Catherine Law

Catherine Law

The September Garden is set in the Second World War in Occupied France, in London during the Blitz and in the Chiltern hills, and tells the story of two cousins, Nell and Sylvie, who have disliked each other since childhood. Thrown together by the outbreak of war, their rivalry intensifies when they fall in love with the same RAF pilot.


I developed the story around the two girls who are put into a difficult situation and have to find a way to cope. Sylvie, who is half French, is on holiday in England with Nell's family when war is declared and so marooned there. The idea came after I stumbled across the published diary of a lady who lived in Normandy during the Occupation and the subsequent Allied invasion of D-Day. In my novel these traumatic events are experienced by the family Sylvie leaves behind in France. The September Garden itself is the walled garden where Nell finds solace and sanctuary at her English country home.


You have been a journalist for 22 years, so how much has this aided your novel writing?


Working as a Chief Sub Editor has certainly helped my writing as it has kept my inquisitiveness on the surface and fired my need to find things out (you could call it nosiness!) While checking and researching features I often unearth gems of information that trigger my imagination, leading to a story line, a character or a setting. Subbing is also great practice for editing but can hinder my progress as I can’t resist going back over it to fine-tune the punctuation.


The book has been compared to Pam Jenoff, so how does this make you feel?


This is extremely flattering! Ms Jenoff is an expert on the experience of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis and has set many of her novels around the time of the Second World War. I wonder if the comparison to The September Garden in particular stems from this. Like her, I am drawn to times of conflict and the stories that emerge. In my novel, I can only suggest or hint at the fate of the two French Jewish children in this novel, Estella and Edmund, as this happened 'off scene'. However, I was able to show the recriminations for the French citizens who had to choose between Resistance and Collaboration. For many British people the full horror of the fate of the Jewish people did not emerge until the end of the war when the camps were liberated, and I wanted this to be believable within the story. 


What appealed to you to set the book during the Blitz?


I am fascinated by war-time as a setting because of the many human stories that emerge away from the battle field in everyday houses, streets and towns. While doing my research, I have come across so many examples of ordinary people doing such extra-ordinary things during terrible, horrifying situations and wanted to reflect this in my novels. I do a great deal of research (the Imperial War Museum is particularly excellent) so that I can create true and believable settings that do justice and almost pay tribute to those who lived through it. 


Please tell us about your two protagonists, Nell and Sylvie.


They may at first appear to be black and white. Nell is a tomboy and a bit of a goody-two-shoes while Sylvie is glamorous and a bit of a bitch - their clash of personalities is discernable. However, I began the fascinating process of peeling away their layers to reveal why they behave as they do. Both girls have terrible secrets that affect their behaviour, the decisions they make and what sets them on the paths they follow.


Please tell us about your debut A Season of Leaves.


My first novel is inspired by the experiences of my great-aunt who was a Land Girl during the Second World War. I took her story and, as incredible as it was, added new characters to create a more rounded novel. My protagonist Rose falls in love with a Czech soldier stationed in England, follows him back to Prague at the end of the war and then has to escape as the Communists take over (just as my great-auntie did). I gave the story some new twists, with the mystery of a bundle of unopened letters from Rose’s lost love discovered by her under floorboards nearly 50 years after they were sent...


Do you have preference between writing novels and writing for your glossy interiors magazine?


I want to be a full-time novelist - what more can I say!


To what extent are gardens and nature important to you?


I am constantly inspired when I am close to nature and always feel at home in the countryside. (I was born in the London suburbs but I’m a country girl at heart). I am fascinated by the way we are affected by the seasons and the weather and subconsciously began to weave this into my writing. It wasn’t until my second book, The September Garden, that I realised I was doing this! For my third novel The Flower Book, I took the theme a step further with the press-flower journal that belonged to Violet and explored the symbolism of plants and the hidden meanings in the language of flowers.


What is next for you?


The Flower Book has just been published in hardback and as an eBook, which is very exciting indeed. This is the story of Aster who uncovers the lies and secrets of her childhood, and the truth of her parents' tragic love during the First World War from the pages of her mother Violet's journal. I find the First World War particularly poignant, and my challenge was being able to relay what happened in the Trenches when my main characters are the women who did not experience it and could only know what the men told them - which often wasn't very much at all.


I have also been doing talks at local libraries to share my love of writing and reveal what inspires me to fellow book-lovers. And even though I don’t have a publishing contract for it, I have started my fourth book, and have so far written about 20,000 words. What can I say, it’s a compulsion – I don’t write to live, I live to write!

Buy The Flower Book and The September Garden from Allison and Busby now:

Find Catherine on Facebook and Twitter!

by for
find me on and follow me on