Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Devon Air

Back in July I spent a week at my parents' house in Devon, working on my new book. My visit was timed with glorious, unending sunshine, so al fresco was the order of every day. Here's a picture of my writing spot, under the big, old Bramley apple tree in their garden. It's a tree I have history with - my first swing hung from its boughs, I used to whistle up its branches and take a perch at head-spinning heights, and every autumn I'd stand beneath its canopy, hands cupped, popping on my toes, ready to catch the runaways as my dad worked the apple-picker. It even has a name - Matthew - after Anne of Green Gables (yes, there's a Marilla too, she's further down the garden and is an American Mother - aptly - a type of eating apple tree). Anyway - as a place to write - Matthew's shade was bliss. 



Occasionally I welcomed a little visitor to my workspace - Calvin is six months old now, and loved the visit to his grandparents' place just as much as I did. Here he is, proving a convivial writing companion.



When I wasn't writing, I was walking. The best way to get CJ to nap is by taking him out in his pram, so every afternoon we walked down the dusty lanes to the River Teign. It felt really special showing him the village I grew up in, and treading in the footsteps that my mum used to take with me in a pram, thirty-five (ahhh!) years ago. The hedgerows were full of cow parsley and buttercups, we stopped to marvel at a pair of zig-zagging dragonflies, said hello to troops of honey-coloured cows, and watched an airborne tussle between a shrieking buzzard and a crow. As we walked in the full heat of the afternoon, canopies of ash and oak lent their shade. We stood on the hump-backed bridge, looking down on the river, eyeing a tattered rope-swing ('give it a few years', I told CJ) and feeling cooler just for watching the water. Passing cars were few and far between. In such a peaceful place, with my sleeping baby trundling along with me, my mind played over each morning's writing, and I figured out solutions to some knotty problems - the like of which had been evading me in Bristol. 


My new novel is a love story, but it's also about growing up and going home, and our attachment to place. Being back in the garden of my childhood, and wandering the reaches of a village that will always be a part of me, proved to be the perfect place to work on it. I'm back in the city now, writing my way towards a second draft, and I'm channelling every moment of those days in the country, my apple tree desk, the green lanes, and the sweet afternoons of walking with my babies - Calvin, and my book.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The WoMentoring Project

Last month a brand spanking new mentoring scheme launched, and I'm very happy to be part of it. There are eighty of us women - authors, editors, and agents -  involved in The WoMentoring project. Founded by fab author Kerry Hudson, it's the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It's all in the spirit of paying it forward, and I'll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I've gained with a mentee. Down the years I've benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, finding that the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you're in your solitary writing bubble. To read all about the scheme, go HERE. And if you're interested in applying to be mentored by me, read THIS then go HERE. Thank you for all the applications so far, I won't be choosing my first mentee until July, so there's still time to get in touch if you're keen...



Wednesday, 18 June 2014

What an experience - a Book Slam blog

Here's a blog I wrote for Book Slam - it's about my third novel, not-quite surfing, and baby-ing instead… you can read it HERE.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

CJ, Tim Winton, & writing again

Hello. It's been a while. How are YOU? I'm good. Very good. Our baby is four months old, and at last, at LAST, it feels like we've turned a bit of a corner. Our house is still unequivocally ruled by its tiny emperor, but maybe we're just a bit more accustomed to his demands. He smiles all the time, giggles soundlessly but no less joyously, and kicks his legs with delight. A tough little cookie from the day he was born 4.5 weeks early, his build now matches his spirit, he's got the thighs of a Prop Forward, and is long as a bean (one of the long ones, that is). But at night he still sleeps curled up on our chests, just like in his newborn days, legs tucked up, head burrowing, while his rejected, pristine Moses Basket mocks us from the corner. Still, waking up kissing your baby's head is a grand way to start any day. 

