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This weekend I went to beautiful Tenby in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, for the annual Tenby Book Fair, organised by fellow Honno authors Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore. It was very exciting for me this year, as the Fair came just days after the publication of my latest historical novel for Honno Press, The White Camellia. It was definitely a case of one proud author holding her book and not letting it out of her sight!

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I love Tenby, with its wide sweep of coastline and the bright colours of its houses. This is the second dsc_0176time I’ve been, so I’d got my bearings and was able to explore a little more of the winding streets and the sheltered harbour. Tenby is small, bustling and friendly, held inside ancient town walls and overlooking Cardigan Bay, with Caldey Island on one side, and the distant view of the Gower and Worm’s Head on the other. Cornwall and Pembrokeshire share a similar wild coastline and sheltered coves – there are even palm trees on the sea front at Tenby, thanks to the Gulf Stream bringing in a mild climate this far north.dsc_0109

The Book Fair itself is part of Tenby Arts Festival, and was a real buzz. Not only was the hall packed with authors of all different kinds of genres, but quite a few were from my own publishers, Honno Press, and authors I’d met last time. And of course all those lovely friends on Facebook dsc_0098and Twitter who it always great to meet up with in real life – or meet for the first time, finally putting the real person to the photos online.

 

 

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My lovely friend and fellow Honno author Carol Lovekin and her breathtaking debut novel ‘Ghostbird’

The day itself went by with in a blur. I always love meeting readers and chatting about books and stories and the enthusiasm for reading that we all share. It was also fun to have a get together with fellow authors and catch up with news, and the inevitable struggle with the this book or the next. I’m always glad to be reminded it isn’t just me who struggles with the logistics of writing and housework adsc_0178nd not feeling guilty that the housework never wins! It was also good to have a relaxed meal together. Writing is such a solitary business, it’s always a buzz to be sociable, and simply have fun.

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I had a great time at the Tenby Book Fair, and come home tired, but also feeling refreshed, replenished and ready to go. So thank you everyone at Tenby Book Fair – and see you next year!

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Last weekend, I travelled to Aberystwyth to celebrate the 30th birthday of my publishers, the small but mighty Honno Press. In my hand I was clutching my author copy of The White Camellia, published only a few days before.

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I loved meeting my proofreader!

juliet-and-white-camelliaIt was great to meet up with fellow Honno authors, who I usually see only on social media, as we all live too far away from each other to meet up often. It was also a time to meet up with those keeping Honno punching above its weight, and who, as you do, I usually meet in the fevered intensity of getting a book in on time to meet its publication schedule. I loved meeting Lucy who proofread The White Camellia – and as I know from my day job as a proofreader, definitely a vital part of the process.

There was cake, and champagne, and a celebration of the history of Honno Press, from humble beginnings round a kitchen table to the many books, both new and classics, laid out on the tables.

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I was very proud to see all three of my novels there – I still have to pinch myself that they happened at all!

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One proud author with her books!

So here’s to a true celebration of books, and the sweat, blood and tears that go into creating their stories, and a supportive group of authors and publishers getting those books out there.

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Judith Barrow, Editor Janet Thomas, And Thorne Moore, with Carol Lovekin and Alison Layland deep in conversation in the background

And after the party, as a fan of Welsh noir series, Hinterland, there was only one way to end the day – drinking in the atmosphere of an Aberystwyth dusk.

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So thank you everyone for a memorable day, and the best way to celebrate publication day – and here’s to 30 more years of Honno Press!

You can find out more about Honno HERE

The White Camelliawhite camellia

A gripping story of love, loss and revenge, set in Edwardian London and Cornwall.

UK edition

USA edition

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Cornwall, 1909 

 Her family ruined, Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, and self-made businesswoman Sybil moves in. 

Owning Tressillion is Sybil’s triumph — but now what? As the house casts its spell over her, as she starts to make friends in the village despite herself, will Sybil be able to build a new life here, or will hatred always rule her heart?

Bea finds herself in London, responsible for her mother and sister’s security. Her only hope is to marry Jonathon, the new heir. Desperate for options, she stumbles into the White Camellia tearoom, a gathering place for the growing suffrage movement. For Bea it’s life-changing, can she pursue her ambition if it will heap further scandal on the family? Will she risk arrest or worse?

When those very dangers send Bea and her White Camellia friends back to Cornwall, the two women must finally confront each other and Tressillion’s long buried secrets.

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There was only one way to celebrate publication day for ‘The White Camellia’.the-white-camellia

In homage to the Victorian and Edwardian ladies’ tearooms that gave women the freedom to escape their families, talk freely to other women and even (shock, horror) men who had not been vetted by their fathers as suitable husbands, it had to be cream tea with friends. What could be better than cream tea in Anna’s Tearooms, a traditional tearooms within the medieval walls of Conwy, and in the shadow of its castle?

