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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.

The White Camellia 3

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.

Going home 1

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In the V&A

 

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Downton …..

I loved my time in London at the Historical Novelists Association Conference this summer. It was great meeting up with old friends and new, along with the inspiring talks and discussions to set the little grey cells racing. I arrived a day early, as I hadn’t been to London for a while and was looking forward doing a bit of research – not least in the V&A. Seeing costumes of a time is so different from a photograph, for one thing you see how tiny they were, and just how constricting some of the dresses. The transition from Victorian to Edwardian were my favourite exhibits, and especially this one. I had to suppress a giggle, though, when two Italian girls arrived behind me, took one glance and announced ‘Ah, Downton!”. And so it is.

It was also a visit to another past. The Conference and the accommodation were a few minutes from Regent’s Park, with Baker Street nearest tube station. Once, long ago, I used to trudge from Hammersmith to an office in Baker Street, escaping each lunchtime into Regent’s Park and my dream of becoming an author. It was very strange walking once again by the lake and between the flowerbeds, and retracing my steps from Baker Street tube up to the offices in Baker Street. After all this time, it looked very much the same. The tube station even smelt the same.

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The flowerbeds in Regent’s Park

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Walking among the swans and the moorhens (who also looked very much the same) I couldn’t help but wonder what I might have said to my 23 year-old self, if I had met her coming the other way.

So, with my hindsight of thirty-odd years, what would I have told her? Like most writers, I beat myself up quite enough, so I think I would be kind. I’d tell her not to worry that the manuscripts bashed out on a dusty old typewriter in every spare minute always came winging back. It takes years, and rewrite after rewrite, rejection after rejection, to make a writer. This was only the start. I’d tell her not to worry that she couldn’t quite find a career her heart could follow. She already had one. I’d tell her not to be frustrated by the slightly ramshackled variety of jobs. Each was a learning curve, each a learning experience being stashed away to be brought out later. And I’d tell her that twenty-five was not old. Nor thirty-five, forty-five, even fifty-five. Most of all, I’d tell her to live her life, work her socks off, and make her dream come true. Just dreaming never got anyone anywhere.

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Practice!

My 23 year-old self (being horribly lacking in confidence and filled with youthful angst, and taking herself so impossibly seriously, I’d probably have wanted to shake her) would not have believed me. Wouldn’t dared to have believed me, just in case. But hey, that’s youth.

Meanwhile, I wandered through old haunts, stumbling across cavalry practice (where else can you say that?), before heading back to meet up with my fellow authors.

My own revisiting of the past made me appreciate the present, big time. It’s been a long, hard journey, and it’s only just begun. I’m sure my 23 year-old self would never have believed me –  but now’s the time I’m having the time of my life!

 

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Buskers in Covent Garden

 

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Penrhyn Castle, with a view across Anglesey

It’s exactly a year since my three months as a full time writer, thanks to my wonderful bursary from Literature Wales, when I worked to complete We That Are Left, and learnt some invaluable lessons.

 

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Today I’m blogging on the Novelistas’ blog about my experience, and the unexpected lessons.

It was a life-changing time, and one for which I will always be grateful and will never forget!

You can read my post on the Novelistas Blog here

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Today is the official publication day for We That are Left 

we that are left draft 6aug13 smI set out this morning for the usual dog walk, telling myself that this was just another day, and I had plenty of work to do, and there would be time to party later, and anyhow Amazon had jumped the gun and has been selling the paperback for nearly a week, so it was really no big deal.

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Well, that didn’t last very long.

It was a bitterly cold morning, with bright sunshine over Anglesey on one side, and dark clouds over the mountains on the other. We met up with dog walking friends and walked and chatted, and removed Harri the Labrador from An Incident with the remains of pizza in a bin, watched by next year’s prize rams-in-waiting in one field (the ones Phoebe tried to round up under the nose of the shepherd when he left the gate open while serving their hot breakfast, but thankfully came back while he could still remark that she was just being playful, gulp) and the first lambs having a mad race around in another.

P1010404At the point where I would usually go back to my computer, I found I just couldn’t. It might not be the first time I’ve launched a baby out into the world, but it’s still as exciting. Maybe even more so. And I’m still amazed that it has happened. I didn’t quite dare look inside my author’s copies until today, just in case it was a mistake and I hadn’t written it at all. But it’s okay. It’s there. It’s the same book that appeared in my manuscript, so it must be mine!

