My first novel, The Book of Summers, is a coming-of-age story about longing and belonging.  It is born of childhood memories - some real, many imagined.  Every summer when I was small we would pack up the car and take the ferry from Dover to Calais, before driving through France and Germany.  In later years we ventured further afield to Austria and Hungary.  We'd be away for a month at a time, returning with tanned skin, mosquito bites and a hatful of travellers' tales.  My father documented our trips with his Nikon, while I did the same with my journal.

Below: First trip to France, Val de Loire, 1987

Below: Journal writing with refreshment, Alsace, 1988

I was eleven years old when we first went to Hungary.  It was 1990, the year after the Berlin Wall came down, and my mother was keen to explore her Hungarian roots.  Together we discovered a country that was changing, a place possessed of a turbulent past and an uncertain future.  Yet it was the simple, timeless things that captured my imagination and stayed with me.  The incredible heat that churned the surface of roads where state buses pulled in and sent us scurrying for shade in search of peach soda.  The delicious food and its relative cheapness - my sister and I marvelled at ice-cream for five pence a blob and quickly learned how to say, három gombóc fagylalt, cseresznye, vanilia és csokoládé (three scoops please, cherry, vanilla and chocolate).  The beauty of the land - we discovered a lake as big as a sea, chalky hillsides bursting with rhododendrons, mustard-painted houses with languid verandas and crooked tiled roofs.  We stayed by turns in a 1960's tower block hotel with Russian guests that serenaded the setting sun over Lake Balaton, a faded but elegant apartment across the Danube from the Houses of Parliament, and a Transylvanian-style hunting lodge tucked among the forests of the Pilis Hills.  For several years we went back every summer, and everything was always the same and always different.

Below: Driving on the Great Plain, GB-stickered, 1990

Below: Lake Balaton, a place for play and pensiveness, 1994

After the holidays had ended and we were back at home, with looming school and shortening days, these trips took on a new life.  My father assembled meticulous photo albums, each one marked and labelled with route maps and dates.  We'd revisit these books throughout the winter months, when sun-tans and inflatable lilos were swapped for woodsmoke and blankets, and our summers seemed like a faraway dream.  We were generous with our recall - even remembering with fondness the mosquito bites that had studded our ankles, the strange towelling sheets that itched in the hot nights, and the time our exhaust pipe fell off and we roared about a quiet French town like a rally car.  Our adventures, both vital and insignificant, fell to family folklore.  It is from these memories, these images, these facts, that The Book of Summers grew.  The rest is fiction.

The Book of Summers: synopsis

When news of a death in the family reaches her from abroad, Beth Lowe realises that she can no longer avoid her past.  She is sent a photograph album, a poignant record of the seven summers she spent in rural Hungary.  A time when she trod the tightrope between separated parents and two distinct countries; a bewitching but imperfect mother and a gentle, reticent father, the dazzling house of a Hungarian artist and an empty-feeling cottage in deepest Devon.  Years later, Beth's Hungarian summers continue to haunt and entice her.  The Book of Summers is about the lies we tell, the truths we keep and, above all, the ways we find to keep on loving one another.

The Book of Summers will be published in March 2012 by Headline in the UK, and in June 2012 by MIRA in the US. Also in Italy (Arnoldo Mondadori), Germany (btb/Random House), Holland (Orlando), Portugal (DK Civilicacao), Spain (Santillana) and Sweden (Forum).

Queries: Please contact Rowan Lawton at Furniss & Lawton: or 020 8987 6802.