Thursday, 27 August 2015

Publication Day! And many pieces of writing

Today THE SEA BETWEEN US is published in the UK! Hip, hip, hooray!

Here it is, looking rather handsome in a patch of summer sunshine…

…and here I am, in Pub Day selfie mode… I'm wearing my favourite 'Life is better in the ocean' jumper, of course… 

I've been busy scribbling articles and blog posts in the last few weeks, and most seem to have gone live today. Again - hooray! If you fancy a read of a little something then make yourself a coffee (or two) and take your pick from the below...   

If you'd like to read a brand new short story of mine, called The Seashell, then hop over to The Book Corner and read it HERE.

If you'd like to read why I consider writing to be a sport that's every bit as extreme as the likes of snowboarding and surfing then head to the WHSmith blog and read it HERE.

Tired of not getting enough holidays? Then join me in fostering a year-round holidaymaker spirit. I explained how over on the James Villas blog and…. yep, read it HERE.

Meanwhile on FemaleFirst I've a piece called 'Ten things I want my readers to know about me'… and you can read it HERE.

As part of my 'getting to know and love Cornwall' research I stayed in some beautiful places in the far west, and I told cottage company Classic just how inspirational I found it to be - you can read that piece HERE.

The very lovely Hannah Beckerman interviewed me for the Huffington Post - and you can read my answers to her excellent questions HERE.

Finally, I wrote a piece for the wonderful people at Book Slam about the story behind the song in my novel. You can read that one HERE.

In St Ives, last summer 
The song I'm Always With You was written by him on the left, for me in the middle 
(and, one day, for him on the right)

A BIG, BIG THANK YOU for all the support. My Publication Day has been filled with kind and lovely words, from kind and lovely people. You've done me and my book proud, and I couldn't be more grateful. The Sea Between Us is dedicated to my son Calvin Jack and my husband, Bobby. I wrote much of it while I was pregnant, and rewrote it much of it when my son was very small. The fact that the last was even possible was down to the incredible support of my husband. It's a book that is, I hope, full of love - for landscape, surf, art, music, and the people who make life worth living. This one's for you, boys. It's yours.


I'll leave you with the aforementioned song - it's called I'm Always With You and you can listen to it HERE Xxx

Monday, 13 July 2015

First showing: book trailer for The Sea Between Us

Fancy a glimpse inside the world of my new novel? I'm thrilled to share with you here the trailer for The Sea Between Us. I've also written a few words on how we made it, and the generous, talented who people came together to make it happen. You can read that piece HERE, on the reading community website Bookends. Happy watching Xx

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Beach notes

Throughout the writing of The Sea Between Us I spent a lot of time on Cornish beaches (I know, it's a hard life…). I've come to know and love Porthmeor in St Ives, with its swathes of surfers and iconic curvature of the Tate. The serene and sandy stretches of Sennen Cove, its shoreline puddled with jellyfish as the big waves come crashing in. The scrabbling, scrambling descent to Pedn Vounder, a dreamlike place, and easy to miss at high tide. Last week I took my little son to Ness Cove, one of my favourite Devon beaches. Back in 2011 I was at Ness Cove when I heard I had my first ever book deal - I ran into the sea, soaking my jeans, kicking through the shallows with unbridled joy. Whenever I've been back since I think of that day and, well, glow. The beach was special enough before - with its damp, dark smugglers' tunnel, and the startling silver of the sea as you step out into the light, it was always a childhood favourite - but now it's one of my most beloved places on earth. Last week CJ built his first sandcastles there, and scampered on the sand. We also, unwittingly, staged a recreation of the book jacket design for The Sea Between Us...

Continuing the oceanic theme, I've been reading a gem of a book called Gift From The Sea by American author Anne Morrow Lindbergh, written in 1955. It elegantly and inspiringly argues the need for solitude, and suggests the seashore is the very best place to find it. Here's to that. Whenever I take myself off on writing retreats I head for water - the sense of perpetual motion is energising, I never feel stuck by the sea...

… and IN the sea is even better, as my new sweatshirt attests...

On the subject of quotes, I'm lucky that some fabulous authors have read early copies of The Sea Between Us and even luckier that they've said some very generous things about it. You can read what Lucy Clarke, Tiffany Murray, Hannah Beckerman and Liz Fenwick had to say HERE. It's always a nervous feeling, waiting for a new novel to come out, and knowing these fellow book writers and book lovers have enjoyed it is cheering indeed. My thanks to them.

This post feels a little random - a note here, a picture there - but that's how it is by the sea. Your mind bobs and drifts. You gaze at the endless horizon, hypnotised by the infinite sense of promise, then are brought back to the minutiae, the feel of a shell in the palm of your hand, the glistening of a pebble, the shifting of sand between your toes as the tide rushes out. You lie back and watch the seagulls wheel. Then you charge to the water and blitz beneath the waves. It's serenity and it's exhilaration. Aimlessness and focus. Days like these, with just a few weeks to go before publication, feeling that particular blend of anticipation and angst, there's no place I'd rather be. I hope you make it to the beach this summer. I hope, as Emerson says, and whose words I chose to open The Sea Between Us, you let yourself 'live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air's salubrity'.   