Calvin Jack is not a daytime napper, nor does he care for being set down on his own, but I'm lucky enough to have my husband at home with me all day, and that's meant I've been able to start writing again. Two weeks ago I blew the dust off the manuscript of my third novel, and managed to finish the first draft. What luxury, to sit with a coffee and my laptop and get down to work. And the other Friday I went out after dark for the first time since our mite arrived. The occasion? An evening with Tim Winton at the splendid Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath. I wrote about Winton's surf novel, Breath, last spring, after reading it on a snowboarding trip, and I loved everything about it. His coastal memoir Land's Edge is a real work of beauty, and his brand new novel Eyrie is a piece of slow-burn brilliant fiction. Tim is one of my favourite writers, so as soon as I knew he would be over from Australia and hitting the west country the date went in my diary. It might have been my first night out since CJ's birth, but it was also HIS… Calvin Jack attended several book events while in the womb (he was with me on stage in Edinburgh in his very early days, as I rolled on tides of sea-sickness) but this was his first proper, and the wee man acquitted himself very well. He enjoyed a bit of quality aeroplane action, drooled all over Tim's arm (a mark of appreciation, surely, and earning him the nickname Drooler in our book's dedication), and didn't actually scream the house down. My husband was on jiggling and joggling duty for the night - my immense gratitude to him - as it meant I could sit with a glass of wine and listen to the Aussie Sage talk, only occasionally hearing Calvin's snicker rising through the floorboards. We drove back to Bristol with our babe finally conked out and snoring, and a bag full of signed Winton books and Staff Recommends from Mr B's.






These last months have been the toughest of my life, no question. If I find myself saying 'nothing prepares you for it', it's generally with a wry smile and good humoured disbelief, but WOW, is that misleading. Nothing was exhausting until this. Nothing was relentless until this. Nothing was hard until this. And nothing was heartbreakingly beautiful until this. After three and a half months of intense cave-dwelling, getting out to see Tim Winton, in the lovely surrounds of Mr B's, was the very best re-induction to the outside world. And sitting down to write again, Winton's words buzzing in my ears for inspiration, feels like even more of a privilege than it did before. My third novel is now with my editor, and I'll be working on the next draft through the summer. It's due for publication in August 2015, by which time CJ will probably be toddling about, and will doubtless have drooled over plenty more authors. Right now that feels like a distant sort of future, which is just as it should be, so I'm going to enjoy where I am just now, today, this very moment. Logging off, and playing with our beautiful boy.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Book Slam podcast

The latest Book Slam podcast is out now! You can hear me reading from A Heart Bent Out of Shape (recorded at The Tabernacle back in November) and talking to journalist Alex Rayner about the inspiration behind the book. I share airtime with the marvellous William Boyd (who gives us a delectable reading from Solo), there's music from Lewis Floyd Henry, and poetry from Chris Head. Patrick Neate, my Arvon writing tutor of yore, dials in from Zimbabwe... Go HERE to listen.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

CLIC Sargent Get In Character auction - be in my next book!

How do you fancy having a character named after yourself in my next book? On Thursday night the CLIC Sargent 'Get In Character' auction launched - it's an amazing cause, helping children and young people with cancer, and one that's being supported by some fantastic authors… check it out HERE.

I'm working on my third novel at the moment, and that's the one that you can bid on… As well as having a mention in the acknowledgements I'll name a character after the winning bidder… I can't promise they'll end up as the heroine or hero, more likely a member of the supporting cast, but they'll certainly be interesting, and important to the story… and written in with much love and gratitude. 

Bidding closes on Sunday 9th March at 8pm UK time… if you'd like to support the work of CLIC Sargent, and have some fun into the bargain, go HERE to check out my page on the auction site.


Thanks for listening (reading) X 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Dear son

The first line of one of my favourite books goes like this… If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it. Well, Calvin Jack Etherington, this is your mother speaking, and I do feel like going into it… I've a few years yet before you can tell me I'm embarrassing you.

