The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

A woman’s life stolen and reclaimed. A beautifully written story about betrayal and family secrets.

I’ve just returned home from a two week break in Ontario, Canada. My husband and I stayed with friends in London (built on the Thames River, of course) and we watched a musical in Stratford, Ontario, built on the Avon River. I can appreciate how nostalgic for home those early settlers in Canada must have been. London in Ontario also has streets named after areas in the British capital such as Kensington and Piccadilly. Back in the 1800’s, when people left home they left for good. This was certainly the case in my home country of Ireland.

When I was departing for my next destination, my Canadian friend pressed Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox into my hands. I’m so glad she did.

A literary novel that tells a good story

Maggie O’Farrell lives in Edinburgh in Scotland and I’ve read several of her novels. I loved The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which is definitely a literary novel but also has a good story at the heart of it. The character of Esme drew me in and her early years as a child growing up in India reminded me of that children’s classic much beloved by adults called The Secret Garden. Mary Lennox is orphaned by a cholera epidemic and Esme Lennox (they both have the same surname) loses her baby brother in a similar outbreak.

Iris, the young protagonist in the present, is contacted out of the blue by a psychiatric unit insisting that she has a great-aunt in their care who they want to release back into society. Iris has never heard of Esme, never even known she exists and the only person who should know, her grandmother and Esme’s sister Kitty, is in a nursing home with dementia and doesn’t recognise anyone.

Should she take responsibility for her great-aunt Esme Lennox when she’s never met her?

So what should Iris do? She’s reluctant to take responsibility for an elderly relation she has never seen and her step-brother tries to convince her it could be a dangerous step. Iris eventually decides to visit Esme and ends up taking her home to her apartment.

The story is told through the viewpoints of the three women: Iris, Esme and the grandmother Kitty. Kitty’s rambling and jumbled recollections gradually make the reader aware that something terrible is worrying her. Something she did in her past many years ago.

Esme’s thoughts flit from India to Scotland in the 1930’s. She was an unusual child who didn’t care about society in those days and its strict code of conduct. Esme grows up different to other young women who think only about marriage and she yearns to be allowed to continue her education. Her parents don’t agree and, after her baby brother dies, show little compassion for her truly harrowing experience.

At the age of sixteen, after a number of incidents that seem commonplace today, poor Esme is committed to a local psychiatric hospital, a family embarrassment who is locked away for sixty years. Her life and future are stolen from her.

It’s both horrifying and fascinating. It is also curiously satisfying. I couldn’t put the book down as I neared the end. I won’t say what happens in case you want to read it but I didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did. The events lingered in my memory for days afterwards. The novel is beautifully written with only the essential details sketched in. I would recommend The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell.

I stumbled upon Dublin's 'Secret Garden'

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I love old secret gardens, hidden away behind walls where ivy trails the paths and the bustle of a city slips away. I stumbled upon Dublin’s ‘Secret Garden’ yesterday.

On a warm April morning when dog walkers and tourists stopped to chat, I was talking to a complete stranger about her two Bichons when I noticed an old gateway at the end of Clonmel Street, off Harcourt Street. If you don’t know our capital city, this is a stone’s throw from the centre and St Stephen’s Green.

Iveagh Gardens - Lawn.jpg

A passer-by stopped to advise me (as they do in Ireland). No, he said, this was not the famous park, this was called the Iveagh Gardens.

So I had to take a look and here it is. A peaceful oasis in the centre where locals take their thoughts and cups of coffee. So quiet too - a silence broken only by birdsong and a young girl playing a guitar on one of the steps leading down to a lawn.

The Iveagh Gardens isn’t alive with bright flowers or splashing ducks. It is cool and green and soothing, where trees throw shadows across grass and wrought-iron gates in high walls lead to gardens at the back of Georgian houses. It is a glimpse into the past.

Iveagh Gardens - Path.jpg

Apparently it was once the site of the Dublin Exhibition Palace in 1865 and now it has been restored and is cared for by the Office of Public Works. If you’d like a stroll through a historic garden or even a short cut from Harcourt Street to the National Concert Hall on Earlsfort Terrace, walk through the gates of the Iveagh Gardens and allow yourself a few minutes to drift back in time.