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Celebrating with fellow Novelistas Trisha Ashley, Louise Marley, and Anne Bennett. Thank you to Trisha for the photo!

It was a lovely relaxed day after all the last minute dash, as there always is, to get a book in on time and get all the publicity up and ready to go.

It was a strange feeling, as it always is, to see the book up there – especially when the kindle edition appeared. That’s when you know it’s definitely out there!

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Thank you to Trisha for the photo of the proud author with her baby!

So now the story that has been my obsession, day and night, for the past two years has finally flown the nest, and is where it should be, with its readers. It’s still quite a strange feeling! I’m excited and nervous – but also caught up with the next book. Oh, and that thing called housework (only where strictly necessary, of course).

But for one September day, it was lovely to relax with friends, and wander around Conwy in the sun, with the visitors out enjoying the sudden return to summer.

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So here’s to ladies’ tearooms, rebellion, good conversations and friends!

There’s still nothing like holding your book in your hands, and seeing it out there, taking on a life of its own.

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Thanks to Louise for the photo – with scone, of course!

The White Camellia

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For US edition click HERE

For UK edition click HERE

Cornwall, 1909 

 Her family ruined, Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, and self-made businesswoman Sybil moves in. 

Owning Tressillion is Sybil’s triumph — but now what? As the house casts its spell over her, as she starts to make friends in the village despite herself, will Sybil be able to build a new life here, or will hatred always rule her heart?

Bea finds herself in London, responsible for her mother and sister’s security. Her only hope is to marry Jonathon, the new heir. Desperate for options, she stumbles into the White Camellia tearoom, a gathering place for the growing suffrage movement. For Bea it’s life-changing, can she pursue her ambition if it will heap further scandal on the family? Will she risk arrest or worse?

When those very dangers send Bea and her White Camellia friends back to Cornwall, the two women must finally confront each other and Tressillion’s long buried secrets.

My previous novel, ‘We That are Left’ is £0.99p at the moment

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p1090718I love visiting Erddig, near Wrexham. It’s a big old house with gardens, set in a green and rolling landscape. It’s also beautifully preserved, not only the formal rooms for the family, but also the bedrooms and sitting rooms under the eaves that were inhabited by the servants, and to be honest look a great deal cosier than the equistitly decorated and furnished bedrooms below, in which I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have dared to sneeze for fear of damaging some priceless wallpaper or ornament.

p1090712The servants’ rooms, although plain, give a sense of the less visible members of the household, the ones who made it actually function, making themselves comfortable with what little time they had free, of friendships, rivalries and the ebb and flow of a close-knit community.

It’s that sense of community, and the distance, yet proximity, of very opposite, separated, and intertwined lives that I love in ‘Gosford Park’ and ‘Downton Abbey’. And it’s what makes the big old house, seething with secrets and an unknown past that raises all kinds of possibilities.

Like my first book for Honno Press ‘Eden’s Garden’, ‘The White Camellia’, published this week, starts with a big old house, this time on the wild cliffs of North Cornwall. Tressillion House was once as grand as Erddig, but is now ruined, the family dead, or forced to leave in such haste their belongings are still scattered around, like ghosts of a past that had once been.erddig-car

Into this ruin of lives comes the woman who, many years ago, set in motion the perfect revenge that has broughtp1090722 the family to its knees. Sybil has no intention of taking on the ruin she has created, let along falling in love with the dilapidated house and garden. But revenge is never that simple, and for every human being, life changes us. As Sybil stands among the remains of the past, and the lives that once lived there, a new story begins, one that can heal, or destroy, her.

p1090705That beginning of the story was one that sparked in my brain several years ago, when I first visited Erddig. It was strange going back, with the story completed, the book itself about to arrive from my publishers, and the publicity ready to begin. It reminded me too of just how much I loved watching ‘Downton Abbey’ and that sense of upstairs and downstairs lives intertwined. Like Miss Marple, it’s possible to see all life in a small village – including the tightly-bound village of a large old house and its inhabitants.

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I can’t wait to visit my next old house and gardens …

PUBLICATION DAY THIS THURSDAY!

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The White Camellia 2

A few days ago, copies of my book arrived from my publishers, Honno Press.

It’s beautiful. I tore open the packet and lifted out the top one, and sat down and stared. I couldn’t quite believe it was real. Of course, I’ve been looking at the White Camellia 1cover of ‘The White Camellia’ over the past months, and I’ve been working on story for over two years, and this is not my first book – but it still has that punch-to-the-stomach astonishment that it’s there at all.

