About Me

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I write well researched but readable historical and contemporary novels and some non-fiction. I live in a Scottish country cottage with my artist husband. I love gardening and I also collect the fascinating antique textiles that often find their way into my fiction. This blog is about all these things and more!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Next Big Thing - The Golden Apple

I agreed to write a 'next big thing' blog when asked by an old friend Michael Bartlett of Crimson Cats  without thinking that almost everyone I know would already have done it. That's the nature of these chain blogs. It's a bit like pyramid selling. Those who are in at the start are OK.  But  one of my friends has a new Next Big Thing due out any time now, so I'll have at least one nomination. Meanwhile, here's a bit about my own Next Big Thing, with more to come soon.

Alan, my husband, on Tenerife, way back when....
What is the title of your next book?
It's the Golden Apple and it's an extensive rewrite of an old backlist title which sank without trace. But I loved the characters and the setting and the story. My original intentions for it got lost somewhere for reasons too complicated (and painful) to go into here. The new book will have the same skeleton but the flesh on those bones will be different.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It's started out as a book about cross cultural marriage, something that has always interested me, perhaps because my dad was Polish and my mother was Leeds Irish. They loved each other to bits, their whole lives long, but it sometimes struck me that adjustments must have had to be made on both sides. As a child, I was never aware of it. I think my dad was just glad to be alive after the war. But all the same, it's something I have found myself thinking about and tackling in plays and fiction quite often. This was probably my first foray but I've done it since then. My novel Ice Dancing explores vaguely similar territory, and the sequel to that novel, which I'm already planning, certainly will.

What genre does your book fall under?
I'm always a bit phased by this question since just about everything I write crosses genres. I suppose I'll have to categorize it as a romance, but I'd quite like to invent a new genre: Grown Up Love Stories. That's what I often write.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition
I always had Antonio Banderas in mind for the hero, but time has passed and Luis is only in his early thirties! It would have to be somebody else tall, dark, sexy and Spanish. Any suggestions?

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
She marries him in haste; will she or won't she repent at leisure?

Will your book be self published or represented by an agency?
Oh self published. Like all my books, these days.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
For me, this is always a 'how long is a piece of string?' question. I never really know. When I'm on a roll I can get a first draft finished within a matter of months, and frequently do, but it will be a very very rough draft. Then I set it to one side and come back to it later, and repeat this process many times. I usually have a few projects on the go at once.

What other books would you compare yours to?
I actually can't answer this one. I don't know. I used to be compared to Daphne du Maurier, which is very flattering for me. I'd be happy to write so well.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
That's easy. Years ago, I spent a winter aboard a big catamaran in the Canary Isles with my husband, who at that time was a charter skipper. It was a company boat and we looked after charterers, but in practice they only arrived quite sporadically. Alan had his hands full most of the time looking after this beautiful big boat (it had two master cabins, three loos and showers, a captain's cabin and a saloon you could comfortably hold a party in) but I spent an enviable amount of time sitting on deck in the sunshine, writing. I wrote the first draft of the Golden Apple at that time. Then it went through the publishing process and got turned into something it wasn't. By the time I came back to Scotland, I was expecting a baby. The following winter, with Alan still working aboard a yacht in the Canaries, we borrowed a friend's apartment and I spent another few months in Los Cristianos, this time with a brand new baby. It was wonderful.
Now I'm restoring The Golden Apple to the novel I intended it to be, returning to the thoughtful book I first wrote. I was particularly inspired by the wonderful island of La Gomera which was my favourite place. I haven't been back since and they suffered with terrible fires last year, but I gather that they are flourishing again. A truly magical place. The novel is a love song to the Canaries really.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
It's a sexy, sunny novel. It should be published later in the spring. Watch this space.