Iveagh Gardens - Steps to gate.jpg

The Neglected Garden is a page-turner seeded with mystery, romance and suspense. Available worldwide.

Spring is here and it's competition time

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Competition to win a paperback of ‘The Neglected Garden’

Spring is here today and I ran out with my mobile and took this photo of wild cherry blossom flowering in our garden against a clear blue sky. To celebrate its arrival, I’m holding a competition for a paperback edition of my novel The Neglected Garden. To enter all you have to do is go to the competition page and pick the answer to the question. If you’ve already read the book, you’ll know the correct answer and, if you haven’t, just take a guess. You’ve got a 50% chance of being right.

Thank you to readers and reviewers

The Neglected Garden has been published for almost six weeks now. I’d like to thank everyone who bought it and I’m especially grateful to all of you who posted reviews on Amazon. It makes such a difference to authors these days. If you have read the book and enjoyed it, I would really appreciate it if you could leave a short, honest review if you have a few moments to spare.

The garden plan for the walled garden

I thought you might like to have a look at Gilly’s garden plan for the old walled garden at Glanesfort in The Neglected Garden. I asked garden designer Arthur Shackleton to design the layout of the fictional garden and this is what he came up with. It was inspired by the walled garden my grandparents used to own years ago, although it never looked like this because they used it mainly for vegetables and fruit. We used to love playing as children among the rows of peas and eating strawberries straight from the plants. My grandmother had a long cutting border, as she called it, and she grew flowers there that she used in arrangements. She loved roses too, like me, and I remember she had a bowl in her hallway with rose heads floating like lilies in water.

If you’d prefer to see a larger version of the garden plan, you’ll find it here.

Garden plan for Glanesfort - sq.jpg

Invitations to literary events

I have been invited to several literary events since the novel came out. One is to talk to a book club, another is to a literature appreciation group and the third is a book reading in a library in my home county in Ireland. This last one takes place during an arts week in May.

I’ll let you know how I get on another time.

Enjoy the good weather, if it has arrived with you.

All the best,

Suzanne x

Reading transports us to another realm

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Books for children

Can you remember the books you loved as a child? The books your parents read to you and then, when you were able to, the books you read over and over again? I used to feel transported to another realm. I remember crying over the poor Mock Turtle when my mother read me Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because I really believed he would be made into soup. I remember feeling sorry for Eeyore on his own in that damp and gloomy part of the Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh and I vividly recall the fascination I felt when Mary Lennox found the secret walled garden and when she heard the screams in the night in that dark, old house on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors in The Secret Garden.

Children's classic books

Winnie the Pooh is not just for children

The A. A. Milne books about Winnie the Pooh and his pals were a great favourite and I particularly liked the map inside the cover. I found one of my old Winnie the Pooh books the other day and discovered that I had coloured in the map with crayons. One of my treasured books is an old edition that used to belong to my mother and, thankfully, I don’t appear to have defaced that one. It has a dark green cover with small gold figures of the characters.

Much of the wisdom found in Winnie the Pooh can be applied to our adult lives. Such as: “If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear .” I need to remember that one.

And here’s a lovely sentimental quote: “I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear. (A. A. Milne - ‘Winnie The Pooh’)
The Mad Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The madness of Alice in Wonderland

Were you a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? This book is filled with off the wall characters and curious riddles. It was written by Lewis Carroll and first published in 1865. My mother loved reading us this and I vividly remember the Cheshire Cat who used to disappear slowly, leaving the smile until last. The Madhatter’s Tea Party was hilarious but I never blamed Alice for losing patience with them all in the end and flouncing off as the March Hare and the Hatter were trying to stuff the poor Dormouse into the teapot. The game of croquet amused me too where they used flamingos for mallets and hedgehogs as balls. The hedgehogs added another level of challenge as they kept unrolling and crawling away.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
”Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
”How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
”You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Lewis Carroll - ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’)

