Friday, 27 April 2012

American May

My wedding anniversary falls in May, making it two years since my husband and I wed in Las Vegas. It was my first time in America and the trip was every bit the dream I hoped. We hit the road to New Mexico and wound up in Santa Fe, a city I now pine for from my own South Western corner. The month of May will always make me think of my happy American days, and now I've another reason for that to be so... The Book of Summers is published in the US on the 29th May.  The other day I received my copies of the book, have a look... 

The edges of the pages have a ragged effect, to lend a little romance of times gone by, and I particularly love the specially created font for The Book of Summers, accents of which are taken through the chapter headings. My publisher, MIRA, have done me proud. Roll on Summer, Stateside! 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A book club podcast

I was slow to adopt Twitter, but one of the things I now love about the medium are the people it's brought me into contact with, including some very lovely book bloggers and book lovers. One such was Kim Nash (@KimTheBookworm), who's the 'resident bookworm' for Stafford FM. I've Kim to thank for choosing The Book of Summers as the station's 'book of the week' last week, with an extract read out on air by DJ and Book Club host Lee Middleton. Last sunday I was interviewed by Lee and you can hear it HERE. I talk about how I started writing, what kept me at it, and why so long as I keep writing stories I believe in I'll never stop loving the process. Thank you Kim, Lee and Stafford! 

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Summers in Europe

Thanks to the international allure of the London Book Fair, this week six of my foreign publishers were in London and I got the chance to meet them for the first time. In a lovely pub on Old Brompton Road I was delighted to chat to Ursula from btb Verlag (Germany), Gonzalo from Santillana (Spain), Chiara and Joy from Mondadori (Italy), Jacqueline from Orlando (Holland), Viveca from Forum (Sweden) and Simona from DK Civilicacao (Portugal). It was wonderful to put faces to names, to talk about cover designs and translated titles, extra material for reading groups and publicity possibilities. I tried out my extensive Swedish as gleaned from Wallander (tack! tack!), learned that Sicilian food is the best in Italy, and that my Spanish editor is a frequent visitor to the miniscule Devon village I went to primary school in. A small world, indeed. By the end of the evening I was all of a flutter, and hugely grateful to Rachel & Alexandra at PFD for bringing us together. The Book of Summers will be published first in translation in Portugal, in June. Recently I came across some pictures of the world's most beautiful bookshops, among them Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal. I wonder if The Book of Summers will appear on these crazy-lovely shelves...?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The story of a chair

The last time I was at my parents' house, I was looking through some old photographs and 
found this one...

It shows my mother, sister and I sitting under the apple tree in our garden. I am the smallest person in the picture, probably three or four years old, with no idea of the photographer behind me. Perhaps we had no garden furniture then, for the chairs we are sitting on are from the dining room of our cottage. We would have seen the sunshine and carried them out onto the lawn. I have no memory of this day, but there have been plenty of similar ones since. When I saw this photograph - nearly thirty years after it was taken - my eye was drawn to the chair my sister is sitting on. I hadn't seen it in ages. My dad, at heart, is both a hoarder and a restorer. He revealed that the chair was somewhere in the depths of the garden shed, likely riddled with woodworm and laced with spiders' webs, but he'd dig it out and brush it off if I wanted. And I did want. I'd been on the look out for a new chair for my writing room for some time. I've never been a fan of 'office furniture' - ergonomics and lumbar support are always so.... ugly - I'd rather a less comfortable seat with a touch of romance about it. 

A month or so later, my dad came up trumps. The chair was just where he thought it'd be, at the back of the shed among our old bicycles and abandoned easels, trapped by a pair of oars. He spruced it up, banishing the sprinklings of woodworm, scrubbing and treating and varnishing. He re-upholstered it using some fabric I'd brought back from Rwanda, purchased by the piece in Kimironko market. As well as giving me the chair, my dad gave me the history behind it. He'd liberated it from a skip at the Manchester school where he was an art teacher in the 70s. It was an old teacher's chair, probably dating from the 50s. For years we'd had it in our dining room at home, until his parents died and we inherited their furniture. If I'd hadn't seen the photograph, it'd still be in the shed. And now it's here, in another photograph... 