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

New home, new book

My poor blog has been a little neglected in recent months. Mainly due to moving house, and the day to day juggling of writing and mothering that I'm still working on balancing (what IS the trick? If you've got it figured then DO TELL. I wrote about the subject of managing offspring - both books and babies - for Book Slam recently, and you can read it HERE). Today - the 27th May - is the three month marker for my new novel, The Sea Between Us, coming out, so with that wind in my sails, with that super light on the horizon, here are a couple of updates…

In April we moved house. Apart from all the excitement of owning our first home (after many years of renting we can finally go wild with the Blu-tack - walls watch out!), I'm also a little giddy at being the proprietor of my very own writing hut. While elsewhere in the house there are still many unpacked boxes, early on I spent a happy afternoon making my hut ship-shape and fit for my purpose. Here's a glimpse… 

The only kicker is that the hut is right on 'CJ's lawn'… so I'll have to learn to resist the temptation of hanging out with him instead of working...

…but when interruptions are this cute, well, who even WANTS to resist?

There was another knock at my door earlier, and it was another welcome diversion. A big box of finished copies of the trade paperback of The Sea Between Us. This edition is bound for Australia and New Zealand and beyond - it's basically a chunky, slightly larger version of the mass market paperback that'll be out in the UK in three months. It is a BEAUTY - big thanks to my publisher Headline for making it look so divine. The title is picked out in gorgeous coppery foil, and there's a splendid driftwood effect on the spine. I love a bit of driftwood, me. I'm also thrilled to bits that the generous words of author Lucy Clarke adorn the cover - 'an utterly beautiful story'. I'm a big fan of Lucy's books - she has a new one out this summer too - The Blue - I've read an early copy and can confirm that it is FAB. 

What else? Well, between decking out my writing hut and getting increasingly excited about the forthcoming publication of The Sea Between Us, I've been trying to lose myself in the writing of a new book. It's early days, but I've a stack of notebooks full of scribbles and am just feeling my way into the first draft. At this point it feels a little like an awkward dance, one where we're both trying to learn the steps, still unsure of who's supposed to be leading. We haven't quite found our rhythm yet, but I'm not worried. I know we'll get there in the end, this new book and me, because I've felt the SPARK. And right now, so early in our lives together, the spark is what it's all about.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The mother of all years

Here is a picture of me on my fifth birthday, with my brand new baby, Morris.

I was never much for dolls as a child. Climbing trees and playing football were far more preferable to me than cooing and cradling and yet… there was Morris. He was both planned, and deeply anticipated.  Before he arrived his name was already waiting, as was a pile of handmade clothes. I wasn’t any good with a needle and thread - again, tree-climbing and ball-kicking – but I could wield a stapler and a roll of sticky tape with the best of them. I raided my mum’s bag of fabric remnants, and ‘stitched’ him a pair of dungarees and two shirts. When Morris arrived, and I found the clothes I’d lovingly made him were far too small, I cried. It felt like my first maternal misstep. I should have taken it as warning.

Here’s another picture, this time from last April. Calvin is about ten weeks old and I’m thirty-five. To the five year old me, that would have seemed like a towering age at which to first become a mum. But then I didn’t become the owner of a donkey sanctuary, or a Wimbledon champion either, so I guess life doesn’t unfold as we, at five, might imagine. In fact, when it comes to motherhood, it doesn’t unfold as we might imagine at thirty-five, either.

I would never have imagined that CJ, now aged one, would still be sleeping in our bed each night, lolling between us, his arms thrown out wide with sweet abandon as we just about cling to the mattress. Nor that for the first five months of his life he’d sleep only on our chests, curled in a ball as tight as a hedgehog. Each night I’d wedge him between my boobs, falling asleep kissing the top of his head – neck only marginally cricked - and wake up again doing the same. I would never have imagined that my first three months of motherhood would be so coloured by breastfeeding woes, that I’d forever be clapping on hot compresses, or ice-packs, or grimly massaging blocked ducts, my tears rolling. I’d thought only cows got mastitis, just as I’d thought abscesses only appeared in mouths. I would never have imagined that my emotions would run so close to the surface that the slightest thing could tip me, or trip me; failing to close the freezer door and all the reserves of baby food I’d made going to ruin; struggling to put a shoe on a fast-kicking baby’s foot; incessant crying in the early weeks cutting right into the core of me, quickening my heartbeat, my own voice hitting a keening note in reply. I would never have imagined how the feeling of immense responsibility would wallop me right in the chest, and every so often the prickling sensation of alarm, that my old life was gone, quite gone. I never would have imagined that I would be okay with this last. That I wouldn’t, in fact, have had it any other way. Nor would I have imagined that marveling at my baby would show no signs of running out, my infatuation rendering me, I admit, practically moronic. Oh, look at his hair! Oh, his two front teeth! The underside of his foot is so smooth! His laugh! Wondering at every millimeter of him, ad infinitum. The other thing I could never have imagined as that small girl is the importance of the person by my side. This last year, Bobby has astounded me almost as much as our son. My gratitude to him, for being an amazing husband and dad, is boundless. As is my respect for anyone who walks this crazy path alone.

