Monday, 31 December 2012

My highest-lightest 2012 highlights

I ummed and ahhed about a piece like this, and then I thought of the very first blog post I wrote. I'd just found my agent and was feeling like I was taking a first step down an exciting, if uncertain road; the only thing I knew was that I wanted to write about what happened next. Back then, I quoted good old Ferris Bueller and I'll quote him again now... "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it". So, in that spirit, below are just ten of the very many great things about 2012.

1) My first official outing as a soon-to-be published author was in January 2012. Thanks to the organisational efforts of my friend Kate, I ran a writing workshop in Kigali, Rwanda. I lost my voice. There was a power cut. It was an eventful first event. I loved it, and will never, ever forget it.

2) On 1st March 2012 The Book of Summers was published in hardback and after weeks of rain the sun beamed all day. I celebrated at The Gay Hussar with my fab agent Rowan, and the absolutely brilliant Headline 'Team Summer', Leah, Ben & Vicky. To top it off, towards the end of the night Leah, my editor, told me that my novel was to be a Richard & Judy Summer Book Club pick. I had to keep this amazing news under my hat for the next three months. Hard? Very. I walked back to my hotel in Bloomsbury that night feeling like one of the luckiest people around. My little book was out in the world and the very best people were helping it on its way.

3) Later in March I had my launch party at Daunt in Hampstead. Friends. Wine. Salty snacks. It was really great. I tried to give a speech to say as much, but I ended up crying instead. I think everyone knew what I meant, and more importantly, how much it meant.

4) In May The Book of Summers came out in paperback and I hit the couch with Richard & Judy. It was surreal and excellent and I just about managed to resist the urge to smother them in grateful kisses. Afterwards we drank cocktails on the Shoreditch House roof terrace and basked in the first (and one of the last) flaming-hot days of the summer.

5) At the end of May I celebrated my USA Pub Day with a plate of maple-syrup soaked pancakes. Two years earlier I'd wed in Vegas and honeymooned in New Mexico and enjoyed countless roadside diner short stacks. There was no better way to mark my publication across the pond.

6) Through the spring and summer I was lucky to get some really lovely reviews for The Book of Summers. I've come to know some brilliant book bloggers & am very grateful for their enthusiasm and thoughtful words. Almost-life-size book cover shots in Marie Claire and Grazia made me squeal in the aisles of the newsagent. I've written three pieces for ELLE through the year, after they tipped me as one of their 'most anticipated debut novelists'. Oh, I do love ELLE. And a really sweet surprise? Emails from perfectly lovely strangers, saying they'd read & liked my book. I cherish every one. And as to any less-than-lovely comments - you're just not a real author without them.

7) In July I visited Madrid for the launch of El libro de los veranos. The Spanish football team had just won Euro 2012 and were parading victorious; I arrived in the city to the tune of air horns. My publisher, Suma de letras, looked after me handsomely. I met lots of charming Spanish journalists, walked the Gran Via in blazing sunshine, spotted my book in two shop windows, and went home loaded with some of the best Manchego in Madrid. Happy, happy.

8) In August I made my first appearance at a literary festival... The Edinburgh Festival. My husband and his brother had shows of their own, so we got to experience it all together. I shared a stage with the brilliant Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. I hung out with my agent & publisher. I saw a mind-melting beat-boxer. It was all ace.

9) Earlier in the year Patrick Neate, my former Arvon tutor (O Captain, my Captain!), asked me if I'd like to contribute a short story to the new Book Slam collection. Would I? Too Much Too Young was published in November. I recorded my story, Me and Bobby McGee, for the Jarvis Cocker show on BBC 6Music, my favourite station. The Book Slam 'lit night club' came to Bristol for the first time, and I read along with fellow contributors Nikesh Shukla and Salena Godden. I repeat... Would I??

10) Through it all I've been writing my next novel, due out in July 2013. Last time it was Hungary and this time it's Switzerland. There's a girl called Hadley, and a story to be told.  2012 has been a year full of excitement and first-experiences, a proper thrill ride, but there've been a lot of quiet moments too. There had to be. Days and nights when I've disconnected my laptop from the internet, closed my writing room door, and lost myself in another world entirely. Even when deadlines are looming fiercely and the words aren't quite flowing I always treasure this; my secret place.

But my single best thing about 2012 - the highlight that beams brighter than anything else - is the support and good cheer I've enjoyed from my dear friends (many old, some new) and family. My husband, Bobby, is endlessly encouraging and always the first person to read anything I write. Without him, without them, there's little point to any of it really, so THANK YOU. And to everyone else, thank you too. May 2013 be good to us all.          

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sprucing (pruning & mucking about)

I've spent today sprucing up my writing room, as I like the idea of starting 2013 with a little less (a tiny bit less) clutter about me. In my clear-out I came across a postcard I'd forgotten about. It's the work of two of my favourite wise men; words by Patrick Leigh Fermor, design by Alan Fletcher. As I await notes on the second draft of my next novel it seems more appropriate than ever... 

As to my next novel, how DOES it look? At the moment, something like this...

That's the south wall of my writing room, stuck all over with chapter by chapter post-its. Another piece of clutter (or very necessary accoutrement) that survived my grand tidy-up/ chuck-out. 

