Thanks to Random Things Tours, I got the chance to interview Hanna Powell about her book, The Cactus Surgeon.
INTERVIEW WITH HANNAH POWELL
- Hi Hannah, Congratulations on the release of your new book. What made you decide to write a book about nature, that isn’t wholly about nature?
Nature has been such a big part of my life, that it was always going to feature. I grew up living next to a garden centre (where I now work) and studied for a degree in horticulture. Nature has been the backdrop to my life, and my health journey, and the two together made for an interesting memoir.
2. You have grown up around flowers, and plants have always been a part of your life. What’s the story behind the title, The Cactus Surgeon? Why did you choose the cactus instead of any other plant?
I fleetingly wanted to be a Cactus Surgeon, when I was six years old! I used to gouge out rotten pieces of cactus, or try to reattach fallen limbs with cocktail sticks. Whilst writing the book I was part of a writing group and they all said I had to go with that title – because it is so unique!
3. How challenging is it to write about nature? Do you write about the things you see and perceive, or do you study specific plants in detail? How do you strike a balance between personal experience and research?
The majority of my writing comes from personal experience, from memories or by revisiting photos of the nature I want to talk about. Normally I talk about plants or animals which have either had an impact on me, or which are the backdrop to a significant event. I generally find the writing flows onto the page, but then I have to come back and work hard to add in the additional language, the metaphors, to ‘show not tell’. I had some great feedback from beta readers and from my editor which helped me to improve this aspect of my writing.
4. A nonfiction book about plants is a very distinctive genre. What kind of readership did you have in mind for this book?
Nature writing has exploded in the UK in the last five years, and accounts of health experiences are also popular. I particularly wanted to reach readers who were struggling with their own health, because my story is one of hope and recovery. I’ve been pleased that it has been described as very relatable by a wide range of readers.
5. As a reader, who are your favorite writers? Any books you would recommend, about plants or otherwise?
I love non-fiction, and I read a lot of nature and health memoirs whilst writing mine. I would highly recommend Wintering by Katherine May, Still Life by Josie George and Seed To Dust by Marc Hamer. They all tell stories about life, discovery and the healing power of nature.
6. What advice would you give to city dwellers in high rises who are disconnected from nature?
Buy a houseplant (or several!). They are wonderfully calming, and it’s good for your mental health to have something to care for. Outside of your high rise, seek out routes which take you past nature. Become friends with the local trees or wildlife. Enjoy the changing seasons. Find a botanic garden, park or community garden. Don’t wait to be invited, seek out the green spots.
7. If you were a plant – any variety of flower, herb, fruit-bearing, or cactus – which one would you choose to be?
It would have to be the sunflower. From a tiny seed grows a very tall stem, bearing a flower which brings smiles and joy to all, and keeps on stretching, up, up, up to the blue sky.
Thank you, Hannah, for taking the time for this interview.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah Powell (née Bourne) is Communications and HR Director for the Perrywood Garden Centres she runs with her dad and two brothers. When she was six years old, she wanted to be a cactus surgeon.
Before coming back into the family business, she had a successful career in PR and marketing, running high-profile campaigns for clients, including Barclaycard and Domino’s Pizza. She was part of the team that launched Global Entrepreneurship Week, an annual campaign to encourage young people to set up businesses worldwide.
She now lives in North Essex with her husband, daughter and many plants.