Two of us with literary couple Tracy Chevalier and Jonathan Drori

Tracy Chevalier, 55, is an American-British novelist best known for Girl With a Pearl Earring. Her British husband, Jonathan Drori, 57, is a science journalist and author whose latest book explores humanity’s relationship with trees.

Tracy Chevalier and Jon Drori. "Young people will see Jon and yell, ‘Hey, plant guy!’ ‘Seed guy!’ which makes him happy," says Tracy.

Tracy Chevalier and Jon Drori. “Young people will see Jon and yell, ‘Hey, plant guy!’ ‘Seed guy!’ which makes him happy,” says Tracy.

Photo: John Davis

TRACY: In the late 1980s a friend took me to a party at Jon’s flat in London’s Richmond. Jon had a girlfriend so I didn’t look at him that way until a few months later, when the same friend invited us to dinner at hers in Hampstead and I discovered he was single. We stayed over in separate rooms and the next morning left to catch the Tube together; he was working at the BBC, I was editing reference books. When we saw a cafe, we said, “Shall we have breakfast?”

Jon is a natural listener, he leans in, makes eye contact, asks questions. He’s open to new ideas and travels a lot, which makes him even more appealing. His science background means he looks at the world differently. If we’re hiking, I’ll say, “Isn’t that flower an unusual colour?” He’ll say, “Yes, it’s called yarrow, and it can soothe insect bites.” He’s nerdy in the sense of having loads of knowledge and applying it.

Being Jewish, he’s more British than English – more outward-looking – even though he has a very RP [Received Pronunciation] accent. Slowly he has told me about his background, how his father was the only survivor of his side of the family living on the Polish/Lithuanian border. His parents grew roses and fruit trees in a small suburban London garden – although Jon hasn’t inherited their love of gardening, just of nature. Early on, it was tricky because I wasn’t Jewish but eventually they came around; having a child [Jacob, now 19] helped smooth things out.

I always thought Jon was going to be a great success while I’d be scratching a living. I never let him read my work until it’s done; I learnt my lesson when he got the manuscript of my first novel, Virgin Blue, and wrote notes like “sheep don’t eat gorse” in the margins. He gets involved in areas I’m researching, though was put out when we went fossil hunting on Dorset’s Lyme Regis beach, where he’d gone a lot as kid, and I found more fossils than he did. I wrote about trees for my book At the Edge of the Orchard and learnt so much from him; Jon grew up visiting Kew Gardens and has always sprinkled references to trees and plants into our chats.

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