Ignoring Gravity: Why Rose?

I honestly can’t remember why I called my protagonist Rose. I have been writing about Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity, and the sequel Connectedness, for more than 12 years and she is real to me. She came to me fully-formed as Rose, we live together, I have no memory or note taken as evidence that I ever considered a different name. In the early days, the title of the novel was Finding Rose because the story is essentially about Rose discovering the truth of her identity; she sets off on a journey to find herself. 


A Shropshire Lad [photo: David Austin Roses]

I had fun with rose imagery but it is easy to get carried away, too clever, and a lot of this was cut in an early draft. Rose and Lily’s Grandma, Bizzie, is almost 80. She is from another era, her speech is based on my own Great-Aunt with the little verbal stutters, the clichés and repetitions, and a full-stop of quiet laughter at the end of a sentence when her words ran out. I browsed through the Penguin Dictionary of Clichés. Finally I had four clichés about roses for Bizzie to say: ‘a bed of roses’, ‘a rose between two thorns’, ‘a rose by any other name’ and ‘roses all the way.’ In the end, Bizzie says only one of these clichés in the book, the last one. “Roses all the way, so so.”

I read books about roses, walked around rose gardens, ordered rose catalogues and looked at photographs, and read quotations about roses in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. I bought cut roses, smelled them, and touched them. I discovered some fascinating facts.


Benjamin Britten [photo: David Austin Roses]

For example:-
To extract one pound of oil, 4000 pounds of roses are needed to extract one pound of rose oil;
Rose oil is used in 82% of all women’s fragrances, and 12% of men’s;
There are 20 different rose scents including myrrh, clove, fruity and musk;
[three facts from Perfumes, Splashes & Colognes by Nancy M Booth].

When the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, drops of his sweat fell to earth and turned into roses [from Anatomy of a Rose by Sharman Apt Russell].

The meaning of ‘hybrid’ in rose terms – the offspring of genetically different parents, usually produced accidentally or artificially in cultivation, but occasionally arising in the wild;
The meaning of ‘parentage’ in rose terms – the parentage of the rose tells you how the cultivar was created. Some roses, have unknown parentage [two facts from The RHS Plant Guides: Roses].


Buttercup [photo: David Austin Roses]

It also seems appropriate that the rose has been a symbol of secrecy since Roman times. The fourth century Christian writer, Gregory Naziansen, wrote: “Like the rose in spring hidden in its bud, so must the mouth be closed and restrained with strong reins, enforcing silence to loquacious lips.” That is why roses were painted over Church confessional boxes and on the ceilings of banqueting rooms. Conversations held ‘sub rosa’ [under the rose] were in strictest confidence.

None of this was ever used in Ignoring Gravity but the research was fascinating and I hope it has added a hidden layer of meaning to my novel. Certainly it confirmed my initial instinct that I’d chosen the right name for Rose.

And I did stop before I got too carried away: Rose doesn’t eat pink rose-scented Turkish Delight or sleep on a rose-filled pillow as Cleopatra is said to have done.


The rose garden in June at Sissinghurst [photo: nationaltrust.org.uk]

To browse more beautiful roses, go to the David Austin Roses website here.



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