The key to The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden - for older children and adults of any age

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was first published in 1911 and is considered an English classic for children. Mary Lennox is orphaned in India when her parents and their servants die from cholera. She is adopted by her uncle who owns a large, rambling house on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. She’s only ten years old and has grown up spoilt and contrary from lack of parental attention; far too used to clapping her hands and servants jumping to serve her. She’s in for a rude awakening at Misselthwaite Manor. Through her friendship with local boy Dickon, who has a wonderful gift of taming wild animals and gaining their trust, and also her love of gardening, Mary begins to change. It’s a story about the redeeming power of friendship and nature.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” (Frances Hodgson Burnett - ‘The Secret Garden’)

She finds a secret walled garden that has been shut up for ten years and she resolves to tell no one about it and work in it herself to bring the plants back to life. The plot has a touch of Gothic when she hears loud screams in the night, echoing down the dark corridors of the old house. I won’t say who is screaming, just in case you haven’t read it. I recently listened to it on audio and it springs to life. My husband has heard it many times over.

If you have any favourite children’s books, I’d love to hear about them.

Winnie-The-Pooh by A A Milne

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll


The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

If you would like to read more about my own book, The Neglected Garden, a novel set in a walled garden in Ireland and seeded with mystery, romance and suspense, click the button below.

The Hero Dog - a true story


It’s a wet, windy day here in Ireland and I thought you might like to hear a story. This one is true. It’s about a dog who saved his owner’s life.

The reason I know it’s true is because the old man who was rescued by his dog lay in a bed in hospital across the ward from someone I know. This happened years ago but I have never forgotten it.

An elderly farmer owned a Border collie, a sheep dog breed popular in this country. One morning he heard mewing near his hay shed and discovered that one of the cats had given birth to kittens. But there was a serious problem. The cat and kittens were trapped between a stack of round hay bales and couldn’t get out.

As he was a kind-hearted man, he decided to climb down and try to help. He lost his balance and fell down the gap between the bales, past the ledge where the cat was and down to the bottom where there was little air to breathe. He called for help but no person heard him as the farm yard was remote. He was in severe pain because he had broken his hip.

Time passed and the old man grew weaker and more desperate. His Collie dog lay patiently beside the hay shed, waiting for his owner to resurface. After a while, the dog reckoned something was wrong and ran down the hill to another house where he barked incessantly outside the door. At first the inhabitants ignored him but every time they attempted to chase him off, the dog returned and barked again. Someone recognised him and wondered where his owner was. The dog led this person to the yard where he found the old man and sent for an ambulance. 

A hero dog. He saved his owner’s life. 

The Neglected Garden opens today


Happy Valentine’s Day to us all.

Today is the official launch of ‘The Neglected Garden’ and the novel is available to purchase worldwide as a paperback and e-book.

I took the photo of the book with the snowdrops in my own neglected garden, which is beginning to come back to life now that winter is nearly over. We have miniature daffodils flowering at the moment.

It’s been a long but enjoyable path to this day and, if you read the book, I hope you will enjoy it. I would love to hear from you so please send me an email by the contact button below or join me on Facebook and Instagram.

Enjoy the rest of the day!

Suzanne x

The path leading to 'The Neglected Garden'


It has been a long path often strewn with obstacles but we’re nearly there now. The walk to the red door with the peeling paint is almost over. ‘The Neglected Garden’ will be published next week and I would like to thank all who have accompanied me on this adventure, especially my friends who encouraged me, the editors who pruned my overgrown words into shape and all the kind people who have joined my Facebook and Instagram pages. I’m really grateful to you all.

‘The Neglected Garden’ is a mystery with romance, suspense and a sprinkling of light humour. The story takes place in Ireland and London. I’ll let you know more about the launch in a few days’ time but first I’d like to share some of the photographs that inspired the walled garden setting when I was writing this book.

This old red door inspired the one in ‘The Neglected Garden’. The photo was taken at Duckett’s Grove in Co. Carlow in Ireland where two interconnecting walled gardens have been restored and are open to the public.