Your story began on Wednesday 5th February, when my waters broke. I was on the 4.30pm train from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads. I hid in the toilet, an intermittent mobile signal thwarting my attempts to Google what I thought was happening, and what I hoped wasn't, cutting me off when I was on hold on the hospital switchboard, and as I tried to reach your dad. More commuters piled in at Reading, shaking the locked toilet door, and all I could think was this is all too soon, he's only 35 and a half weeks, I've only been to one antenatal class, I've left a half-eaten melon salad in seat B39. As the train inched on towards Bristol, a steward called Gail, a kind and calming mother of five, offered bottles of water and gentle pep-talk. By the end of the journey the hospital knew we were coming. You knew you were coming. As the contractions started, I began to believe it too.  

You were born the following morning at St Michael's hospital, 9.36am on Thursday 6th February. You were four and a half weeks early, and weighed 5lb 12oz. When you came into the world you were a vivid purple, a mass of gangly arms and legs. You didn't shriek, rather you mewled delicately, and as you were laid gently on my chest I looked down at your powdered, ancient face and said hello, oh hello. Beside me your father dissolved into tears, but I, the easy crier of the family, didn't, not straight away. Instead I lay still, my fingers woven through your dad's, my other hand clinging to you, as though we three were the sole survivors of a shipwreck. My own weeping came later… In the long dark nights on the ward, all nine of them, holding onto you and your dear life, and loving every gram of you, fiercely, breathlessly. I cried when they placed you in a blue-light tank, a papery superhero mask covering your eyes. I cried as you lay in a cot beside me, the pair of us side by side, as if two invalids, me tweaking your ear or stroking your cheek, waiting for the reassurance of your shallow breath, your woodland critter's snuffle. I cried every evening when your dad had to leave, as he kissed us both goodbye with love and pride and sorrow and reluctance, and we huddled together beneath a halo of lamplight, behind the ward's blue curtain, lost in our world of two. I cried as I gave you breast milk by nought point nought millilitres, catching precious drops in a syringe, trundling that undignified pumping kit down the corridor in my dressing gown, watching you scream and flail at my chest as neither of us could get what we wanted but we both tried so hard. For the nine days we were kept in hospital we couldn't have been looked after better, but, oh, how we wanted to come home. We knew what we had to do to get there. We timed every feed, me blowing air across your face and your daddy tickling your feet, whispering encouragement, anything to keep you awake and sucking, so we could place a tick on your chart, see the midwives nod and smile, watch the arm on the scales swing ever forward. And we did it together, in the end, as though we'd forged a pact. On Valentine's night, after an eternity, after no time at all, we dressed you in a tiny snowsuit that was far too big, and your father drove us home through the wind and rain. Kate Clanchy's poem Driving Home describes this moment better than I ever could (I'm indebted to Ali Reynolds for introducing me to Clanchy's work, her collection Newborn is sublime).




You're just over two weeks old now, and yesterday you weighed 6lb 4oz. Satisfyingly, wondrously, you are plumping up, although your cheeks and shoulders are still covered in the fairest down of the premature. Your eyes are blue-black, and as they rove left and right and up and down, now and again they alight on us and we melt, ogling you right back. We sing you nonsense songs, old songs, re-made new songs, and sometimes you look like as though you're smiling. Milk-drunk, white-lipped, you gurgle, your head swaying, and we drop kisses on your full belly. After those tube-fed, jaundiced, drowsy days, you've become an awesomely greedy guzzler, gulping ferociously, then hiccuping, erupting occasionally from the top or bottom with the volume of a being twenty times your size. For a light thing, you're a heavy sleeper - as we whoop at the highlights of the Winter Olympics in the wee small hours of the morning you barely stir… until we try and place you in your moses basket, that is, and then you wave your arms like a modern dancer, you snicker, and then you roar, so we scoop you back up, lay kisses on your warm head, your spun-gold hair, and hold you close. We promise to always hold you close.



