The RONA shortlists: Kate Lord Brown on The Perfume Garden

Richard Lee

Kate Lord Brown is shortlisted for the Epic Romantic Novel Prize. See the other shortlisted historical titles for the Romantic Novel of The Year. The winner will be announced on Monday 17th March 2014.


What was the initial inspiration for this story? Did the idea stay true throughout thewriting?

The Perfume Garden was inspired by the years we lived in Valencia, Spain. I was curious why even young friends would clam up about the Spanish Civil War, and the book was an attempt to answer that question. This was living, breathing history – the wounds were still fresh, and I wanted to look at the ‘ripple effect’ of conflict by writing about several generations of the same family. The novel brings together many things I love – the photography of Capa and Taro (I wrote my thesis on photography at the Courtauld Institute), my love of Spain, and of perfume.

The research that went into the book was heartbreaking. I was lucky enough to work with people connected with the International Brigades, and the man who has done so much to overturn the ‘pact of forgetting in Spain’, and spearheaded the exhumation of mass graves. Although The Perfume Garden is romantic fiction, I wanted it to be accurate, and not shy away from the horrific events of the Civil War. I was pleased that the war sections moved my editor to tears (the old writerly chip of ice …).

History and romance, or romance and history?

For me the stories are always character driven, but when I sit down to plot it’s history first – because of my academic background, and the fact I love the research. There’s always a burning question I want to answer, and a strong historical scaffolding to the stories that the fictional characters and relationships are woven around. The novel had a twin timeline so there’s both historical and contemporary romance. Does romance change with time (‘It’s still the same old story … as time goes by’)? I don’t know. I think human nature remains the same, and perhaps in war time (even in eras when social convention would normally mean romantic restraint), the rules are bent and emotions heightened. I was also writing about strong, emancipated women who fought, worked and lived side by side with their men, and certainly from the primary source material I’ve read there were very passionate wartime romances in Spain.

Which writers have most influenced your work? Where would you like your writing to go next? 

Like a lot of writers, I was a reader first, and I still read widely – everything from contemporary fiction to specialist non-fiction and history for research – plus poetry, plays, filmscripts. I hope I never stop learning, and as a ‘new’ writer I want each book to be better than the last. I admire writers like Pat Barker, Sarah Waters, William Boyd, Ian McEwan and Sebastian Faulks whose historical fiction has reached readers who perhaps wouldn’t traditionally read histfic.

Cathie Earnshaw or Elizabeth Bennett? Lizzie. I was given a copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when I was seven or eight years old for a school prize (a heavy red hardback embossed with gold – I think W H Smiths sold a series of Franklin editions in the 70s, and I collected them all). It was a good introduction and I’ve loved Lizzie best of Austen’s heroines ever since.

Shabby chic or National Trust? With a house full of animals and children, it’s more simply shabby …

Call the Midwife or Downton Abbey? Can I be greedy and choose both? Living overseas both series have been a glorious taste of ‘home’.

Glastonbury Abbey or Wells Cathedral?  Glastonbury.

Dinner with… Tony Robinson or Dan Snow? Dan Snow – I’d love to ask him about the Spitfire they dug up in Ireland.

Share a panel with… Lucy Worsley or Bettany Hughes? Tough one – love to meet them both. My Classics are a bit rusty, and I’m fascinated by the Georgian era, so would have to go with Lucy.

Movie or theatre? Neither (see comment about small children and living overseas). BC (before children), both; now I am a devotee of DVD box sets.


The Perfume Garden has been shortlisted for the Epic Romantic Novel of the Year. It has been translated into seven languages, and will be published in the US by Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin’s next year.

Kate grew up in the wild and beautiful Devon countryside.  After studying Philosophy at Durham University and art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art, she worked as an international art consultant curating collections for palaces and embassies in Europe and the Middle East.  When she left London for the orange groves of Valencia, Kate began to write full time, publishing work internationally and gaining a MA Dist in Creative Writing. She now lives in the Middle East with her family. Her debut novel The Beauty Chorus was published by Atlantic in 2011, and this year The Perfume Garden has been published in seven languages. Kate is a member of the HNS, the HWA and the RNA and her website is:


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