This old red door inspired the one in ‘The Neglected Garden’. The photo was taken at Duckett’s Grove in Co. Carlow in Ireland where two interconnecting walled gardens have been restored and are open to the public.

I loved this arch in the Colclough walled garden on the Hook Head peninsula in Co Wexford. The garden is attached to Tintern Abbey and has been beautifully restored. Another historic garden open to the public.

I loved this arch in the Colclough walled garden on the Hook Head peninsula in Co Wexford. The garden is attached to Tintern Abbey and has been beautifully restored. Another historic garden open to the public.

One of the herbaceous borders at the Colclough walled garden in Co Wexford. I took this photograph in August 2018. I like to imagine that when Gilly Townsend has finished planting up the garden at Glanesfort in the novel, it is might look something like this.

One of the herbaceous borders at the Colclough walled garden in Co Wexford. I took this photograph in August 2018. I like to imagine that when Gilly Townsend has finished planting up the garden at Glanesfort in the novel, it is might look something like this.

A lily pond with fountain. This photo was taken in Spain by my friend Anne.

A lily pond with fountain. This photo was taken in Spain by my friend Anne.

Detail of water lilies in a pond.

Detail of water lilies in a pond.

Unlocking the door of The Neglected Garden

I have a sneaking suspicion that authors get more excited about the arrival of a new book cover than readers. I’ve been waiting a little while for mine and I’m now convinced it’s been worth it. So… tah-dah, here it is! I am grateful to Stuart Bache of Books Covered for his wonderful design.

Welcome to an old walled garden

Let me tell you a little about the background. When garden designer Gilly Townsend first visits The Neglected Garden, she feels both nervous and excited. Paid projects have been scarce since the recession in Ireland in 2010 and her bank balance has reached depressing lows. When she’s shown into the overgrown mass of tangled briars and weeds at Glanesfort, she is overwhelmed by the walled garden’s potential.


Family Secret

But the garden is not the only thing that has been locked away. Its owner, Marc Fletcher, a property developer from London, has a family secret that has been hidden for over a decade and now an increasingly aggressive blackmailer is threatening to destroy both his future and that of his four-year-old son.

If Gilly hadn’t stepped through that door and if she hadn’t found herself falling for Marc, her own future might have been very different.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot but the story moves between County Kildare in Ireland and Marc’s property business in London, featuring eccentric characters, a ghostly woman from the old house and a sprinkling of humour.

Valentine’s Day, 2019 is the day The Neglected Garden will be unlocked - the day the action in the novel begins - so if you’d like to find out what happens, please come back.

Wishing you and your families a very happy Christmas and a healthy New Year.


See the full book description here:

Two versions of an Irish ghost story

A locked door at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin.

A locked door at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin.

One of the best things about living in Ireland is how eager people are, often complete strangers, to tell stories. I was lucky enough to be picked to work on a film set at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin earlier this summer and, in the quieter moments between shooting, we discussed the history of this beautiful demesne, now restored and run by Fingal County Council. The castellated house with walled garden and parkland has sweeping views of the ocean and is open to the public. As with most castles and grand old houses in Ireland, the stories inevitably involve a ghost.

The ghost who waits on the railway bridge is called The Lady of the Stairs

The Lady of the Stairs is the spectre who lurks on the railway bridge at the lower end of the property nearest the sea. The Dublin to Belfast railway line runs along the edge of the demesne and I was warned not to go near the bridge after dark. This warning was, of course, accompanied by laughter so I didn’t take it too seriously but I was inspired to find out who the Lady of the Stairs was.

It turns out there are two versions of this Irish ghost story. The first reminds me of a novel by John Fowles called The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was made into a film starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. You probably remember it: The beautiful social outcast Sarah Woodruff standing on The Cobb at Lyme Regis, gazing forlornly out to sea while she waits for her French Lieutenant to return. I listened to the audio version last week and it is well narrated by Paul Shelley and more humorous than I remembered. It is a classic worth reading, especially if you’re interested in the Victorian era and society. It is set about 1860.