CJ, here is a song I played you on the first day that you woke up in our home. The line 'I danced myself right out the womb, is it strange to dance so soon?' belongs to you, don't you think? 




And here is a book. As your namesake says, 'it's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy… let's go exploring!'



From the moment you arrived, Calvin Jack, our world has grown infinitesimally more magical, and your dad and I can't wait to go exploring with you. If your first days on earth are anything to go by, I think you'll be the one showing us the way. 

With love and love and love xx

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The treat of a retreat - a Book Slam blog

Self-styled retreats-for-one have become a necessary, and very enjoyable, part of my writing process… I told Book Slam all about how and why I do it, which you can read HERE.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Farewell my lovely

Last week, I moved out of my Writing Room. With a baby on the way we've had to have a rethink, and decided that our bedroom, a small, sometimes chilly space at the back of the house, wasn't the ideal first sleep spot for him. My Writing Room, on the other hand, makes for the perfect space - it's better insulated, there's plenty of room for bed and cot, and it has nice honey-coloured floorboards on which to pace about in the small hours… So, somewhat ruefully, I packed up my desk, books, notepads, and paraphernalia, and switched rooms.

My reluctance to move was entirely sentimental. Ours is a rented house, but I'd become thoroughly attached to my writing space. We moved here two years ago, just as I was starting out on my second novel, and doing final line edits on The Book of Summers. I quit my job the same month, so my room symbolised the start of a new phase in my life, that of a full-time writer. I've always been fascinated by artists' studios and writers' rooms, so I revelled in creating the perfect working environment, full of inspiration and colour and light. I wrote about my room for Novelicious, a piece you can read HERE, where I talk about the relevance behind particular objects, and back in the summer the photographer Alun Callender paid a visit, as part of a shoot for Sainsbury's Magazine. He took such beautiful photographs that I wanted to share a few of them here. A pictorial ode to a room I've loved. Thank you, Alun.










I'm now installed in my new room. The light's different, the view's changed, there's no fireplace, no floorboards, but all my stuff is here. While my old room marked a new phase in my life as a writer, so too does this one. And while I know that things are going to change remarkably and beautifully and terrifyingly in the coming months, I hold on to the idea that my Writing Room - whatever its location - will stay constant. Solitude. Lamplight. Coffee. Colour. A place of books written, and books yet to write.             

Thursday, 2 January 2014

That was 2013...

Happy New Year!

I don't know about you, but I feel as though 2013 flashed past. My husband and his brother, the comic book creators The Etherington Brothers, recently put together a review of their year, and I was inspired to do the same. It's a great way of taking stock, appreciating what has passed, and what's still to come. Looking back, maybe it didn't pass as speedily as I thought, what with completed second novels, forays into thirds, international book festivals, and a baby on the way… Here's my 2013…

On 1st February I turned in the final draft (bar copy edits) of my second novel, A Heart Bent Out of Shape/ The Swiss Affair, to my UK and US editors. Second albums, second novels, it's all the same and it's HARD. I felt a huge sense of achievement as I finally hit 'send'. I remember that last day of editing and rewriting well, as it coincided with BBC Radio 6 Music playing a countdown of listeners' top 100 singles from the last ten years. I wrote frantically from 8am until 4.30pm, to the accompaniment of some fine music, my deadline drawing closer and closer with every song. For the record, I voted for Postal Service, Such Great Heights, which came in at no 60. 

In April I was invited to the European First Novel Festival, as part of the Budapest International Book Festival, which meant three days of events in Hungary's capital, and a special book launch for the Magyar edition of The Book of Summers organised by my brilliant publisher, Park. My husband came along, as did my mum and dad, and the whole trip was a hugely memorable experience. My visit coincided with a month of frankly quite amazing promotion for The Book of Summers (aka Nyarak k√∂nyve), including a bespoke shop window in one of Budapest's biggest bookstores. Wow. I think that counts as my name up in lights (or at least in window decals…)



Also in April I spent a week touring Cornwall's Far West, as I felt my way tentatively into my third novel. I knew I wanted to set the story there, and after seven days in the region, I was surer than ever. I returned to Bristol with notebooks packed full of scribbles, reams of photographs, and bursting with inspiration.