Holding it lovingly in my hands is a reminder that the creation of a book is such a long, intricate, and at times agonizing process. I love that first moment when an idea hits, like an explosion in the brain, sometimes apparently out of nowhere, and you just know it’s going to work. Then comes the long, hard slog of getting that story down, revising, and revising, and revising until it works. I always find the first rush of enthusiasm inevitably turns to despair at some point, as the whole thing begins to feel like a seriously bad idea, and it just becomes a slog to get to the end, because I’m stubborn like that.

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Then, just as you get it to where you think it’s right, its time for the first outside view. In my case, it’s my editor, the wonderful and totally perceptive Janet Thomas, and the whole process starts all over again. I’ve said before how much I love the editing process. With each book, I’ve also found that each time is different. Each time, I’ve learnt a little more, but also I’m stretching myself, trying something new, and so with something new again to learn. I might pretend to myself that I don’t, but I usually find that the bits that are picked up are the ones that were niggling at me, along with the bits I haven’t thought of at all, and Cadnantwhich are usually down to me still living in the story, and forgetting my reader. Which is where an editor comes in, as a mediator between writer and reader, so that story gets out there just as you want it to be.

I get such a buzz from the to and fro of refining the story, ironing out the glitches and the bits that don’t make sense, and being pushed and pulled and prodded into going places (particularly emotional depth kind of places, where your very soul is ripped apart and hung out to dry) I never thought I’d dare. Then finally, after the line edits and the copy edits, at the point where you loath the story and wish you’d never started this writing lark in the first place, this miracle appears. A real, beautiful, book.

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It’s quite strange, glancing every now and again at the copy of my book propped up on my Welsh dresser to be adored as I pass. At the moment it’s in limbo, waiting for publication day. Very few people have seen it, even fewer have read the story. It hasn’t met its readers yet, so it stands there, in a curious kind of existence, both exquisitely real and not yet quite real at all.

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When I saw my first book, ‘Eden’s Garden’, I couldn’t believe it was so small. After all that blood, sweat and tears, it felt it would be at least size of a building. It still felt a bit the same with my second, ‘We That are Left’. With ‘The White Camellia’ it just felt beautiful. It wasn’t any less hard work, but it wasn’t such a totally overwhelming experience. I’ve grown in my writing journey.

 

Juliet in Cadnant

So, while I wrestle with the soggy middle of the next book, and wonder why I ever though this was a good idea in the first place, while making notes for the one after that, which is in the totally pure inspirational state (as in, I haven’t started writing it yet), I’m getting ready to send my latest baby out into the world. I’m enjoying having ‘The White Camellia’ all to myself for a couple of weeks, before she sets out to find her own way in the world, in her rightful place among her readers, and doesn’t really belong to me any more.

Because, in the end, it’s readers who make each book really live – and that, I’ve realised, is the whole point of the editing process, after all.

I can’t wait until September 15th – publication day for The White Camellia’, when Sybil and Bea, and all my beloved characters (even the ones that make your skin crawl) finally become real.

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For Victorian and Edwardian women tearooms were a freedom from the old expectations of family and chaperones, and simply going from being someone’s daughter to someone’s wife. We might have gai…

Source: Tearooms – still going strong

Carol

Portrait of Carol by Janey Stevens

Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Honno Press author, Carol Lovekin, whose debut novel ‘Ghostbird’ is described as ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ by Joanne Harris, and has just been nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize.

(You can vote for your favourite Not the Booker HERE)

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Welcome to the blog, Carol, and can I first ask you where the original inspiration for Ghostbird came from? Did you always see it as having a ghost as part of the story?

Mabinogion1Years ago when I first came to live in Wales I read the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose literature in Britain compiled in the 12th century from an earlier, oral tradition. The story that most appealed to me concerned Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers to serve the political ends of men. (The Mabinogion is of its time and deeply patriarchal.) For a transgression deemed a ‘betrayal’ Blodeuwedd is cursed by being turned into an owl: “I will not kill you … I will do what is worse: I will let you go in the form of a bird … you will never show your face to the light of day…”

My response was to question why it would be considered a curse to be turned into a bird. Able to fly, Blodeuwedd could escape her persecutors. This was the seed and it settled in the back of my mind for yearsBlodeuwedd until I was ready to reclaim it.

Cadi came first – my central character. I conjured her from somewhere and the ghost of her little sister attached itself to my imagination in much the same way as she attaches herself to Cadi. In the beginning the ghost was only ever intended as a gentle soundtrack to the story. It was my astute editor, Janet Thomas, who spotted that Dora’s ghost needed her own distinctive voice. She had to inhabit the book and not simply hang about in the shadows. Once I’d written her story in isolation and threaded it into the main narrative I realised I was writing a proper ghost story.

The village community feels very real, is it based on an actual village, or is it an amalgamation of communities (or maybe totally made up?)

