The Scent of Possibility, a Novel by Sarah McCartney, in Which Kindness, Connectedness and Scent Play Starring Roles

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One could be forgiven for thinking lately that the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. I needn’t mention all the unsettling things that have gone on globally in recent times, the events are still so fresh and are being discussed endlessly in the media. Fear of instability is rampant and is, I feel, often incorrectly attributed to certain groups in society, often those who are most vulnerable. Divisiveness is encouraged as we are told to fear those who may take from us what is “rightfully” ours.

Those of us who don’t subscribe to this way of thinking might be struggling a little with the current social and political climates. I know I am. Lately, as I’ve dealt with chronic illness, and the long struggle to get well again, I’ve turned to meditation and to writers such as Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist. I also find myself pondering the things that make life (and humankind) good, thinking about the similarities between us all, and how we are all struggling with one thing or another. It’s important at a time like this to cultivate positive connections with others (which we need for health and survival), love, kindness and understanding. We all fear the loss of safety and stability and the loss of control over our lives:

Wanting and fearing are natural energies, part of evolution’s design to protect us and help us thrive. But when they become the core of our identity, we lose sight of the fullness of our being. We become identified with, at best, only a sliver of our natural being — a sliver that perceives itself as incomplete, at risk and separate from the rest of the world. If our sense of who we are is defined by feelings of neediness and insecurity, we forget that we are also curious, humorous and caring. We forget about the breath that is nourishing us, the love that unites us, the enormous beauty and fragility that is our shared experience of being alive. (Tara Brach – Radical Acceptance)

This sense of connectedness, of beauty and collective fragility, is at the core of perfumer and writer Sarah McCartney’s novel The Scent of Possibility. When I read this novel last year, I was quite moved by the kind and generous spirit of the book, the intense Britishness of it (there are many, many cups of tea served), and the way the characters connect and intertwine. The Scent of Possibility is both a remedy for and a respite from real life, while encapsulating all that is good about people and their capacity for kindness.

The novel, lucky for us, was the catalyst for the accidental launch of Sarah’s 4160Tuesdays perfumery. The story goes that McCartney was writing a novel about a perfumer/counsellor who creates bottles of personalised scent that capture her clients’ happy memories. Suddenly, all her friends were asking her to make the perfumes she was writing about in the novel, and make them she did. Now we all have the wonderful fragrances of 4160Tuesdays – with their fabulous names and creative backstories – to wear and enjoy. How serendipitous!

hydrosol-939216_640The blurb on the back of the The Scent of Possibility reads:

Down a cobbled mews off one of London’s rare tranquil backstreets, people come to talk, gaze at the garden, have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, then leave with a small blue bottle of perfume. Captured inside it is the scented memory of happy times.

The protagonist in the novel (our perfumer/counsellor) is aptly named Unity Cassel, and I am inclined to think that she is the sort of heroine we all need right now in this chaotic time. Unity connects and unites the characters in the novel in the most delightful way – I’m not going to give away any plot points – and her kindness and generosity cast a wonderfully warm glow over the whole story. Slightly more sinister characters and plot twists and turns also emerge, but instead of destabilising everything, they ultimately serve to shine an even brighter, more positive light upon the more pleasant qualities and characters in the novel. Goodness and connectedness win out over divisiveness.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, some of the scents created in the novel by Unity for her various clients have been made into perfumes and are available to purchase from 4160Tuesdays. You can experience a multi-sensory journey by reading the book and then trying the fragrances, or order them first and try them as you read! Among them, Ealing Green, Tart’s Knicker Drawer, Shazam!, What I Did on My Holidays, and A Kiss by The Fireside are available. If you know and wear these fragrances already, you will love reading the book and finding out about the characters and the stories that inspired them.

If you’re a perfume buff, or just want to read a really lovely novel about people being kind to one another, give The Scent of Possibility a go. It’s an elixir for the soul and gives hope that good scent, cups of tea and most importantly human connection can help overcome adversity.

Rewind Repost: Easter Smells, Easter Memories

Below is a repost of the piece I wrote last year on Easter smells, in case you missed it. Easter, for me, always brings up a plethora of very specific smell memories. Year after year, I find myself transported back to my childhood through these memories. I love Easter: the weather is getting cooler, the four-day long weekend is so lazy and relaxing, and I especially adore the rituals of eating spiced fruit buns and chocolate eggs. Have a happy Easter everyone!