My May was full of festivals. I went to Hay in the company of my husband, firmly in the role of literary WAG, and swelled with pride as I watched The Etherington Brothers play to a crowd of 900 children. Rockstars. Later in the month I attended Fowey Festival, in what was my first visit to Daphne du Maurier's heart-and-homeland, and had a ball. Bookish talk, paddling in crystal waters, and a Cornish cream tea - everything to like. Also in May I went to Stratford-upon-Avon to appear on a How To Get Published Panel, which just happened to take place on Shakespeare's birthday. The day turned out to be memorable for other reasons too - I met author Susan Fletcher for the first time, and we drank white wine and ate mini burgers in a pub by the river. Of the many writers whose work I admire, Susan is top of the heap, each of her four novels are, to my mind, perfect. To meet someone so inspirational, and find that you enjoy the person every bit as much as their work, is very, very special. A good month then, May.

In June the thirteen libraries within the London borough of Redbridge voted The Book of Summers their Fiction Winner in the Big Red Read Awards. I got a trophy and everything. The award means a lot, because it's voted for solely by library go-ers and book groups. Thank you Redbridge!

In July I signed a new two book deal with my brilliant UK publisher, Headline. Thank you, thank you. With The Book of Summers and A Heart Bent Out of Shape I couldn't have wished for better support from a publisher and the particular team I work with, and I feel incredibly lucky to have found them, and even happier that they want to keep on working with me. Suddenly my initial scribblings for a Cornwall-set third novel picked up pace, as I was possessed of a deadline once again. Woo-hoo! Also in July I discovered I was expecting a baby. This rocked mine and my husband's world in so many wonderful ways, and still amazes us daily. As I write there are just nine weeks to go until my due date (d-day). Here's hoping the little fellow stays tucked inside at least until then… mainly because of that aforementioned third novel deadline!

In August I returned to the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the second time - this visit was to talk about A Heart Bent Out of Shape. Advance copies were made available just for festival go-ers, and it was a real thrill to talk about my new book in such a distinguished and spirited environment. The best part was that no one seemed to notice that I was feeling sick, not drinking, and getting a little swollen in the stomach region…

By the end of August The Book of Summers had come out in Sweden, Norway, and Holland, and was published for the second time in Spain and Italy, this time as a paperback. Earlier in the year I'd interviewed the translator of the Hungarian edition for my blog, and gained a brilliant insight into the wonderful world of work in translation. In May 2014, The Book of Summers will be out in Germany, where the brilliant btb/ Random House are making it their lead title for the summer. That's eight translations in all… now I just need to learn how to say 'exciting' in eight languages...



In September A Heart Bent Out of Shape was published in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, a day I celebrated with almond croissants, and beautiful flowers from my publisher and agent. Over the next few weeks I was lucky to get some fantastic press reviews, as well as enjoying the much appreciated support of book bloggers, and making some new Twitter friends in the process. Big thanks to all who've read and reviewed my book, particularly Lindsay at the Little Reader Library, Jo at Jaffa Reads Too, Megan at Reading In The Sunshine, Mary at Our Book Reviews, and Sharon at Jera's Jamboree whose blog write-ups gave me particular reason to smile. My dad helped make my publication month really special by lending his artistic talents to The Swiss Sketchbook, a series of ten pictures I commissioned to mark the launch of my Lausanne-set novel. Also in September I enjoyed inviting Sainsbury's Magazine into my Writing Room, being interviewed for Devon Life, and appearing on the surf and snow magazine Cooler's site, where I talked about how my life as a writer really began in the French Alps. In what was a busy month I also had original short stories appear in My Weekly magazine, and the Sunday Express, where I channelled my love of tennis and faded sports stars into a tale called The Comeback Kid.