This Sunday will be my second Mother’s Day. I now know why, when someone says ‘the mother of all’, they are talking about the absolute extremities of experience. This has certainly been the mother of all years. And will it always be like this now, I wonder? The everyday effusion? The elemental reactions? The sense of change upon change upon change.  Of swooping fear and soaring delight. Or is this first year - with the transition from squirming, squalling newborn to adventuring, muddy-kneed toddler, the journey from startled new mum to slightly more adjusted mum - the most extreme of all? Perhaps A.A. Milne has the answer: ‘When I was one, I had just begun’. For Calvin there are still first words to come, all the flavours of ice cream, the zig-zagging path of a never-steered-before trike. For me, the last time I unclip my bra, and lift him to my breast, knowing it’s our final feed. The first time we leave him with someone else for a whole day, a whole night. The first time I watch, helplessly, as he takes a humdinger of a fall. But these are the broadest brushstrokes. I can’t know how they’ll feel, and feeling is, after all, everything.

I look again at these two photographs, thirty years apart, and the similarities are striking. In each I’m holding onto something beloved, and smiling into a future I can’t possibly imagine.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Cornwall in December, merry and bright

This time last week I was on the road to Cornwall, for a post-birthday, pre-Christmas treat. Our destination was Mousehole, a village I've come to know quite well. My new novel, The Sea Between Us, is set in Penwith, in a fictional hamlet called Merrin, and over the last year and a half I've spent as much time as possible familiarising myself with the landscape of the far west. This has been one of the greatest joys of my writing process. I've tramped coastal footpaths in the mizzle (that brilliant west country word for the killer combo of rain and mist), pitching up sodden at a deserted and wave-battered Lamorna Cove. I've clambered over rocks as unblemished and rounded as giant hens' eggs in the Cot Valley. I've been hurled by waves and wound up spitting saltwater bodyboarding at Porthmeor. I've talked to artists in galleries in St Ives, bought fresh fish from men in wellingtons in Newlyn Harbour, basked upon Porthcurno's golden sand. After about five weeks of exploring, and many more spent dreaming, I've fallen in love with this part of the world, and hope that shines through in my book. Last November I stayed at the Old Coastguard in Mousehole and wrote furiously (i.e. very happily - no one could fail to be happy and productive in such a place) for five days. I'd seen the preparatory structures of the fabled Harbour Lights then, the scaffold for a giant Christmas pudding, the five enormous points of a not-yet-shining star. I wrote a mention of the lights into my book, and somehow that didn't seem right without seeing them for myself, in all their blazing glory. So last week we bundled up our baby, and made our last trip across Bodmin Moor for the year. 

In Mousehole the winds tasted of seasalt, woodsmoke wafted over the rooftops, and strings of fairy-lanterns laced the alleyways. We walked the streets at nightfall, a burning pasty in one hand, a cup of mulled wine in the other. The harbour lights dazzled, as we knew they would. Here are a few pictures of our winter weekend in the west. Three ships casting iridescent light. A Stargazy Pie that's my kind of size, and the ever-welcoming The Ship Inn. A particularly alluring garden gate on the road from Mousehole to Paul. Angry seas and a jellyfish-strewn beach at one of my favourite spots, Sennen Cove. Mousehole village at first light. And the view from the Old Coastguard garden - silver water, sprays of palm, the glorious sun on its way up - the natural world putting on its own spectacular light show.

I haven't written as many blogs as usual this year (babies! tsk) but thank you, as ever, for reading those I have. The Sea Between Us has now been thoroughly copy edited. The next time I see it it'll be type-set and ready to proof. There's a gorgeous cover design, which I can't wait to share. Soon it'll be printed, bound and, come August, ready for you too. Which is an exciting, nerve-racking, at times wonderfully unlikely (babies! tsk!) thought. 

Here's wishing you the happiest of Christmases, and the shiniest, brightest, fun-filled (in fact, Mousehole-harbour-lights-style) 2015. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

My favourite Devon places - a Holiday Cottages blog

Devon-based holiday firm are running a fab writing and photography competition for local school children. I was delighted to lend my support to it and write a piece for their blog about my favourite Devon places. I went for a smugglers' tunnel, a hidden cove, and a storybook valley… you can read the 'where and why' HERE.

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