Friday, 4 August 2017

The Simple Things - and the story behind my story

I'm really happy to have a short story in the August edition of The Simple Things. I love this magazine - it's always an inspiring and refreshing read. Its motto is 'taking time to live well', and as the name would suggest, it's about enjoying life's simple pleasures. In the latest issue there's a photo essay on Seaside Nostalgia, extracts of some of the best contemporary nature writing including Robert Macfarlane and Amy Liptrot, and a host of appealing campfire recipes. 

My story, Waking Up at Sunset, occupies the back page Bedtime Story slot - and has been treated to some gorgeous illustrations. Last month there was a story from Gail Honeyman, author of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, so it's an illustrious baton to take.

Waking Up at Sunset contains both an element of wish-fulfilment, and an inversion of my own experience (as much of my writing does, I think). In it, Jen is just arriving in Portoferraio, her first time on Elba. She is alone, but is yet to learn to embrace solitude. She stops at a bar and hesitantly samples her first aperitivo; the waiter  - a clear descendant of Valentino in The Thousand Lights Hotel - explains it's all about appreciating the moment, while looking forward to all that's to come. With a sunset-coloured drink in her hand she feels a clear, bright pleasure; and it's there to stay.

Two summers ago I explored the island's capital for the first time. On previous visits we'd docked and dashed, eager to shed the other tourists disembarking the ferry and hasten to our own corner of Elba. But on my last trip, a five night solo writing retreat on the northern coast, I decided to spend a couple of hours in Portoferraio before I caught the ferry back to the mainland. I'd achieved what I'd come to Elba to do - immersed myself fully in my work-in-progress, written thousands of words - I knew I'd be returning to Bristol triumphant, full of inspiration, and excited to see my family. But I was still reluctant to leave. So I studiedly turned my eyes from the port. I ignored maps and wandered blind; all-seeing. I found myself in the steep streets of the old town in the midday sun (mad dogs and an English woman). Knowing this was my last piece of solitude, my last blast of heat, I soaked it all up, my toes tingling in my flip-flops, my footsteps the only sound in the hushed residential districts. Considering this was the island capital in July, its emptiness was a surprise (I suppose anyone sensible was at the beach, or reclining on a shaded terrace). The unexpected quiet of those seductive backstreets gave me the sense that I was walking in a kind of limbo - the place between being away and going home; where you're still in the moment, but already awash with nostalgia. I passed an alluring-looking bar and thought of stopping, but instead I chose movement, motion. I felt like if I sat down then reality would sink in and take hold; the clock was ticking, my ferry was waiting. 

For me, those last hours wandering in Portoferraio had felt like a gift; as I climbed stone steps the day sizzled with possibility. I'd pretended it was the beginning, not the end. Looking back, it kind of was. Two years on, to take the moment and make it into a story - to let it be the start of everything for a girl called Jen - is, for me, one of the great joys of writing fiction.   

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Publication week - events, a blog tour, and No. 1 in Foyles Briz!

The doors to THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL are now officially open! Welcome to Elba, one and all. It's an emotional feeling, knowing that the book I was writing here...

... is now here!

I marked publication day with a launch at Foyles in Bristol, where I wheeled out my best Melamine and much Prosecco was drunk. Editor of Italia! Magazine, Amanda Robinson, kindly hosted the evening (who I also had to thank for a fab review and interview in this month's issue) and I'm grateful to everyone who came and helped send the book on its way in such warm and merry style.

With my husband Bobby, pulling what I *think* is his proud face...

The following week I headed to London for an event at Notting Hill's Book + Kitchen, an absolute gem of a bookshop that feels like you're walking into somebody's very cool, eclectic home (with excellently stocked shelves, mind). Big thanks to dear friend Kate Haines, who organised and hosted, and to all who came down, it was truly a memorable night. 

The last two weeks have also seen me head off on a Blog Tour (desk-bound travel; no vast buses or barroom riders), organised by my fab publicist at Headline, Millie Seaward. I'm really grateful for the support and enthusiasm of the bloggers who took part, hosting guest pieces, Q&As and reviews. Thank you to the blogs Have Books Will Read, Short Book and Scribes, and Brew and Books Review for the wonderful reviews. And thank you to Linda's Book Bag for the beautifully thoughtful interview questions (read here) and The Book Trailer (read here) as part of their ace Authors on Location series. The blog tour also gave me the opportunity to write a number of guest posts, which proved to be a gratifying way of reflecting on aspects of my process, and the writing journey I'd been on with this novel. The Thousand Lights Hotel feels dearer to me than ever after writing these pieces...

