is drawn to love him, even as she struggles to mend him. But when Patience Sparrow’s herbs and tinctures are believed to be implicated in a local tragedy, Granite Point is consumed by a long-buried fear—and its three hundred year old history resurfaces as a modern day witch-hunt threatens. The plants and flowers, fruit trees and high hedges begin to wither and die, and the entire town begins to fail; fishermen return to the harbor empty-handed, and blight descends on the old elms that line the lanes.
It seems as if Patience and her town are lost until the women of Granite Point band together to save the Sparrow. As they gather, drawing strength from each other, will they be able to turn the tide and return life to Granite Point?
Small towns in New England often have this trapped in amber feel with their old houses, crooked streets and little town greens. That is what I tried to capture in The Sparrow Sisters. Oddly, I began The Sparrow Sisters in deepest winter while living in London. I was homesick for New England and proper summer and the sea. Writing the story of the sisters and their town was really a little dose of home and made the wait for summer feel shorter. Now that I live in Cambridge and spend summers on Cape Cod, I’m a little homesick for London! Still, I continue to write about Granite Point and how the seasons change and change the town. And now I can just look out the window to really see it!
And how! I would love to live in a rambling old house with a magical back garden. And, I find the company of women so nourishing so I’m sure I’d have a great time with the Sisters. Patience, however, might need a good talking to!
No author doesn’t cast the movie version of a book in their head, even if we don’t admit it. I am a fan of strong, funny, creative women so I think Sorrell might be played by Lake Bell, Nettie by Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), and Patience by Kiera Knightly.
I am a gardener, self-taught and always learning. My research for The Sparrow Sisters included many hours in a wonderful garden in London, The Chelsea Physic Garden which is the oldest botanical and medicinal garden in Europe. Just strolling through this walled garden in a misty rain is a transporting education in the magic of plants and flowers. I can still call up those far away scents and combine them with the unruly, fragrant gardens just outside my screen door.
Reading about ready-made ‘teams’ is appealing, I think to many of us. Every social and emotional dynamic you can think of will come up amongst sisters. And, no matter how grumpy we sisters get with each other there is no doubt that we are each others’ safety net in a lot of ways. I have an expression about the person you feel absolutely right coming to when you are in trouble. I call her “my two o’clock in the morning girl.” I think sisters are there in the clutch, and in the middle of the night!
This is easy (not like naming your favourite authors which just cruel): Alice Hoffman, John Irving, Sarah Addison Allen, Richard Russo, Marisa de los Santos, J.K. Rowling. Each of these writers creates magic in their own, very distinct way. Each use language in wonderfully imaginative way and each takes you to places that feel as real as what you already know and as unexpected as a surprise gift.
I wrote The Sparrow Sisters because my daughter dared me. Really, the family was heading off on a holiday without me (Believe me, it was a holiday for me, too!) and she asked me what in the world I was going to do without them all. I laughed but she pressed me and asked what I would do if I knew I couldn’t fail (or get caught, ha!). I said I’d write a novel and she, who was only 13 at the time, said she would read when she got back the following week. Well, I did, in fact, sit right down at my kitchen counter in London and start writing and I start the story with “Once there were four Sparrows Sisters.” As soon as I did that I knew I had a bit of a fairy tale on my hands. So, what better place than an enchanted seaside town to set it? Having three sisters felt like a magical number (three wishes) and as soon as I had the name Sparrow I felt as if the girls should all be named from nature. I am a keen gardener so it wasn’t hard to come up with interesting plants and flowers for the girls and even easier to imagine the Sparrow Sisters Nursery. I love to pretend so I simply pretended that I was a Sparrow Sister and told the story.
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