Easter has always been a favourite time of year for me. Although I’m not Christian, I like the four-day holiday in Australia and some of the related traditions, whether or not they stem from Christianity or pagan times. Part of my fondness for this holiday is because I have very fond memories of Easter weekends spent at Robe as a child, a tiny coastal town in South Australia. My family owned the historic Karatta House then, and this run down and dilapidated, sprawling property was a great place for a child to spend so much time.

Karatta House

Karatta House

I have many scent memories spending Easter at Karatta. I remember the rich, wake-up smell of bacon cooking in the stone-walled, lino-floored, musty kitchen in the mornings. When I cook bacon now, I always think of Robe, and the old kitchen Mum cooked in. The brass kitchen taps and bore water gave off a strange combined aroma: metallic notes mixed with dirt and that slight funk of undrinkable bore water. I also associate this kitchen with the pungently salty smell of freshly caught fish, and my Dad and brother gutting and scaling them on the sink. I’ve never like seafood much, and I think my experiences at Robe (my parents also cooked live Crayfish) have a lot to do with that. The smell of fish, no matter how fresh, still makes my stomach turn.

fire-551665_640Every Easter Dad would light the fire at night in one of the grand old fireplaces. Robe is host to a cool climate, but as autumn and Easter sets in, it gets quite nippy. The smell of the wood smoke was always comforting, and a treat for us as we didn’t have a fireplace at home. Dad found small pieces of copper wire to burn in the fire for us, creating magical, coloured flames of blue and green.

On Good Friday, the scent of toasting hot cross buns infused the kitchen, with warm cinnamon and the sticky-sweet smell of caramelised sultanas and dried citrus peel wafting around. The smell of lactonic, fatty butter slathered on top completes this smell memory. I loved the cross on top of the buns the most, and would pull it off and reserve it, eating it separately after I’d finished the rest of the bun.

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Childhood Scent Memories: Highlights from Reader Entries to Perfume Polytechnic’s First Birthday Giveaway

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Photo credit: smelling the roses (Creative Commons license) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/95632040@N00/3356909594

Perfume Polytechnic turned one a couple of weeks ago. To celebrate the blog’s first birthday I held a giveaway and entrants were asked to share one of their favourite childhood scent memories with me. I received some fabulous answers, and what struck me most was the emotional power of these memories. These scent memories were not only pleasant smells remembered on their own, but they were related back to treasured activities, relationships and special moments.

Scent is evocative. It helps us to recall memories, people, places and things. It connects us. I’ve published a selection of some of the lovely scent memories that my readers sent in below. I hope you enjoy reading them too.

Crystal Marie (USA)

“Narrowing down my favorite childhood scent memory is sort of difficult as there are several. My favorite has to be of the totality of semi-swampy forest and fields behind my childhood home. The sweet fragrance of walking on crushed cottonwood leaves, as mimosa flowers, willow and dogwood perfume the air, especially in early morning or early evening. It’s a lovely combination, which is I suppose my inspiration for botanical fragrance work. I love the smell of places in nature best.”

Roslyn (Australia)

“Both my mother and grandmother were superb cooks, so some of my strongest childhood scent memories are of food cooking, from aromatic chicken soup with home-made noodles to pavlova and honey cake, delectable savoury and sweet dishes of all kinds. And I also strongly remember the scent of 4711, which seemed to be everywhere back then!”

Goh Sha (USA)

“My favorite perfume memory is going through my mom’s drawer and smelling Dior’s Poison which took my breath away. It was so contrary to the idea of perfume I had at the time.”

Sue Holleron (UK)

“I live in a very old City called Chester. My favourite childhood fragrance was the scent of clean hay and straw when I helped my Dad with the animals as he was a Keeper at Chester Zoo. I loved the feeling that the animals had comfortable beds to sleep on!!”

