There are no prizes (as distinct from No-Prizes) for identifying where this image comes from. It's the very first scene of the whole Mirabilis saga, where Jack is getting ready for his duel in Kew Gardens. The idea of an orchid flowering in the depths of winter came about because I wanted to show something extraordinary but logically explicable before the green comet turned up and logic moved away without leaving a forwarding address. It wasn't just the orchid that filled that role. Those Victorian hothouses are like steampunk starships, lush green alien fronds pressing inquisitively against the cold glass. What better egg from which to hatch the return of the unseelie king?
Inspiration for this scene came from two sources. First a visit to Nymans in West Sussex, where I saw a building that has been left half-derelict as a kind of folly after a fire in 1947. Hot water pipes still ran along the outside of the building, and there an entire ecosystem thrived despite the frost. And that must have stirred memories from when I was about Jack's age of a midwinter trip to Kew Gardens with a girl I'd just met. That's where fiction departs from reality, of course. Jack doesn't get to take the girl to Kew Gardens, he goes to take potshots at his rival instead.
I also wonder now: is that the full story? Because another plausible explanation would be that I was remembering J M Barrie's line that "God gave us memory so that we could have roses in December," and probably thinking that I'd rather that, instead of memory, he'd said imagination. And in another Edwardian fantasy, published just a year after the events of Mirabilis, Peter Pan hung out in Kensington Gardens, from which my mind could easily have flown to Kew. Now I don't think any of that was the way it actually came about, but who knows? They wouldn't call it inspiration if you could be sure of analyzing it.
The reason for digging out the Kew Gardens image this week is that I've been putting the final touches to the proof for Mirabilis: Winter volume one, which British and Irish readers will be able to get their hands on next month, and the very last thing we had to decide was the endpaper design. That drawing of Leo's looks amazing when blown up to several feet across, and it captures the spirit of the first half of the Winter book so perfectly that there was no other contender.
The quest for the big what? - (Sir) Lenny Henry is an acknowledged comics fan so, in honour of Comic Relief being on the TV tomorrow night, I thought I'd fish this oddity out from the b...