In November I appeared at my last event of the year - Book Slam. I love the Book Slam guys - I write a piece for their website roughly monthly, and I've a short story in their collection Too Much Too Young, which was broadcast on Jarvis Cocker's Show on 6 Music last year (one of the most exciting things to happen to me and my writing….). This final event of 2013 was a doozy though, and I read from A Heart Bent Out of Shape. Also on the billing was William Boyd (who am I kidding, he WAS the billing) who was there to talk all things James Bond. He signed my copy of Any Human Heart, a favourite book, and wrote a Christmas message to my sister in her copy of Solo. Happy, happy days.


In December, just before we all broke up for Christmas, the fantastic women's fiction website Novelicious announced their 2013 book awards, and chose A Heart Bent Out of Shape as their Book of the Year. WHAT a joy. I'm hugely grateful to them - for the award, and also a super lovely review which appeared at the start of December. Thank you, Novelicious!

So that was 2013, and what a wonderful year it was. A big thank you to ALL who've made it so special - you know who you are. 2014 looks set to be equally exciting, if not more so, as we anticipate the arrival of our little boy in March. Before then A Heart Bent Out of Shape will be published in the US and Canada as The Swiss Affair, the UK paperback will be released, with brand new cover art, and I've a first draft of my third novel to turn in to my editor. What am I doing? Enough reflection, I need to get back to work... Much love, and a Happy New Year to all, Emylia x

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Novelicious Book Awards - Book of the Year!

I was thrilled to learn yesterday that the brilliant women's fiction website Novelicious has chosen A Heart Bent Out of Shape as their Book of the Year. Described as 'vivid, heartbreaking, and beautiful' they say they were 'blown away' by the story… THANK YOU to all the team at Novelicious - it's a real accolade, and one that will have me smiling all the way into 2014. 

For the full list of shortlisted books & authors across all categories, click HERE.

And HERE is the Novelicious review of A Heart Bent Out of Shape from earlier in December.

What a lovely way to end the year… 

Here's wishing you all a very Happy Christmas, and all the best for 2014 - may your New Years be merry and bright.

Last week in Innsbruck, the Christmas lights click on just as the last of the sun catches the high peaks. 



Tuesday, 3 December 2013

WIN… Chocolates! Vintage travel postcards! My book!

December is here, and thanks to my lovely UK publisher Headline, you can get your hands on some quite delectable prizes in our festive winter giveaway…

First prize is a signed copy of A Heart Bent Out of Shape, a box of Hotel Chocolat The Sleekster Winter Desserts Collection, and five of my favourite Swiss vintage postcards, including Headline's splendid ‘Welcome to Lausanne’ card.

There are two runners-up prizes of a signed copy of A Heart Bent Out of Shape, a box of Hotel Chocolat Petit Desserts, and a ‘Welcome to Lausanne’ card. 

To find out how to win, head on over to Headline's competition page HERE. Once there you can also read what a little bit of luxury and an appreciative sweet tooth have to do with A Heart Bent Out of Shape





Bonne chance… good luck…!

Note: Competition open to UK readers only, sorry x


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Book Slam with Bond

A couple of sundays ago I did Book Slam with 007 (or, rather, William Boyd, author of the new James Bond book)… it was my last event of the year, and a wonderful one at that. I wrote about the experience for the Headline blog, and you can read it HERE.


Thursday, 14 November 2013

A Cornish scrapbook (& how writing made me seasick)

I've just returned from five days in Cornwall, holed up writing in Mousehole. I've always enjoyed including a self-styled writing retreat as part of my working process, booking a hotel for a few days, dinner, bed & breakfast for one. Tucked away in my room with a view (I'm a fan of choosing out-of-season pleasure spots, scenic and blissfully quiet) I write from dawn to dusk, keeping up a pace and focus that I could never manage at home. On retreat, I'm obedient, and all I think about is the job I'm there to do. It all began when I returned from an Arvon course five years ago, and I was raving to a friend about how much I loved thinking about nothing but writing for those days, the routine of it all, the almost-cult-ish atmosphere, and she said 'do you think you're easily institutionalised?'. And...  yes, I guess I am. At home my mind wanders all over the place, and although I stick more or less to a daily word count, it's only on these retreats that my work-in-progress manuscripts really start to feel like novels in the making.