Al (Australia)

“One of my earliest smell memories is of a cumquat tree in my parents’ garden – it sat in a large pot by the door, so I passed it often, and associate its zingy scent with summer warmth, bare feet and a bee-sting I received nearby. At some point I couldn’t resist having a taste of the cute little fruits, so I also associate that unpleasant experience with the much nicer smell. But I am still fond of the smell of a cumquat tree.”

Charlotte Scheuer (USA)

“My favorite memory as a child was walking to kindergarten and going past a greenhouse. I loved the smell of earth, geraniums and the various flowers therein. I was a wee little girl growing up in Ohio and I think my ‘career’ as a perfumista began right there! I think I have been trying to replace that scent in my heart since then. At that age also, my grandmother had huge peony bushes in her backyard and I remember them as well. These fond memories bring me comfort and joy!”

Gaby (Australia)

“I’m from Australia and a childhood scent memory is the ink from those old-school stencilling machines we had back in primary school. I can waft the slightly sour acrid chemical smell right now if I close my eyes. It takes me back to year 2 – we had a cool teacher who loved The Beatles and I remember she made us draw pictures of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – little did we know what it really meant! As well as stencilling ink, her classroom smelt of decaffeinated coffee and the jelly beans she used to hand out when we did good deeds.”

Naz (USA)

“My favorite scent memory from childhood… I sometimes have trouble recalling them until the smell is actually present. One of them would be the smell of mustard flower in the night air, when I walked outside in a village in my native country, Bangladesh, and you couldn’t see anything, not even your hand in front of you… but you could smell the flowers, and that smell lent you a sense of peace, even though your vision was lost.”

Damir (Croatia)

“There are many different kinds of olfactory memories from my childhood (preschool age).

Memory #1 Roses in spray: My great-grandmother had a neighbor who worked in Germany. Every time she came home, she brought a bottle of home fragrance. A large pale green bottle like the old design of hair spray bottles under pressure. The smell was so similar to the roses that are rare today. An intensive smell that was almost identical to many roses we easily found in most of the yards then. It was sweeter probably because of high concentration but it smelled like real roses.

Memory #2 Peonies: My great-grandmother had many bushes of multicolored peonies. Once upon a time, in the 70’s, when the climate was healthy, spring showers happened often in the period of the peony’s blooming. The rain intensified the scent of the peonies that was spread and mixed with the scents of the other flowers.

Memory #3: Forest. My favorite memory. It is amazing to watch how the seasons of the year change and bring various odors in the same place. It depends on so many factors: tree species, the level of humidity, the amount of rotten and dry fallen leaves, lakes and streams, the amount of snow and sunlight are some of them. I’m happy that I spend a lot of time in the same forest nowadays, too. It is a very important place for me.”

The Perfume Magpie (Spain)

“Your question on a favourite scent from childhood made me think a lot… There are so many and it’s rather difficult to pick one or two. If I were to choose the smells with emotional attachments, I would say incense and osmanthus. Incense was a part of my daily life and I did enjoy the act of offering incense every morning. The smell and the sight of osmanthus in autumn was pure magic. Every autumn, I was waiting and waiting for the gorgeous orange coloured blossoms to open. Pity, I haven’t found any osmanthus trees here in Spain.”

Sun Mi (USA)

“My favorite scent memory is a bizarre one, but it’s the smell of Powerbait. I actually wrote one of my college essays on it back in the day. My dad and I would go fishing often, and I loved it. After a day of fishing our hands would reek of the potent, neon fish bait, layered with the slimy smell of fish and lake water. It wasn’t, perhaps, the most pleasant of smells – but it was the smell of fun with my dad.”

Darkros3 (Italy)

“Perhaps my most vivid childhood memory is related to summer holidays at the sea and to the various scents I recall from those days spent at the beach: the salty smell of the sea, obviously, but also that of suntan lotions, pastries sold in the bars on the promenade and plastic bags in which my mother used to put all my things (swimsuits, toys, etc.). I used to miss this fabulous mix of smells when I came home, and I’ve always loved exotic/beach scents since then – especially after getting seriously addicted to fragrances.”

Sally (Australia)

“A “scent memory” I hold dear is of the musty yet fresh scent of the ice-skating rink. The anticipation of a seven year old being able to do something exciting, a little dangerous and somehow otherworldly with its endless white was added to with the crisp smell of the ice plus the leather from my beloved little ice skates. I remember how the scent would intensify when on the ice, when a blade would cut into the ice and of course, when I fell. When I get a whiff of a smell like this, I am transported back to this time.”