There’s a village a few miles from where I live that oozes a sense of magic and mystery. It’s the kind of Welsh village about which people nod and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s a bit weird there…’ A mist-laden, mysterious place then, with its share of ‘characters…’ As part of IMG-20160423-01719my job description, I’ve embellished and subconsciously drawn on memories of this and other villages to create the one in Ghostbird. I decided to leave it as the nameless ‘Village’ because I wanted it to be a character in its own right, and allow people to see if they could guess where it is!

I loved all the different characters, did you plan them all from the start, or did some muscle their way in as you went along?

3 Deliberate or notCadi presented herself fully formed (and in full agreement with me as to the wrongness of Blodeuwedd’s supposed fate.) I knew Cadi. I knew what she looked like, her frustration, her quirks and personality. Writing a fourteen year old girl was less of a challenge than I thought it would be. And I quickly came to know her aunt Lili and Violet, her mother, too. These three were there from the beginning and at the centre.

The rest turned up. (I killed off an innocent postman en route. He was rather nice but sadly, destined for the dead darlings file.) One character changed a lot – another was completely unplanned. Once she arrived and presented her credentials, I gave her a cup of tea and let her stay.

I’m glad to hear it –  and commiserations on the nice postman. Talking of killing your darlings (ouch), can I ask how you found  find your first experience of the editing process? Was it what you had expected? Do you feel it has changed you as a writer?

Mind-blowing! No! Yes! Janet and I began the process of editing Ghostbird after one of Honno’s invaluable ‘Meet the Editor’ events, before the book was accepted for publication. She liked my story enough to take me under her wing. Initially, I was simply stunned by how insightful she was. Her generous comments were often tagged with a firm ‘but.’ As we progressed it quickly became a tick-box exercise, because everything she said was right and made sense. I did my homework, redrafting until it was time for the ‘big girl’ editing and where the real work began.

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Welsh Woodland by Jenny Gordon

 

Oh, yes, I can identify with that, having been through the same process with our mutual editor, the wonderful Janet Thomas. That is so true!

Although I often found it overwhelming, it was another part of the process and an exciting learning curve. Close, line editing is about letting go – negotiating cuts and changes in creative content that on the face of it can break a writer’s heart. Once I read the final result however, I was blown away. That was another lesson: a book is only as good as its editor. If you are fortunate enough to work with the best, your heart won’t break, it will burst with joy! (Copy edits are another thing altogether, Juliet and frankly, terrifying. Who knew there was so much red ink in the world?)

Copy edits … (hives off into a corner, traumatised).

Being published validated me. In a way it gave me permission to write with a bit more confidence. Writing my second book took me a lot less time. Having been well edited once facilitated the process. I had more tools at my disposal and hopefully, I’ve made fewer errors.

Yes, I agree. I think that’s hard to see, the first time you experience a good editing process that it is a learning process, and nothing IMG-20150813-00974will be quite as hard again. I’m glad you found it like that, too – and I’m already looking forward to your next book!

You are very active on social media, is that something that came naturally? Do you have any advice for anyone starting out?

My feeling is, so long as I play nicely and mostly stay away from politics, social media is a useful tool. I ignore the stupid and embrace the positive. Facebook and Twitter have been the making of me as a writer. I’ve met some amazing and genuinely supportive people who have had a massive impact on my book’s small success.

I don’t give advice as such. Watch how the big name writers you admire do it. Be wise with your words. Be kind – and reciprocate the kindness of others.

Can I ask what are you working on now?

My second book – another ghost story – is currently with my editor. I’m now working on my third. Stories know if what we’ve written is the right one. With a bit of distance I’ve been able to work out what this one is really about.

And finally – congratulations for being nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize. How did it feel when you found out?

Rachel Toll

By Rachel Toll

Thank you very much, Juliet. Like I was dreaming?! I’ve heard of the ‘Not the Booker’ of course but it wasn’t on my radar. I operate at a very low-key level with regard to accolades. Inside, I’m fluttering and obviously appreciative but because I’m genuinely happy to have been published at all, things like this feel as if they’re happening to someone else.

To be nominated by a reviewer and blogger of Anne Williams’ calibre, is an honour. She reads enormous numbers of books, many of them wildly successful. That she picked Ghostbird is what means so much to me. Anne’s support for my book is an on-going blessing. I’m up against stiff competition and unlikely to make the long list but that’s not the point – I’ve been nominated and it’s enough. (I did eat lemon meringue ice-cream with my daughter to celebrate!)

That sounds like the best celebration to me! Thank you, Carol for answering my questions and for the lovely photos – and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Tenby Book Fair this September.

You can buy Ghostbird from Honno  HERE,

Amazon UK HERE

and Amazon US HERE

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Somebody needs to be forgiven, somebody needs to forgive …

Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.

‘Carol Lovekin’s prose is full of beautifully strange poetry.’  Rebecca Mascull, author of The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid.

Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up.

None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made.

But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.

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