For I wrote about finding, and holding onto, the spirit of your story - and you can read it here. It felt cathartic to look back over the months of writing and rewriting (and, misty-eyed, remember the Chemical Brothers' earworm...). 

For Kath Eastman's Nut Press I wrote about why 'place' is so important to me as a writer - and in doing so realised for the first time that maybe it's all about mortality (isn't everything?) - you can read it here

For My Reading Corner I wrote about the role of food in The Thousand Lights Hotel, and how cooking and eating played such a part in its writing - you can read it here

For the blog From First Page to Last I wrote about some of my favourite hotels in fiction, and why I think hotels make for such intriguing settings - you can read it here

And for Trip Fiction I wrote about the very first journey I made to Elba, back in 2003, and how it was the start of an enduring love affair with the island - you can read it here (guest post follows the review). 

What else? In further reviews, the Express' S Magazine said it was 'a powerful story of grief, family, and self-discovery with a magical sense of place and beautiful storytelling'. And Italia! Magazine called it 'wonderfully evocative', and a 'riveting story'.  In the same issue of Italia! there's an interview with me about the novel and Elba - thank you again to Amanda Robinson for that.

Meanwhile my short story, Light Years, appeared in S Magazine on sunday 15th. You can read it online here. It's set on Elba during the annual Lovers' Festival at Innamorata...

I ran a Twitter competition to win an *exclusive* Thousand Lights Hotel apron (featuring the beauteous aperitivo graphic designed by Esther Curtis), Aperol sweets, and a signed copy of the novel... and was pleased that the prize went to Mary Marshall in Ireland.

Amidst it all I slipped home to my parents' place in Devon, and we had a lovely celebratory lunch, Hotel Mille Luci style. I made my favourite salad of nectarines, mozzarella, and air-cured ham, homemade pesto & roast chicken pasta, and dear old Torta della nonna (a dish that plays a key part in the book, and is the subject of an upcoming story in the People's Friend).

Finally, it was a joy to pop into Foyles in Bristol's Cabot Circus and see that THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL was their top seller for the week! A moment in the sun, that I had to snap for posterity. I'm a big fan of the Local Author sticker the book's sporting too...

Such thanks to everyone who's made publication feel so special. I was very happy to have my agent Rowan, and editor Leah from Headline with me for the Book + Kitchen night, and Lucy and Liane from Furniss Lawton too; thank you so much. All my author friends who came out to celebrate or sent their well wishes (and who know better than anyone how simultaneously wonderful and weird this particular time feels). The bloggers and readers who've reviewed and shown great support. And my lovely friends, and family, who are always so immensely good at cheering. My little son gave me a 'Happy Book Day' card with this Miffy picture, chosen all by himself - what could be more perfect? Maybe I should write my first drafts in sunshine-yellow pencil from now on... it might just be good luck.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

The Final Countdown - and pre publication happenings

It's Publication Week at last*! THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL will be out on Thursday the 13th, and I'll be having at LEAST one of these to celebrate ...

*Slightly inaccurate - the eBook was in fact published on the 1st July, sneaking out early with a special price of just 99p (!) on Kindle ... At that price? DIVE IN!

It's such a delight to have a finished copy in my hand - the colours POP, ah that Aperol orange sunset! - and I'm very grateful to wonderful authors Lucy Diamond, Veronica Henry, Lucy Clarke, and Rosanna Ley, whose generous words appear on the book ...

The days and weeks leading up to publication are always nerve-wracking, so I've been *very* happy with the reviews the novel's so far been getting. It's one of Red Magazine's Best Beach Reads, described as 'an emotional, evocative novel about guilt, grief and belonging,' and makes Gransnet's Best Summer Reads list too. Prima magazine calls it 'a delightful summer read', Woman & Home say 'vivid, atmospheric, and heart-breaking', and it received a gorgeous five-star review in the Express - 'a glorious, sun-drenched story' and 'an intoxicating novel' (full review here).

