Minnie Darke

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Minnie Darke says ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’, 

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In an alternate reality, I am not an author, but a florist. 

The alternate-florist-me pipes up and makes herself felt each time that I stroll into a fragrant shop festooned with roses and gypsophila, sunflowers and lilies, delphiniums and irises, poppies and peonies, love-in-a-mist and bunches upon bunches of other flowers that I have no idea how to name. I love watching the waltz of florists – the way they pluck one stem, then another, and another – and I wish I knew the special magic that tells them which flowers will look pretty together, and how to arrange them to bring each one’s special beauty to the fore.

Perhaps my love of florists’ shops explains why I had so much fun writing the character of Fern Emerson into the pages of Star-crossed. Although Fern – Libra, habitual wearer of a single gerbera behind one ear, stylish re-inventor of vintage dresses, surreptitious smoker of menthol cigarettes and drinker of gin slings, lover of Brat Pack movies and occasional karaoke diva – is a minor character, she is very close to my heart.

When we meet Fern, the proprietor of Hello Petal, she’s pushing 40, she’s tired from months of hard work, and love has been eluding her. Then comes her first day off in a long, long time – a day on which the stars (which may or may not have been tweaked by Star-crossed’s heroine, Justine Carmichael) put her in the path of landscape architect and vinyl record collector, Caleb Harkness. 

If you want to find out what happens next, you’ll need to read Star-crossed, but we can be sure that wherever Fern is today, she’s not taking the day off. Today, the florists of the world are suggesting and selecting, snipping and trimming, folding acres of tissue paper and cutting into lengths enough ribbon to wrap seven-and-a-half times around the hearts of every single person on Planet Earth who has been moved to buy flowers for their true love on Valentine’s Day. 

While we’re wishing Fern a prosperous February 14th, it’s also time to say happy birthday to Len (short for Valentine) Magellan, Star-crossed’s resident curmudgeon. An inmate of the Holy Rosary Nursing Home, afundamentalist atheist, father of three and grandfather of seven, sufferer of Parkinson's disease and lover of spicy pickled onions, Len has no time for astrology. But that doesn’t mean he won’t use his horoscope to help him decide whether to divide his fortune betweeen his three insufficiently attentive children … or not.

If you – like grumpy old Len – are not a paid up member of the Valentine’s Day fan club, here’s a little factoid that you might enjoy. Like most of the special events celebrated in western culture, Valentine’s Day has a deeper, wilder history than the contemporary, sanitised version of the festival might suggest. 

In mid-Feburary, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia, a festival named for Luperculus, who was Rome’s answer to Pan, naughtiest of the Greek gods. Lupercalia involved getting drunk and naked (though it’s not clear in which order), sacrificing a goat and a dog, and using the pelts of those animals for a spot of ritual (pre-coital) whipping. Now, of course, the official line is that the day is held in honour of a saint (or possibly more than one).

However you like to celebrate Valentine’s Day – with an abundance of chocolates and a huge bunch flowers, or with a jug of wine and a tickle of fresh goat leather – I hope the day brings you joy!

Peter Sharp1 Comment