My writing room in Bristol. Sharp eyes might glimpse the mood board for my second novel, and a copy of my first in my bookcase, beside some of my favourite authors. The chair appears black and shining and perfectly at home. It presides over my desk - another reclaimed piece of furniture - and seems to know its place. Abandoned and rescued twice, it's something new born of something old, and made with love. It might not be the comfiest seat in the world, and the height is a little off for typing, but for me it's the perfect writing chair. We have history; one summer's day we both sat under an apple tree in a sunny garden, the Devon hillsides rolling away behind us. 

Monday, 9 April 2012

Home to Waterstones

When I think about writing The Book of Summers, a couple of decisions stand out as having particularly helped its progress; one was taking my self-styled writing sabbatical in 2010, and the other was to extend it. At the start of that year I resigned from my job in a marketing agency and lived on a shoestring for six months, my sole ambition to finish writing The Book of Summers. I'd already been working on the manuscript for two and a half years, but I knew that if I wanted it to be as good as I thought it could be, I needed to give it more time. All writers work differently, and many under far greater life pressures than I was enduring, but I felt I needed to free myself up in order to write the way I wanted to. I feared I wasn't being self-critical enough and with six months off, I knew I could give myself a clear run at it, reshaping the narrative, asking all the tough questions I knew I needed to and not be afraid of the answers. My husband is a comic book writer, used to up and down incomes of his own, but he was wholly supportive of my choice to chuck in my steady job and so we began 2010 on a tight budget, saying 'no' to a lot of things, and working away in our little Bristol flat, heads and hearts full of dreams. 

In those six months The Book of Summers began to take on a new shape and I liked the look of it. I knew if I took another six months and carried on at the same pace then by the end of the year my manuscript would be ready to send out to agents. But my funds were dwindling fast and I needed a part-time job. It was too soon to go back to my old world as I knew it would swallow me up again. I wanted something I could pick up and put down again at the end of the day and pay me just enough to get by. I flirted with the idea of waitressing - I'd always liked it as a student, getting by on a wing and a smile - so I did a couple of trial shifts at local restaurants. One was an upmarket fish place and they were looking for someone who could open wine at table deftly (nope) and carry three or more plates at a time (also nope), so I failed dismally. The other wanted me to work several unpaid shifts, the first mostly consisting of me folding napkins. I think after I'd folded the first few they could assess my capabilities, so I said thanks but no thanks. I also applied for three part-time admin jobs at the university, imagining myself cycling to campus in the september sun, scarf flying behind me, Ali MacGraw style. I didn't even get an interview - all my years of advertising and marketing meant nothing when more than 300 people had applied for each position. I began to worry I'd been rash. I'd burnt through my savings. I was ill-qualified for the kind of jobs I thought I wanted, and self-aware enough to know that I harboured distinctly romantic notions about them, anyway. I spent most of the summer worrying about what my next move should be, my day's writing interspersed with lists of pros & cons and scouring job sites. I began to wonder if my best option was, after all, to go back to the marketing world that I knew inside out. Then I saw that my local Waterstones were looking for Christmas temps. I applied in a flash. My only retail experience was a six-month stint in a French snowboard shop but I loved books, boy, did I love books. As I was waiting to hear I went for a long walk through the grounds of Ashton Court Manor. The estate overlooks the whole of Bristol, and the trees were just turning to Autumn gold. I caught a falling leaf and made a wish - an old habit. 