I've been blown away by reviews from Book Bloggers too - Linda Hill at Linda's Book Bag called it 'gorgeously crafted' and 'exceptional' - review here. Mary Mayfield blogging at Our Book Reviews says it's 'a book to treasure' - review here. Lucy Pearson over at The Unlikely Bookworm writes of the 'melodic prose and evocative sense of place' - review here. Janine Jewell at Jewell Books says 'beautifully written with a serene backdrop' - review here.  Zarina at Page to Stage Reviews writes of 'the pure magic of Emylia's words' - review here. Meanwhile Joanne D'arcy, blogging at The Book Jotter, wrote 'if there was ever a book that seriously made me want to go and visit a place, this was it' - review here. Next week I'll be off on a blog tour with THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL, with guest posts on topics ranging from writing place, researching Elba, ripping it up and starting again, and the part Italian food played in my writing process - watch this space.

I was thrilled to write a piece for The Guardian about Elba, as part of their Why I Love ... series. You can read it here

And I was interviewed by the excellent magazine Bristol 24/7 - you can read that here.

This Thursday I'll be launching the novel at the fabulous Foyles here in Bristol, with aperitivo and much bookish chat (event details here). I'll be in conversation with the editor of Italia! Magazine - Amanda Robinson. And I've my talented sister-in-law, designer Esther Curtis, to thank for the mouthwatering invitation ...

I'm also excited to be heading to the very cool Notting Hill Book + Kitchen on 20th July, to talk all things Thousand Lights, hosted by dear friend, freelance editor and Italophile Kate Haines. Details of that event can be found here.  

Whew. Here endeth the update! I'm extremely grateful to many people who've made the run-up to publication feel happy and sun-filled - it's a strange time, one that's full of anticipation and pride but, also, anxiousness. I've been so grateful for the book love on Twitter, from fellow authors and enthusiastic readers. For the friends who've pre-ordered and are helping me celebrate the launch. For my family who've only ever cheered me on. And for my ever supportive agent and publisher. Grazie mille. Roll on Thursday, when the Hotel Mille Luci opens its doors to welcome all who care to spend a week on Isola d'Elba. Benvenuto! 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The countdown to summer

Now that Easter is behind us, it's all about the countdown to summer, right? Enjoying those lighter and brighter evenings, the simple pleasure of leaving the house without a coat, seeing if last year's flip-flops are still up to standard (and treating yourself to some spanking brand new ones anyway)... And, for me, feeling the mix of trepidation and anticipation that goes with the publication of a new book: three months to go!

It's already up on Amazon (HERE), where some early readers - members of the Vine programme - are leaving some very nice reviews. There's also a collection of quotes from fellow authors who've read a proof of the book (listed within the 'product description' section) - and I'm blown away by the loveliness, and generosity, of their words.

To mark this very sunny start, I've wheeled out my Elba souvenir mug and brought some blooms. I hope you'll come with me to the island of Elba this summer... 

Friday, 31 March 2017

The book (or close) is here

After months and months and months of planning, writing, and rewriting, of scribbles in notebooks, shifting words around on screen, and squinting over printed pages, my book is... here!* Well, proofs, anyway, which - after the aforementioned months and months - feel ever so close to the real thing. It's a joy to hold it in my hand for the first time. Big thanks to Headline for making it look so beautiful. 

And for a closer look at that sumptuous cover...

How to celebrate this new arrival? With an Aperol Spritz, of course, while staring into the sunset.  
*It'll actually be here on 13th July...  

Sunday, 9 October 2016

New novel out summer 2017

I'm very happy to be able to tell you both the title of my new novel, and its publication date here in the UK (out with Headline).

*drum roll*

13th July 2017

It's set on the Italian island of Elba, and is a story told through three people - Kit, Valentino, and Oliviero (guest, hotelier, and chef, respectively). It's a novel full of food, landscape, love, loss, and summer heat.

Since the earliest draft of The Thousand Lights Hotel two quotes have sat at the start of the manuscript, capturing the flavour of the story to come.