My writing desk in Mousehole

I'm working on my third book at the moment, and I'm aiming to have a first draft for my publisher in March. There is an added urgency to this deadline, as March is also when my baby is due (our first! A boy!). Book baby, and real baby, racing towards a March finish, one as a rough first draft, the other as a lovely, clean sheet. If I ever needed anything to make a deadline feel more real, I guess a baby is pretty much it... I spent much of my first trimester feeling bitterly sick. Everyone else was basking in the summer heatwave but I was tossed on tides of seasickness. I tried to write my way through it, thinking the distraction would be good, but that only seemed to make it worse. Far worse than I could have imagined at the time... because even once I was better, I couldn't shake the association between my third novel and feeling sick. All I had to do was think of the title, a character name, one of the scenes I'd written, and instant nausea ensued. A state of affairs that's about as inconvenient as it gets for a writer... your own work physically repulsing you. I wandered about in this way for several weeks, feeling perfectly perky and healthy, except when I sat down to write, then an itch began at the back of my throat and the room tipped... Anyway, it's a long-ish story, involving a week in St Ives, sweet-smelling surf wax, and a kick up the behind from my husband, but I rid myself of this crazy thing in the end... Suddenly I was back in the book, behind on all my schedules, but feeling excited about the story again, and, most importantly, actually feeling like I could sit down and write it. So I booked myself five days in Cornwall, and worked towards this retreat, the promise of it buoying me in the intervening weeks.


A break in the clouds over Mousehole (Mowzel) harbour

It was our third trip to Cornwall this year. Back in April my husband and I spent a week touring the Penwith peninsula, St Just, Sennen, Lamorna, Mousehole, St Ives, Penzance... We tramped along cliff-top paths, doused in sea-mist and drizzle. We climbed down slippery black rocks to reach a hidden cove, and kicked our way through freezing waves. I filled my pockets with seashells, took photographs, scribbled in notebooks, and let the wild West do its work; inspiring and invigorating. We returned at the end of the summer, spending a week in St Ives with my family, celebrating my dad's 70th birthday. We stayed in a house where, if we left by the front door, we fell into the twisting streets of the town, and if we tumbled out the back we were on the beach in seconds, in the shadow of the Tate, sunken in sand, watching learner surfers stack it. Then finally, my retreat to Mousehole, the most fitting place to huddle up in for a few days, ignore the world, and write.


Working en plein air, Pothcurno beach


Watching early morning surfers on Porthmeor

My third novel is mainly set in Cornwall, and for me it's essential to spend time in the place I'm writing about. With books based so far in Hungary and Switzerland, Cornwall, at first glance, might seem like a bit of a departure. I grew up in Devon, but Cornwall still felt like a world away, especially the Far West, with its rugged aspect, the contrast of russet moorland and white-sand beaches. Standing on the edge of a cliff top, the relentless tearing of the Atlantic ocean below, it feels like you're at the ends of the earth. It's a landscape that seems timeless, changeless, but is always on the move. It's a marvellous setting for a story.   


  The 'hen's egg' cove, at the end of the Cot Valley


Scribbling on the rocks, Mousehole

I'm now hibernating for the winter, as my babies grow, book baby and real baby, while eyeing March with excitement and trepidation. I'll be channelling my Mousehole days, Penwith and St Ives, remembering how it felt to have the sea-wind slap my cheeks, the heart-lifting sight of streaked cloud and silver water, the sound of the ocean, in and out, in and out, as I lay in bed at night. Writing this book now feels exactly like the adventure I always wanted it to be. And while other adventures may lie in wait, unimaginable and very, very real, for now I'll enjoy this one. I'll lose myself in a new story, and think of Cornwall.


