Inspiration for Here and Now by Santa Montefiore
When my children were small I used to read them a gorgeous book. It was my favourite, not just because the story was so wise and spiritual, but because the illustrations were stunning. It was called Stone Soup by Jon J Muth. Set in China, it’s about three wise monks called Hok, Lok and Siew who arrive at a walled town which has been ravaged by war and famine. The people are wary of each other and of strangers. The place feels deserted. The monks put a large stone in the middle of the town square and declare that they are going to make stone soup. A child comes up and asks how they’re going to do that since his mother is poor and would love to know how to make soup out of a stone. They tell him that, if he brings them a cauldron, they’ll show him. He duly brings a cauldron, which they fill with water and drop in the stone. They light a fire beneath it and the water boils. Shortly, someone else appears and asks what they’re doing. The monks suggest some onions would make it nicer. The local comes back a moment later with onions. Little by little curtains start to twitch, people begin to come out of their houses, and they offer vegetables to make the soup tastier. Soon, they all contribute, running back and forth bringing ingredients. Eventually they come together in a fabulous party in the town square, sharing the soup they have all made together. It’s an uplifting and charming story about the joy of giving and sharing. I wanted to write a novel about that, so I chose Marigold, who is the centre of the village for she runs the shop, to be my ‘stone’. As she starts to forget things, the village come together to support her and all their petty feuds and fights dissolve as they learn to value each other.
The idea to write about dementia was really inspired by so many articles and adverts I’d seen in the press about people suffering with the disease. They all had one thing in common: misery. Grainy black and white photos of grey-haired old people with their heads in their hands, exuding despair and hopelessness. I thought, where’s the love? When I started researching the subject I realised that many people live very contentedly with dementia. The assumption is that they are all sufferers, but that’s not always the case. When they’re supported by their loved ones, the present moment can be full of joy. Of course, the disease is a progressive one and when the memory is completely gone, it’s devastating for everyone concerned. But love is so powerful. No one ever mentioned that.
I also wanted to explore the spiritual aspect of the subject. I believe very strongly that we are souls living an earthly life to learn to love through experience. Therefore, the body is a temporary home for the spirit, which, after death, is discarded like an old coat we no longer have use for. Whether a person has dementia or any other disease or disability, that physical part of them is also left behind. It was only useful while they were here, learning from it. Marigold’s soul is perfect, as it always has been and always will be. Her dementia is part of her life’s purpose and journey. It’s there to teach her and those around her about love. Because of her, so many wonderful things happen.
I loved writing Here and Now and was so inspired that I wrote it in a relatively short time. It just flowed out of me. I wasn’t sure when I started how I would end it. I had three very key scenes in my head for the body of the book, like a reel of film, but the ending was in fog. When I got there, the ending I chose felt right. I hope it does for my readers too.
Most of all I hope it gives them a warm feeling inside and makes their hearts feel bigger. That’s the objective of all my novels.