Inspirations behind ‘Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Cafe’ by Milly Johnson
2015/06/01  |  By:   |  Features  |  

I love sunflowers.  They are my favourite flower (obviously not counting the old white rose, which goes without saying). So writing a book featuring them so heavily was a delight.  Ever since I read about the first sunflower, I’ve had a soft spot for them.  For those of you who don’t know, the story comes from the Greek myths. A nymph called Clytie was in love with the gorgeous Apollo, but as is the way with love, he couldn’t give a toss about her because he was in love with Daphne – who couldn’t give a toss about him. Clytie stood and watched Apollo drive his sun-chariot through the skies with her heart broken and didn’t move for so long that she took root and turned into a flower – a sunflower – whose face follows the passage of the sun across the skies with longing.  I fell in love with that story – and I’ve had enough unrequited love episodes in my life to have turned into a full field of sunflowers (haven’t we all, girls?).  It’s an easy myth to believe, seeing as flowers tilt their faces towards the sun, until they mature, then tend to face east, waiting through the night for their first glimpse of the sun to carry them through the day.  I remember getting on the school bus in the morning which a gorgeous blond bloke called Keith also caught and the sight of him carried me through the day too.

And you can’t think of sunflowers without thinking of Van Gogh.  I’ve always loved his sunflower paintings, though I never realised he did so many of them until I visited his museum in Amsterdam.  Until then, I thought there was only one, but there are quite a few – in vases and out of them.  He painted the ones we most recognise to decorate his hero Gaugain’s bedroom when he came to stay.

When I found out that Van Gogh came to England to work for a couple of years my imagination started whirring.  I won’t give too much away, but I’m expecting a few scoffs of derision at what I have written could have happened to him whilst he was over here.  As with all my books, I tell you to go with the flow and just let yourself believe.

Oh and if you have never been to Amsterdam, go. Get yourself on a cheap-as-chips P & O Ferry across the little pond and have a wonderful day.  The locals are friendly people, there is so much to see and do (pot and sex-shops aren’t the be-all and end-all of the city by a long stretch).  And go and look at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.  I filled up when I saw them for the first time. Just lovely.

Afternoon Tea

But my inspiration wasn’t just sunflowers. I had such a good time writing The Teashop on the Corner, that I wasn’t ready to let the teashop theme go. I love them so much I’m betting I’ll have my own very shortly. There’s something about putting a few humble sandwiches and scones on a three-tiered plate that turns them into a feast.  In the course of writing this book, I’ve unfortunately had to sample a lot of them to find the perfect combo. It’s been hell.

And of course the book is also all about a group of cleaners – a homage to those wonderful women who make our lives so much easier, because I couldn’t live without mine.  My nan was a cleaner with the same family for over forty years and they loved her – and she them.  I’ve heard some wonderful stories about cleaners and clients (I’ll keep those for another day) but there is no denying that this is an important profession.

And throw in a bit of Marilyn Monroe (whom I would quite like to be) and chocolate as well (I had to test a few in my search for the ideal flavour for the story) and you have most of my favourite things in one book.  Let me just say, I hope you enjoy reading this book as much as enjoyed doing the research for it.