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these wonderful scent memories and conjuring up the images that they convey and suggest. Do you have any treasured scent memories from childhood that you would like to share? If so, please leave a comment in the box below!

Easter Smells, Easter Memories

Easter has always been a favourite time of year for me. Although I’m not Christian, I like the four-day holiday in Australia and some of the related traditions, whether or not they stem from Christianity or pagan times. Part of my fondness for this holiday is because I have very fond memories of Easter weekends spent at Robe as a child, a tiny coastal town in South Australia. My family owned the historic Karatta House then, and this run down and dilapidated, sprawling property was a great place for a child to spend so much time.

Karatta House

Karatta House

I have many scent memories spending Easter at Karatta. I remember the rich, wake-up smell of bacon cooking in the stone-walled, lino-floored, musty kitchen in the mornings. When I cook bacon now, I always think of Robe, and the old kitchen Mum cooked in. The brass kitchen taps and bore water gave off a strange combined aroma: metallic notes mixed with dirt and that slight funk of undrinkable bore water. I also associate this kitchen with the pungently salty smell of freshly caught fish, and my Dad and brother gutting and scaling them on the sink. I’ve never like seafood much, and I think my experiences at Robe (my parents also cooked live Crayfish) have a lot to do with that. The smell of fish, no matter how fresh, still makes my stomach turn.

fire-551665_640Every Easter Dad would light the fire at night in one of the grand old fireplaces. Robe is host to a cool climate, but as autumn and Easter sets in, it gets quite nippy. The smell of the wood smoke was always comforting, and a treat for us as we didn’t have a fireplace at home. Dad found small pieces of copper wire to burn in the fire for us, creating magical, coloured flames of blue and green.

On Good Friday, the scent of toasting hot cross buns infused the kitchen, with warm cinnamon and the sticky-sweet smell of caramelised sultanas and dried citrus peel wafting around. The smell of lactonic, fatty butter slathered on top completes this smell memory. I loved the cross on top of the buns the most, and would pull it off and reserve it, eating it separately after I’d finished the rest of the bun.

easter-2164_640Come Easter Sunday, the Easter Bunny had always paid a visit. My brother and I awoke to find bright, foil-covered chocolate treats at the ends of our beds. There was always something very satisfying about crunching into an easter egg, the hollowed-out shape intensifying and amplifying the smell of the chocolate. It brings the chocolate scent closer to one’s nose, cocooning it in the shell. The cracking open of such beautifully crafted shapes with one’s teeth is both decadent and destructive, and is incredibly satisfying.

easter-eggs-6001_640The other joy that awaited us on Easter Sunday was the easter egg hunt. Karatta was a large house, a crumbling mansion that had seen better times. It was a fabulous place for a chocolate hunt, filled with antiques and interesting cupboards, nooks and crannies. When my parents bought it, it came filled with ancient things, including a solid, enormous old cabinet filled with tiny drawers. Was this an apothecary’s cabinet? An old library catalogue? There was also a pedal organ, a hand-powered water pump, an under-the-stairs cabinet made of a dark, varnished wood, and a claw-footed bathtub. I remember how exciting it was ferreting around, finding the eggs hidden in tiny drawers, under the roll-down cover of the organ, or inside the fireplace. The smell of varnished hardwoods always accompanies my memories of these easter egg hunts. Aromatic woods and foil-covered chocolate: organic, sweet and metallic all at once.

As an adult, I recreate easter egg hunts every few years for family and friends. I love the magic of this form of hide-and-seek, and it always instills joy in whoever is hunting for the eggs, whether they are children or adults.

I have many fond memories of Karatta House, and last year made a perfume with Emma Leah of Fleurage Perfume Atelier to capture some of the smells of the house and its surrounds. You can read about the perfume we created here and here, and some of the scent memories associated with the house.

For those of you that celebrate Easter, I hope you have a lovely weekend, full of olfactory delights! I’d love to hear about your Easter experiences and any olfactory memories you have associated with Easter: let me know in the comments box below!