I'm passing this on to Cally Phillips 
Cally has had a 20 year career writing for stage, screen and latterly fiction. She has worked as script reader for Channel 4, as secretary of Scottish Branch of the Writers Guild and held Drama residencies with DGAA and WLYT. As Artistic Director of Bamboo Grove Theatre Company (2002-2006) and facilitator for ABC Drama Group (2003-2010) she developed an advocacy style of theatre. In 2010 Cally set up HoAmPresst Publishing and in 2012 Guerrilla Midgie Press (an advocacy publisher) Cally has published novels, plays and short stories (in Scots). She is the director of the online Edinburgh eBook Festival which is held in August.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Support Your Local Writer

Cover art by Michael Doig
An arts magazine to which I subscribe dropped through my letterbox yesterday morning and sent my blood pressure sky high. This is a little publication which focuses mainly on art and artists. But the current issue devoted a large chunk of its available space to an anti Amazon, pro bookstore rant with the now wearily familiar exhortation to us all to support our local small businesses and shun those giant corporations like Amazon, Starbucks and Google. I'm assuming the editor doesn't use a PC or a Mac to construct his copy, but I wonder what he uses instead? Pencil and paper? One of those old printing sets you used to get in your Christmas stocking?

There was, however, a significant omission from his rant in favour of small businesses: the thousands of small business people without whom there would be no books whatsoever. 

You've got it. Writers.

It amazes me how often certain commentators speak and write lovingly about books (their smell, their feel, their physical form)  independent bookstores (struggling local businesses worthy of our support) and publishers (under threat, under pressure, under the cosh)  but relegate the one small business person without whom NONE of these would exist, to the sidelines.

A nice little hobby?
Part of the problem is that only a certain percentage of writers think of themselves as professionals, as people running a small business. But isn't that the same with any 'creative' pursuit? Back when my husband was wearing himself out (quite literally as it turned out - he now has serious arthritis) on huge woodcarving projects, people would watch him at work and remark on what a 'nice little hobby' it was for him. So for every writer who sees him or herself as a professional there will be a dozen happy dabblers - and why not? It's a good thing to do. But the knock-on effect of this is that assumptions are made, assumptions which we sometimes have to challenge.

I've had a long and interesting career but like all writing careers it has been a bit of a switchback. And I've learned that it is never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. But right now, somebody is actually facilitating my business, distributing my books and paying me on a regular basis and that somebody is Amazon. Those by no means large but wonderfully regular payments are what allow my own small business to support many other small businesses, like the variety of young, self employed digital artists who have worked on my eBook 'covers' with me and the local company  Paligap, which built my Wordarts website for me. Not forgetting our village cafe  and pub to which I escape to from time to time. 

Encouraging customers to support one particular local business is all very well - especially if that business is well loved and is serving its community in all kinds of interesting ways. And I love indie bookstores. Especially the ones with cafes, the ones where local writers and book groups hang out, the ones which encourage readings, the ones where the owners are welcoming - unlike the indie bookshop which had better remain nameless, to which I delivered a small box of my very much local interest books on the explicit instructions of my publisher who claimed to have arranged the visit in advance, only to be met with something verging on hostility!

Sailing to a bookshop?

There are a few excellent independent bookshops which might loosely be described as local. Those in Wigtown - a beautiful place - involve an hour's drive along winding, hilly, country roads, pitted with potholes that might better be defined as craters and made horrible by log lorries, bouncing along the middle of the road at high speed. I shop there from time to time, but not often. The other involves an hour's drive in the opposite direction and 45 minutes on a car ferry. Forgive me if clicking on the great Amazon in the clouds so often seems like a much better option when I want a book right now, especially if I can get it for my Kindle and be reading it instantly. Good for the writer. Good for the reader. 

Asking people to boycott a system which demonstrably benefits producers and customers alike seems illogical and unfair. And as Hugh Howey wrote in a recent blog post, the real story is NOT him. (Although his is a wonderfully inspirational story for all of us!) No. It's the thousands and thousands of writers like me, writers who were told by their blinkered industry time and again that no matter how excellent their product, nobody wanted it. The midlist was dead. Well, turns out it was only taking a nap. Now that it has woken up, it's alive and kicking. And here we are, small business people, managing to connect directly with our real customers - our readers - and finding out that there is an appreciative market for our products after all. 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Love Stories: Why Feel Guilty?