Happy Cornish days - no more seasickness
     

Monday, 14 October 2013

Poetry to write novels by - a Book Slam blog

I wrote a piece for Book Slam about two things...  1) how when I'm writing novels, it's poetry that inspires me the most, and 2) the poems that inspire me the most when I'm writing novels. Go HERE to read it.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Sainsbury's magazine

Step into Sainsbury's and in this month's magazine (November issue) you'll find me, along with two other writers - including fellow Headline author Colette McBeth - talking about the writing courses that helped us on our way. For my part I'm indebted to the Arvon Foundation. Photographer Alun Callender side-stepped the piles of junk in my writing room to take this picture of me and my work space - peer close enough and you'll be able to scrutinise my pen pots and check out my book stacks...


To read a more detailed account of why I love Arvon you can visit the Foundation's website HERE.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Redbridge library awards

Back in the summer I wrote about how The Book of Summers was voted Fiction Winner in The Big Red Read Award 2013. Readers in the London borough of Redbridge's thirteen libraries chose it as their favourite of the shortlisted books, and I was pleased as punch. Last week I visited Fullwell Cross Library to pick up my award, having had to sadly missed the ceremony in May. It was a great chance to meet some readers, see inside one of Redbridge's really quite smashing libraries (Fullwell Cross is an especially snazzy example), and say thank you...

Time for a little then and now shot, I think...

Here's what I looked like the last time I came home with the silverware...

... and last week at Fullwell Cross, clutching my posh Fiction Winner glassware...


A big thank you to all who voted for The Book of Summers, and everyone at Fullwell Cross for making me feel so welcome.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A portrait of the artist as a young (& old) man

This week I posted the last page of my Swiss Sketchbook, a snow-dusted view over the Lausanne rooftops. Today, I thought it was time I added an appendix. Those who've followed the progress of the sketchbook from the beginning will know that the artist, Alwyn Hall, is my dad. You can read my first post, which includes his biography, HERE. This is what he looked like when he was seventeen...


He painted this self-portrait in the summer of 1961, in his makeshift studio, a spare bedroom in his parents' house in Northamptonshire. He told me he used a mixture of oil paints and cheap domestic decorating paint, mixing in sand to give it a textured finish, after the style of the Cubists. It was later included in an exhibition called 'Three Young Artists', in Northampton in 1964. These days it hangs on the wall in my mum and dad's house, literally part of the wallpaper as I was growing up, and it was only when he sent me a photograph, with the title 'portrait of the artist as an old man' that I was reminded of its existence. When we were younger, my sister and I were always amused by its audacity - the brooding looks, the come hither pose - it was hard to connect the young man of the painting with our ole dad. And while I still enjoy its ripe sense of confidence, nowadays I've a greater appreciation for the fact that it exists at all - that a boy's vocation became his life. Here's what that boy looks like today, at work in his studio in Devon...


Thank you, Dad, for bringing my Swiss Sketchbook to life in such marvellous fashion. Readers, I hope you've enjoyed this pictorial tour of some of the settings in A Heart Bent Out of Shape as much as I have.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Swiss Sketchbook - page 10


'Outside, the spring day was just beginning, spry blue, with great peals of sunshine, yet all of Lausanne was dusted with snow.'

From A Heart Bent Out of Shape, page 374

***

To see page 1 of my Swiss Sketchbook, and to read about the background to the project and its artist, go HERE. And for a closer look at the picture itself just click on the image...

Sunday, 29 September 2013

My writing tips

A couple of years ago The Guardian ran a great series on Rules for Writing Fiction, inspired by Elmore Leonard's excellent book on the same subject. The book-loving website Novelicious does a similar thing week on week - go HERE to read my contribution...