‘If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.’
Emily Dickinson

Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.’
Inscribed on the wall of Shakespeare and Company, Paris
- attributed to W.B. Yeats

I can't wait to introduce you to The Thousand Lights Hotel next summer. For now, here's a pictorial aperitivo, to whet your appetite, I hope...

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Wished I was here - and I was

June! How did it get to June?! Back in December I said I was hunkering down for the winter, taking a holiday from pretty much everything except my new novel (channelling snow season days)… Now the sun is out, and so is my book - well, a first draft delivered into the hands of my editor and agent - so I figure I should be too. HELLO. HOW ARE YOU?

Want to see where I've spent the last six months? Figuratively, at least. It's nearly a year since I was actually on the island of Elba. Maybe this time next year I'll be able to take you there too.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The mountains are calling (and I must go)

Ten years ago, almost to the day, we left to spend the winter in the mountains. One snow season turned into two, so happy were we in the great wide open. I’ve written about this time before - how it was thanks to snowboarding that I started writing, and how, actually, snowboarding isn’t so very different to writing – but this post? This post is about doing it all again.

But figuratively. And that’s the kicker (not an actual kicker, the like of which I once enjoyed*…)

*Gratuitous airborne shot 

This winter I'm going to work hard to imagine that I’m back once again in that bright, white world; a place of freedom and focus and soul-lifting energy. I need it, and I think my writing needs it. There’s nothing new about a writer tearing up their work-in-progress first draft, just as there’s nothing rare about a person struggling to juggle parental responsibilities with, well, just about everything else, but… this is the first time I’m experiencing the two in tandem. Stepping sideways, just like I did a decade ago, feels like the way to go. I want to look at the mountain that’s before me, and tingle with anticipation. I want to keep the kind of focus you need when you’re hurtling down a powder field, watching out for crevasses or tree wells or rogue rocks, but with looseness in your body and joy in your heart. Maintain that fine balance of control and abandon. Fall down and get back up again. 

So for the next few months my fourth book and I are heading to the mountains. In mind, if not in body. My hut at the bottom of the garden can, in the right light, sort of pass for an alpine refuge. It’ll be the opposite of hibernating in many respects - writing and flying, wind in my hair - except perhaps the digital one (Twitter & Co won’t be coming with me on my winter trip). I hope to see you on the other side, with plenty of words (and rather less chance of broken bones).

Stay warm. Stay cool. May your festive season, and beyond, be merry and bright.

Love Emylia X    

Friday, 4 December 2015

Top Ten, Woo Hoo

BIG THANKS to the estimable review site The Bookbag, who've listed The Sea Between Us as one of their Top Ten Women's Fiction Books of 2015. I'm chuffed to be in such grand company (Judy Blume!) - you can see the list HERE, and read the review in full HERE. 'The prose is an art-form in itself' is a line that will keep me smiling for quite some time.

I recently did a Q&A over at the lovely Jera's Jamboree - talking writing surf scenes, stealing work time, and teaching writing - you can read that HERE.

I also chatted to Susan over at The Book Trail - a blog that places the settings and locations of novels front and centre - and you can read that interview HERE

Meanwhile, thank you to any readers who've posted a review of The Sea Between Us somewhere online. I love THIS ONE from a Waterstones Bookseller in Truro, and there are some absolute belters on Amazon. Happy days.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Beach shoot

Earlier in the autumn I met Sarah Pitt from the Western Morning News. It was a bright and blustery morning in St Ives, and we had coffee and cake at the beach cafe on Porthmeor as I told her all about The Sea Between Us and the inspiration behind it. The article came out in October, and is online HERE. It's a great piece from Sarah, so many thanks to her - and I was chuffed we made the cover…

The photographer on the day was Victoria Walker, and I loved her style - suggesting I kick through waves and clamber over weed-covered rocks. It was a lot of fun, and the pictures turned out great, the beach itself the undoubted star of the show. When the wind whipped the clouds away we were treated to brief moments of blue skies and Victoria was quick off the mark to catch them. Just look at the luminosity of the water in that first picture! The fabled St Ives light in all its glory. That morning, with so few people about, Porthmeor had a wild edge to it (despite the water being flat as a mirror) and I'm so glad we were there to capture it. Big thanks, Victoria and Sarah Xx

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