This morning  I wandered off in a wonderfully aimless way, popping in on friends for coffee and even a celebratory bit of cake.

So this wasn’t the industrious day that I had planned, or the deep and meaningful post I’d been intending to write. But it was a lovely day, all the same. Like most writers, I spend most of my time plotting or writing or social networking or heading off to the day job. Today I didn’t do any of that. I even sat down during daylight hours with a book that had nothing to do with research and just took pleasure in reading.

Now the sun is back, the frogs are sitting in my pond, and I’m throwing caution to the winds and heading off for a glass of something bubbly with a friend this evening.  The parties will come later. Today might have been a very sedate kind of publication day – but for me it was perfect!

Tomorrow I’ll be rolling up my sleeves for the excitement to begin …… 🙂

Juliet With We That are Left

One proud author, who can’t stop smiling!

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Click the cover to read the first chapter for free!

Well, I meant to write an entirely different post today. But last night, completely out of the blue, the totally unexpected happened. The Kindle edition of ‘Eden’s Garden’ hit the Amazon bestseller charts.

Okay, I know ‘Eden’s Garden’ is on a 99 pence promotion in the UK for a few weeks, but it’s not on promotion in the US, and I’m an unknown with a small publisher. Being a determinedly rational creature (at times), it never entered my head that my book would get into the top 100. I had thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if’, but then I think that about the National Lottery and I’ve never bought a ticket. So there you go.

The funny thing is, that I might have missed yesterday’s excitement altogether. I just happened to stagger up to the office to answer a couple of emails, one of which needed a link to the Kindle edition. So there’s me, pulling up the page, and I notice a hashtag. I’m still on a steep learning curve when it comes to social media, and I’ve been drumming into myself to remember to use hashtags on twitter. So I sat up and took notice.

#97. I clicked the link to the chart. Sure enough, Eden’s Garden wasn’t there. Okay, so it must mean something else. Rats. Never mind. THEN I saw the ‘Historical Fiction’ bit. And there it was. Number 97.

If you were following me on Facebook and Twitter last night, you’ll know that I then got very excited. I had no idea how long it might stay in the chart and I was making the most of it. A bit later I went back to my page to click the link again – and Eden’s Garden was up at 90!

Luckily, some wonderfully thoughtful friends from Facebook mentioned getting a screen shot for the memory. Now, I love my Mac, but could I find how to do a screen shot? Not late in the evening, panicking that I might miss the moment. But after a quick phone call, my lovely brother came to the rescue and emailed the memory.

By the time I checked one last time, I’d worked out how to do a screen shot. Which was just as well, as by that time Eden’s Garden had soared to the dizzy heights of 76!

So thank you to everyone who bought the book and sent Eden’s Garden racing up through the charts, and gave me one of the most memorable evenings of my life. And thank you to the many Facebook and Twitter and Forum friends who joined in the excitement and cheered.

And the next evening, Eden’s Garden shot up even higher – to the dizzy heights number 72. Then into the 60s Amazing.

And then – here is Eden’s Garden at Number 46 in the Historical Fiction Best-Seller Charts. That’s going up on my wall right now!!

Eden’s Garden at 46

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The bar. Limbering up for the party to begin!

I spent last weekend at the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer conference in Penrith.

This was not my first RNA Conference. The last time was twelve years ago. I’d just made the decision that if I was going to be a writer the time was now or never and joined the RNA. At that time, being published at all felt like an impossible task. The odds against it were overwhelming. I wasn’t young, sexy, or had ever slept with a rock star. The publishing world felt like a closed one and I had no means of crossing the threshold.

My first RNA conference changed all that. I still knew I was a long way from being published, but I’d found a friendly, supportive group of professional women who didn’t seem to mind if you were a household name or unpublished. I came back from my first conference with a flickering hope that maybe, just maybe, my dreams could come true. It would take hard work and persistence and a totally professional commitment to get there. But at least I didn’t need to have a megaboob job or get up to unspeakable things with any convenient MP. So I stood a chance!

The gala dinner.

Going in to register for my second Conference was a bit of a strange experience. The noise level was exactly as I remembered it. Slightly overwhelming at first, but then exhilarating. This time, I was meeting up with old friends as well as meeting new ones. I’ve been to RNA parties over the years and I’ve met so many new friends online, so it was great to get back into the swing of things.

The beautiful countryside just outside the campus.

