The Inspiration for WHERE IVY DARES TO GROW

by Marielle Thompson

It was in the midst of a snowstorm one evening in January 2021 that the idea for my debut novel, Where Ivy Dares to Grow, dropped into my head. Or rather, one specific scene, one moment, suddenly appeared in my mind, and from that scene the rest of the story would eventually grow. I saw, so clearly, a woman walking through a snowy, remote garden that largely reflected the winter white mountainside outside my window at that moment. I saw this woman weaving through a labyrinth of hedges and suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the world was no longer winter but fully in bloom with spring and warmth. I saw this woman see a figure appear, a man that appeared nearly out of thin air, that looked out of another time and world.

I did not know where the woman was or why she was there. I did not know what her relationship to that mysterious man would become. I did not even know her name. But I knew that, in that moment, she was terrified. Not of her surroundings and their sudden changes, as anyone would be, but of herself. She saw something that was unbelievable and rather than be confused or in awe, she automatically distrusted her own mind and eyes.

That was the first time I, as an author, met my main character, Saoirse Read, and even though I knew nothing else about her, I immediately knew that her mental health struggles were an integral part of her worldview. In my own life, in that moment, I was still struggling to come to terms with my recent diagnosis with a dissociative disorder called Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder (DPDR), as well as coping with Anxiety and Depression. I allowed this new character, Saoirse, to occupy my mind and eventually the rest of her story bloomed around that visceral moment of not trusting her own mind, that moment where her world shifted, and the story truly began.

As I started to write the book, I knew it was essential that it be written not only in the first person, but in a very close first-person viewpoint. I needed to create a narrative voice deep within Saoirse’s mind that made reader’s feel like they could not escape her mind – just as she felt. I wanted readers to feel the way it feels to live in a brain struggling with mental health; looping and repetitive thoughts, mental slipping, fogginess, gnawing and consuming guilt and emotions. As a lover of the genre, and a former scholar in Romantic and Gothic Literature, I knew that this story would be a gothic one anyway. But the more I got to know Saoirse and her tale the more I realized that I wanted her mental health to modernize, and even question, the classic tropes of the gothic genre.

These feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and the inability to trust one’s own mind are common for gothic heroines. But for many with dissociative disorders especially, for people like myself and Saoirse, that feeling is not due to living in an ominous, sentient house – it is a biproduct of living in and with our own bodies and minds. I often say that DPDR, for me, feels like the ghosts are born from your own mind and your body is the haunted house. The question I often asked myself, that I placed into Saoirse’s story, was always what is reality when everything appears as a dream?

Where Ivy Dares to Grow could not exist without its exploration of mental health because that is the very heart of the story from which everything else grows. Saoirse’s mental health struggles are just a small factor of who she is, but it often feels like it consumes her. It was essential to me that the story reflect that – that it is Saoirse’s mind, not just the house, that is that independent, haunted, sentient thing that the main character fears, questions, and eventually loves. Saoirse’s state of mind does not alter with the shadowy happenings within the manor – the manor, instead, reflects her mind. When Saoirse is struggling with her mental health the home is one of decay, full of moving shadows and disembodied noises, a personification of anxiety, detached from reality. And when Saoirse is feeling solidly in her body and gentle with her own mind and self, the house is beautiful and blooming, warm and full of golden light.

Though Where Ivy Dares to Grow is a love story, the true love of the story is a woman learning to forgive, accept, and love herself not despite her mental health struggles but by embracing that they are a part of herself and her life, and do not make her unlovable or villainous. Saoirse’s dissociative disorder is named directly in the story because I had never seen fiction that discussed DPDR in a way reflective of my personal experience and I wanted to see that on the page – but I believe, and hope, that readers who have encountered all kinds of mental health struggles can see some of their own experiences in Saoirse’s and have their own self-love story.

Mexican Gothic meets Outlander in this spellbindingly atmospheric timeslip debut, as a woman struggling with her mental health spends the winter with her cruel in-laws in their eerie, haunting manor that sweeps her back through time and into the arms of her fiancé’s mysterious, alluring 19th century ancestor.

Traveling to be with her fiancé’s terminally ill mother in her last days, Saoirse Read expected her introduction to the family’s ancestral home would be bittersweet. But the stark thrust of Langdon Hall against the cliff and the hundred darkened windows in its battered walls are almost as forbidding as the woman who lies wasting inside. Her fiancé’s parents make no secret of their distaste for Saoirse, and their feelings have long since spread to their son. Or perhaps it is only the shadows of her mind suggesting she’s unwelcome, seizing on her fears while her beloved grieves?

As Saoirse takes to wandering the estate’s winding, dreamlike gardens, overgrown and half-wild with neglect, she slips back through time to 1818. There she meets Theo Page, a man like her fiancé but softer, with all the charms of that gentler age, and who clearly harbors a fervent interest in her. As it becomes clear that Theo is her fiancé’s ancestor, and the tenuous peace of Langdon Hall crumbles around her, Saoirse finds she’s no longer sure which dreams and doubts belong to the present—and which might not be dreams at all . . .