At the end of September I started working part-time at Waterstones Bristol Galleries as one of the first batch of Christmas temps, and it was to Waterstones Bristol Galleries that I returned on saturday, for my first instore signing. It was wonderful to see so many familiar faces, and receive such a warm welcome. I hung my coat and bag on a peg in the staff-room (where I'd eaten many a peanut butter sandwich, leafed through many a dog-eared Bookseller, chatted many a bookish chat) and sat down at the table that was waiting for me. A stack of The Book of Summers to one side, and a Sharpie at the ready. I smiled and I felt at home. I owe a big thank you to Waterstones, not just for having me on saturday and supporting The Book of Summers so thoroughly, but also for employing me in 2010. For it was that part-time job which allowed me to maintain the momentum of my sabbatical - keeping my head down, my spirits up and my funds level - I'll always think of it with a mix of gratitude, relief and a terrific sense of freedom. It was the home stretch to The Book of Summers, an appropriate end to my year of writing and the beginning of so much more.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Busy, busy

The Book of Summers has now been out in the world for one month and a day... In all the excitement of publication I've missed posting a few things, so here's something of a round-up of what's been going on at Camp Summer.

I've been speaking to some lovely book bloggers and doing interviews with Lloyd Paige, The Unlikely Bookworm and Jaffa Reads Too as well as a Publication Day guest blog over at Our Book Reviews. The Book of Summers has also been reviewed by plenty of book bloggers, and here are some of my recent favourites: Lovely Lovely Books ('evocative, accomplished and just gorgeous'), Fleur Fisher In Her World ('wonderful descriptions, well drawn characters, real emotions'), Something Booky ('absolutely stunning'), The Unlikely Bookworm ('poignant and utterly captivating'). I've been lucky to be getting some really lovely reviews over on Waterstones, Amazon and Good Reads, and a couple of particular write-ups made my day - this from Fictions Online ('an astoundingly beautiful tale') and from Marleen ('unexpected treasures'). 

March has turned out to be the month where I've bought more magazines than ever before and across the broadest spectrum - from Heat to The Spectator - and I've been chuffed to find great reviews and mentions for The Book of Summers in all of them. I've added choice quotes to my website HERE. Several of my favourite write-ups are in full online, in Cosmopolitan, The Spectator and The Big Issue. I wrote a short story celebrating Mother's Day for My Weekly - sadly it isn't available on the web, but I loved writing it. Like The Book of Summers it's about the poignancy of memory and mother and daughter ties. I was chuffed to bits that the super stylish Stylist Magazine also picked The Book of Summers as one of the 'hottest debuts of 2012', calling it 'fantastically evocative and sun-drenched.' But the magazine entry that elicited the biggest gasp from me was probably the shot in Grazia, where a quite humungous pic of The Book of Summers appeared in the 'Hot things to do now' listing...

Two summers ago I attended Marie Claire's How To Get Published workshop at the Bristol Hotel du Vin - the magazine interviewed me just before Publication Day and the write-up appeared in the Inspire & Mentor section of their website - you can see it here. I wrote about how memories of sun-kissed childhood holidays inspired my writing over on the We Love This Book site. And I was also interviewed by The Western Morning News - for a Devon gal, that was quite something - you can read the piece in full here. The spread in the paper made use of some of my dad's holiday snaps, including this rather beautiful image of Lake Balaton at sunset.

I've had an incredible first month as a published author and the generosity of feeling towards The Book of Summers has been astounding. In the week before Mother's Day I met a couple of old work pals in a bar by the waterside and signed six books, writing the names of their mothers and girlfriends. I received an email from a friend in Shanghai, passing on a family review, with such a glowing report from her mum that my cheeks ached from beaming. I've had excited phone calls and text messages from friends who've spotted the book in stores all over, and been sent snaps of it in Auckland, Kilkenny and Dublin. As well as the brilliant press coverage, it's these kind of things that have made this first month so special. It's often quoted that once your book is out there in the world then it's no longer yours. Two weeks before I was published I blogged about this over at Book Slam, and vowed to stay sanguine in the face of reviews. All reviews. For amidst the rave there have, of course, been a handful that proved less enjoyable to read - and against all reason it's always one negative remark that lingers longer than ten positive comments. It's a truth universally acknowledged that by writing and publishing you're opening yourself to inevitable criticism. But also generosity and warmth, often from unexpected quarters. If The Book of Summers doesn't belong to me anymore then that's just fine - I'm only too happy to share it. And I'll never stop feeling lucky that I can.