Writers, here's to 'chopping and pruning and mucking about'. Readers, may you always 'like the sound of it' too. A very happy New Year, one and all.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Days like these

This time of year always makes me think of snow, and as the first flakes fall a feeling of incomparable levity and possibility comes with them. Seven years ago I quit my London job and headed off to the French Alps with my boyfriend and our snowboards. We ended up staying for two winters. I worked as a chalet chef and a shopgirl, he as a cleaner and snowboard guide. And I began writing. I've written about this transformative time before, last year in ELLE magazine, and on my blog, but I don't think I ever told you this... it started with poetry. 

No child is self-conscious about their scribbled verse and out in the French Alps I was playing, working too, but mostly playing. My days, as soon as I was free of the chalet kitchen or the shop, were spent sliding down slippery stuff, and, as my mum used to say when I was small, 'running around with my mouth open'. Out there I was trying to go fast, really fast, even faster. Jumping. Gathering snow to make bigger things to jump. For two winters I was all wet mittens and red cheeks, and this return to childish pleasures, this abandonment, sparked the kind of creative courage that children think nothing of. So I began with poetry, not caring if it was any good (it wasn't), just relishing the feeling of creation. I found a couple of these old scribbles the other day and I remember well the moments that led to them. The poems themselves are grim little things so fear not, I won't reproduce them here, but I'll tell you their essence because there's still something in them that I like. And the very fact that they exist, I like even more.

My favourite job as a chalet chef was taking out the rubbish after the night's service had ended. At around 10 o'clock I'd heft the bin bag down the stairs and out of the back door. The freezing night air would never fail to startle, like a clean, hard smack to both cheeks. The sound of the river that ran just beyond the chalet would be so much louder in the still night, a wild roar, too fast-running to ever freeze. The enormous cliffs that surrounded us glowered, and somewhere even further on there was the misty neon twinkle of nearby Avoriaz. The giant bins were at the very top of the driveway, so I'd walk up past the chalet carrying the rubbish. That first winter, 05-06, was a doozy, fresh snow nearly every day or so it seemed, and I always took pleasure in the trail of footprints I left behind me. As I dumped the rubbish in the bin I'd turn and look back at the chalet and its lights, see the shapes of guests moving inside, sometimes hear a snatch of music, and feel a wonderful separation from the peopled world. Just like the American naturalist John Muir said, 'going out, I found, was really going in'.  I did this every night for five months and somewhere in the middle I wrote a poem about it. I hadn't written a poem for ten years or more.

Another moment. On changeover day it was all hands on deck, with one batch of guests leaving and another arriving, all in all there were twenty-eight people switching places; rooms to be readied, meals to be made. Tasks were always accomplished with a sort of panic, one ear perpetually cocked for the sound of a transfer bus arriving in the driveway. I remember frantically vacuuming a bedroom once, and the hoover started stuttering and choking. I picked up a random ball of cotton (stray threads?) and some unrecognisable but quite substantial lint that the sucker couldn't manage. In haste, I shoved them in the pocket of my jeans, and carried on vacuuming. Later, as guests left and pressed a tip into my hand I smiled and pocketed this too. Much later, after I'd taken out the bins (& thought it'd make a nice, or bad, poem), and rolled into to a bar to wash the work away, I reached into that same pocket and drew out the note. It was stuck over with all of the bits the hoover couldn't manage. I brushed it off and swapped it for a beer. There was simplicity in the exchange and something else too (unidentified hairs?). However misguidedly, I thought this would also make a nice poem. It didn't, of course, but I still like the fact that something in me, the new me, the changing me, thought that it would. That the world wasn't rushing on so fast, and I with it, that I didn't notice these things.

What am I trying to say? That slowing down some things and speeding up others, being in a different place, doing things I never normally did, stirred me up and made me think differently. As social as those winters were, and as an intense an experience as it was working with my boyfriend (now husband), I spent a lot of time inside my own head, and it was less cluttered than it'd been in a long time. Something was freed up. Ordinary things felt poetic. Everywhere I looked I saw possibility. When we talked about returning to the UK I knew I'd be doing so with a whole new plan - to write a novel and try and get it published. And then write another. And another. And make this the thing that I cared about above, almost, all else. Truth, imagination, and always trying to be a better writer. Two winters of incubation to reach that conclusion may seem excessive, someone else might experience the same enlightenment in a fraction of the time and closer to home, but that was just the way it was with me. So days like these, when winter's here and in the Alps it's snowing hard, I think of bin bags and lint and a crumpled ten Euro note. And you know what? It feels like flying.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

!Book Slam Bristol!

With the success of three London launches filling her sails, the fair ship Book Slam is heading westerly and docking in Bristol on the evening of Monday 10th DecemberI'll be reading my story from Too Much Too Young, along with fellow contributors and live lit legends Salena Godden and Nikesh Shukla. What with music from Robin Allender too, it promises to be much fun. We'll be at Spike Island, Bristol's own Helicon, twixt the sacred springs of the Cumberland Basin and the New Cut...

It's from 6.30-8.30pm, and entry is FREE... more details HERE, and how to find Spike HERE

One of the many nice things about having a story in a collection along with eleven other authors is that you can safely shout about it without being that guy. So here's Too Much Too Young looking handsome alongside a Flat White. Just because.

And here's what makes this special little book extra special - every copy signed by every author.

As a festive treat, you can pick up both Volume I and Volume II for just £30. I've read every story in both books and can say with just a smidgeon of bias (... one thirtieth, in fact) that this is an offer well worth accepting.  The people behind Book Slam are some of the nicest out there (you can read what Glorious Leader Patrick Neate has to say about it all here) and for the good of live literature we need to keep them doing what they're doing. I know what I'm giving all of my friends for Christmas (you guys, bit late to look away now, apologies etc).