An old unidentified railway bridge, possibly on the Dublin to Belfast line. This is not the one at Ardgillan Castle but it conjures up the right atmosphere. (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

An old unidentified railway bridge, possibly on the Dublin to Belfast line. This is not the one at Ardgillan Castle but it conjures up the right atmosphere. (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

A heart-broken wife gazes out to sea

The first version of the Lady of the Stairs is that, long ago, the husband of this woman was a keen swimmer and one day he went for his usual swim but never returned. His heart-broken wife searched in vain for him and waited day after day and week after week for him on the steps of the railway bridge from which she gazed out to sea. Eventually she faded away from grief and died. Locals will tell you that on dark Halloween nights you would be extremely foolish to go up on the bridge because the Lady of the Stairs waits there to hurl you to your death.

A new bride drowns

The second version is more plausible. A certain Lord Langford visited Ardgillan Castle with his new bride and left her to stay with the family while he travelled to Scotland to go hunting. Lady Langford was tempted to swim in the sea at the edge of the demesne and, in spite of warnings from others that this was a dangerous idea, she couldn’t resist the urge.

She drowned and it is said to be her ghost that haunts the railway bridge, dressed in her white wedding gown as she waits for her husband to return.

The ghost of a white lady in my novel

My own novel has just returned from its final editing stage and also mentions, in traditional Irish fashion, the story of a local ghost at Glanesfort. The white lady is rumoured to stand at the side of the lake as the daylight fades. She plays a small but puzzling role in the novel. Locals say that she was a daughter from the big house who waded into the water and drowned. Is she real or is she just a figment of vivid imaginations? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I’ll give you a hint: She might be more real than you think but for a different reason.

If you’d like to receive a reminder by email when THE NEGLECTED GARDEN is published, you can sign up here:

If you’re interested in reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles or watching the DVD, here are the links:

The French Lieutenant’s Woman - Kindle, hardback and paperback options

The French Lieutenant’s Woman - The classic DVD or Amazon Prime video

Summer drought brought ghostly reminders of the past

One of the most interesting things that happened during this summer's unusual and prolonged heatwave in Britain and Ireland was the mysterious reappearance of historic gardens and buildings. Outlines of old houses and villages that had been lost and forgotten for centuries emerged and brought the past vividly to life, if only for a short few weeks. Why does this happen?

Apparently it's caused by the depth of soil, or lack of it. Parched grass in extreme temperatures dies off when there is less soil under it. A hard area, such as a wall or pathway, will show up as a brown scorch mark.

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

What was once a 17th century parterre, or formal garden, at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire reappeared and was photographed from above. In this first photo, the hard landscaped areas of Chatsworth's parterre are clearly visible in the modern lawn.

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

In the second photo, we can see the illustration of the formal design dated 1699 and it's obvious where the original paths belonging to this are still lying beneath the lawn today. The 1699 design was covered over when Lancelot 'Capability' Brown created his more natural landscape. I'm grateful to Chatsworth for allowing me to use their photos. They weren't certain whether scorch marks of this historic parterre had ever appeared before. 


The lost village of Edensor

What was also fascinating at Chatsworth was the reappearance of parts of the lost village of Edensor, which has only been seen a few times in the last two hundred years. The last time was an extremely dry summer in the 1940's. When a drone camera took photographs from the air during this summer's heat wave, outlines of the high street, a school and other buildings that had been demolished to make way for Capability Brown's new natural landscape in the 18th century were clearly visible. The new village of Edensor was completed in 1842. 



Prehistoric site discovered near Newgrange in Co. Meath, Ireland

Closer to home in Ireland, a 'giant henge' structure appeared on a tillage farm near historic Newgrange in Co. Meath. Drones photographed the outline of a prehistoric archaeological site approximately 200 metres in diameter. It's thought that this might have been built 500 years after Newgrange, which dates from 3,000 BC. The summer drought provided archaeologists a once in a life-time chance to discover outlines of important sites that we didn't even realise existed. 



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