The strangest thing was remembering that this time I was one of the speakers, and that I was going to be giving a talk about my experiences of working with an editor. It was one of those moments that make you stop and think. So it is possible, after all. Thanks to the RNA and the wonderful New Writers’ Scheme, I was coming back as a published author. Indeed as two published authors, if you count my alter-ego, Heather Pardoe. Wow. Can I just say it again: WOW!!!

The gardens. A place for peace and contemplation

I loved every moment of the conference in Penrith. Good company, good food and wine. A chance to talk in true writerly-obessive way about all things bookish. And to learn once again that I’m not alone – keeping up with promoting one book while writing the next, keeping up with the day job and having a life isn’t easy. Phew.

I hope that every new writer at Penrith this year had the same feeling that I did, all those years ago: with hard work and determination, everything is possible. Because it is. And if I can do it…..

Here’s to another year of inspiration!

Inspiration is a horticultural college!

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The Kindle edition of Eden’s Garden is now up! Hurrah!

And I’ve been tagged by brilliant and thoughtful book-blogger and author Claire McAlpine  of the ‘Word by Word’ blog, as part of the ‘Be Inspired’ blog hop. Thank you Claire! And thank you again for your wonderful review of Eden’s Garden.

To take part in the blog hop, I need to send a link back to my proposer (thank you Claire!) and then answer the following questions. Once answered, I need to tag five people to answer the questions, which don’t need to be the same, but must be about the writer’s book. And then I mustn’t forget to put the links to their blogs so everyone can hop over and see their answers.

Here we go:

Questions:

1. What is the name of your book?

Eden’s Garden’

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

One inspiration is Brondanw Gardens in Snowdonia, which was the home of Clough Williams-Ellis, who built nearby Portmeirion. Part of it feels quite forlorn, 

but with some wonderfully quirky touches.


The other inspiration was a Celtic myth of a woman created out of flowers to be a perfect wife. It all ends in tears, of course, and the woman is stripped of her youthful beauty and ba

nished. But supposing that is only the beginning of her story …..

3. In what genre would you classify your book?

It’s a time-slip. Part of the story is set now and part in Victorian times.

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?

I’d chose British actor Sam West to play the Victorian hero. His voice alone is beautiful. I could sit and listen to it for hours…… 

5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.

Two women a century apart struggle with love, family duty, long buried secrets, and their own creative ambitions.

6. Is your book already published/represented?

Eden’s Garden was published by the small but mighty Honno Press in March 2012,and was the Welsh Books Council ‘Welsh Book of the Month’ for May.

7. How long did it take you to write your book?

The first idea came about 6 years ago. I worked on it on an off between other projects, always trying to find the right form for the story I wanted to tell and never quite getting there. I sent an earlier version to Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, a couple of years ago. They didn’t accept it straight away, but they gave me a chance to work with one of their editors. That year was one of the most intensive learning curves of my life, and that’s when the book really came together.

 8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?

I think readers of Kate Morton’s time-slip books like ‘The House at Riverton’ would enjoy ‘Eden’s Garden’, and anyone who enjoys Adele Geras’ novels like ‘Facing the Light’.

 9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?

I have always loved Dickens, Elisabeth Gaskell and the Brontes. They were all an inspiration for the Victorian strand of the novel. I also love Sarah Waters’ books and Rosamund Pilcher’s ‘The Shell Seekers’.

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.

More than a hundred years ago Ann left a trail
 through London, Cornwall and Wales that now leads Carys on a tantalising and 
increasingly shocking search for the truth…

Margaret James of ‘Writing Magazine’ called Eden’s Garden: ‘A great romantic read and also a very atmospheric, ingenious mystery.’ 

Intrigued? Then you can read the first chapters here: 

And so to the people I have tagged to answer the questions:

1. What is the name of your book?

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

3. In what genre would you classify your book?

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?

5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.

6. Is your book already published/represented?

7. How long did it take you to write your book?

8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?

9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.

And the writers tagged are:

Shirley Wells, who writes gripping crime for Carina Press.

Susan Jones, great stories and a lovely blog to check out.

Chris Stovell, who writes for Choc Lit  – with a hero guaranteed to make you go weak at the knees.

Lorraine Jenkin, fellow Honno author, whose blog is as witty as her books.

Marylynn Bast, author of the ‘Heart of a Wolf’ series. No feeble heroine there!

Take it away, ladies!

Once you have answered the questions, remember to tag five more worthy bloggers with the same instructions- especially to link back to your blog!!

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