Way back when The Curiosity Cabinet (still free on Kindle for one more day) was short-listed for the Dundee Book Prize, I got to have dinner aboard the Discovery in Dundee with the lovely Ian Rankin and the equally lovely Malcolm Archibald, (destined to be the eventual winner)  among other people. The three shortlisted novels were read by a number of Scottish book groups whose members reported on them. The comments on The Curiosity Cabinet were very favourable. But most of all, I remember one reader who, although praising it, remarked that it had been a 'guilty pleasure'. That phrase has stayed with me for years. I was very glad the reader had enjoyed the book, delighted that they had found it to be a pleasure - but at the same time, the idea that they felt guilty about enjoying it made me kind of sad.

Responses to novels are subjective and as a writer, you can't argue with them. You just accept them and move on. But I felt sad that at some point, somebody had given my reader a very definite idea about what he or she should enjoy. I found myself wondering who it had been. A teacher? A literary critic? Another reader?

Now, anyone who has read the Curiosity Cabinet will know that it is - unashamedly - a love story. Actually, it's two love stories, one past and one present and they are very carefully entwined. There are similarities, a fragile web of connections across time, but many differences too. It isn't a novel about solutions, although I like to think it's a novel about ways in which time resolves some things, at least. It isn't a time slip novel so much as a novel about layers of time. It's a 'quiet' story, as somebody else said. That was where it fell at the Big Publishing hurdle, even though it was eventually published by a medium sized publisher. The big editors told my agent they liked it - in some cases they told her they loved it - but they didn't think it was a stonking great story, so they didn't think it would ever be a stonking great bestseller.
They were probably right.

Some readers think it's simple, and some readers don't. That's interesting too. I don't think it's all that simple or only simple in the way that a poem is simple. It's probably no accident that I was a poet in another writing life, and still find myself relentlessly paring things down to their bare bones when sometimes that isn't what a novelist should be doing at all.

But I find myself saddened that a significant percentage of readers seem to have forgotten - or feel that they shouldn't admit - their desire to seek out and enjoy the magic of a well written, thought provoking love story, whether it ends happily ever after or not.

Doom laden?
I've been thinking a lot about the kind of novels I write. Figuring that if I can't describe the kind of books I write then readers will have a hard time finding them.
I'm a mid-list writer, for sure. I write historical fiction and contemporary fiction. I hope it's thoughtful and accessible.
But you know what else?
I write love stories.
Even my recent novel, the Physic Garden, a fairly sombre exploration of friendship and extreme betrayal, ('doom laden' a friend described it)  is also a love story, although it is up to the reader to decide exactly where that love lies, by and for whom.

Two other novels, the Amber Heart and Bird of Passage, one historical and one spanning a whole lifetime, turn out to be love stories too. In Bird of Passage, it's a strange, twisted kind of love, but love it most definitely is.

Ice Dancing - of everything I've written - is probably  the most straightforward love story, although even this one isn't very straightforward, since it's about the disruption of irresistible love at first sight for two honourable people. It's also the least popular of my novels as far as sales go - which is faintly irritating, because I love these two characters almost more than any others I've created and am desperate to write a sequel.  I know what happens next, and that's such a temptation for any novelist. (I'm tempted to beg a little here. Go on. Give it a try. Then I can write some more about Joe and Helen!)

But really, this is a plea for honesty. I know I love films, plays, dramas and novels about relationships, affection, love, passion, friendship, obsession, the feelings we have for each other, feelings that can shape (or wreck) our whole lives. I can't be alone in this. Let's face it, I'm not alone in this.  So surely these things are worth exploring in our fiction. Who on earth decided otherwise? Some of the finest stories ever written have been love stories. Should we feel guilty for enjoying these too?

My most favourite least popular novel!