My fourth book, The Secrets of Sunshine will be published on the 14th of May and I’ll no doubt be celebrating by punching the air and quaffing too much prosecco. I’ll also heave a big sigh of relief because with each book I write, I worry I might run out of ideas.
‘Every decision we make… can ignite the flame of a story’
Before I became a full-time writer, I worked in marketing for a wholesale locksmith company. Not the most glam profession I know, but every decision we make in life, each job we love or hate, the people we speak to, and even the ones we never want to see again, each thing we wear or buy, can ignite the flame of a story.
Possibly because of my old job, I began to notice padlocks hanging on bridges and railings. Sometimes they were solitary, while others hung in clumps or lines. I spotted them in my home city of Manchester, and while on holiday in the Canary Islands. I recalled watching the news, several years ago, about the Pont Des Arts bridge in Paris that bore so many locks it collapsed under their weight. They’re commonly called ‘love locks’ and are a symbol of commitment and undying affection, and I started to wonder who left them there and the stories behind them.
According to some, attaching padlocks as a love ritual is something that stems from ancient Chinese tradition, whereas others believe it started in a small Serbian town during the First World War. Wherever they originated, love locks sparked a tale I wanted to tell.
‘There’s something romantic and mysterious about inscribing a message on a padlock’
The Secrets of Sunshine tells of single dad Mitchell Fisher who has given up all hope of romance, until one day he spies a woman on his home town’s renowned ‘love story’ bridge. When he rescues her after she falls into the river, he’s surprised to feel an unexpected connection to her. But then she disappears leaving only one clue to her identity – a secret message on the padlock she left behind. As word spreads about Mitchell’s heroic act, strangers write and tell him their own stories that help him to open his heart to finding love again.
In this era of social media, where friends and lovers have grown used to corresponding through the click of computer keys and by tapping phone screens, there’s something romantic and mysterious (though not particularly eco-friendly) about inscribing a message on a padlock and fastening it somewhere it might stay forever.
‘Keeping in touch… is more important than ever’
While many people in the world are currently in lockdown (please pardon the pun!) due to coronavirus, keeping in touch with friends and loved ones is more important than ever and alternative methods of communication are being sought out. The days of catching up for a coffee or lunch are on hold and, perhaps once taken for granted, suddenly seem very precious. I’ve personally started to chat on the phone more and have enjoyed writing letters in long-hand. I’ve rediscovered that adhering a stamp, sealing an envelope and walking to the post box at the end of my street is much more rewarding than firing off an email. Just as my hero Mitchell Fisher discovers.
I sent teabags to a friend who works in a hospital, so she can enjoy a brew during her break, and signed postcards for readers to stick into my books, because I can’t sign them in person. My book launch will be conducted on Facebook Live rather than at the local library. It means readers from anywhere in the world can join in. The more the merrier, even if we can’t all have a glass of champagne in the same room.
‘We are all bound together in a unique and shared situation’
There’s kindness in the air when I go out for my once-a-day exercise. People may walk two metres apart, but they now nod and say hello to each other. We are all bound together in a unique and shared situation, and it’s allowing us to think differently. Board games are being dusted off, there’s a smell of freshly-cooked bread and cake in the air as people turn to home baking, friends chat together on Zoom, while others might finally start the novel they’ve always wanted to write.
Hopefully, one positive aspect arising from the pandemic will be a renewed sense of community spirit. As we share our stories about these strange times there will of course be sad ones, but also many messages of hope too. New ideas will spring forth that could prove perfect as a touch of writing inspiration.
Phaedra Patrick’s new novel, The Secrets of Sunshine, is out May 14th.