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Posts Tagged ‘The White Camellia’


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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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Lake Idwal in Snowdonia – an early morning walk!

I’m at that odd point in the writing life, where ‘The White Camellia’ has been waved off to the copy editor, and so finally complete, never to appear in manuscript form again, and the next WIP has reached that grind-to-a-halt stage where it looms large as a complete dud. This happens to every book at some stage or another, but (like childbirth) it’s the bit you forget, or you might never attempt another, ever again. No way.Camellia 2

What I had forgotten, of course, is my old remedy. It’s been too cold and damp a spring here to really get into walking, but now the sun’s arrived, I’ve taken a few hours each day to lengthen the dog walk.

Despite the creaking, it’s worked. I’d wondered if it had been wishful thinking, and this was just a way of avoiding getting down to writing. But there’s something about walking, ambling along with a dog, taking in the view and not too much a slave to the 10,000 steps a day, that doesn’t half get the brain de-knotted. I’ve realised I’m still processing the last bits of ‘The White Camellia’, still letting go of the characters I’ve lived with for so long, and that I’m still at the fluid, early stage of the new book where anything could happen. Indeed, one has already inadvertently changed sex, and several have appeared from nowhere at all.

 

Pool 1The light is stunning at this time of year, and I’m lucky to live near to forests and rivers, with the mountains of Snowdonia a few minutes’ drive away, where I can shoot off in the early morning before the day job and the writing calls. Taking the time from bashing at the keys to be out there has calmed me down, loosened up the creative muscles, and reminded me that writing is a process. It’s always hard to go from the final finishing touches, where a book falls into place, back to hewing a vague shape out of nothing, before the real work begins.

Gate reflection

 

I always start with an amorphous mass of stories and ideas, however hard I think I’ve planned. I always get to the point where it feels totally beyond me, and I ask myself why I don’t just stick to proofreading others’ work and have a nice life in between. But of course, I’m always called back. My battered old writing laptop is always sitting there calling. I can’t walk away. The characters and stories are still there, demanding to get in, taking over the place, and leaving a trail of havoc behind.water art 2

In the end, I wouldn’t have it any other way. So thank you to the rivers and lakes, and the pristine light of early summer in Snowdonia. My doubts (and my plot) have been de-knotted (for now), and inspiration has returned.

Let a summer of walking (and a new book) begin!

We That are Left is on Amazon UK at £0.99p at the moment: Click here

At on Amazon.com at $1.45: Click Here

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Spring flowers

This last Bank Holiday weekend I did a between-books clear out (generally known as procrastination). Okay, my excuse was that I was building up to promoting ‘The White Camellia’ and needed a little headspace before diving into Edwardian ladies’ tearooms (the hotbed of revolution and the freedoms we have today, but more of that another time). Oh, and the first glimmerings of the first draft of the next book were seriously doing my head in (as they do).

So, I cleared out drawers that hadn’t seen the light of day for years, happily sorting through memories, and plain junk, with the aid of re-runs of ‘Columbo’ and ‘The Great British Bakeoff’.

In the middle of it all, I finally (as you do) recovered something that had been put in a Very Safe Place, and so had been lost for ages.

What is it? A postcard. A simple postcard, no picture, written in a hasty, slightly shaky, scrawl in pencil.

Postcard date

And its significance? Well, there are two. Firstly, there’s the date. September 5th 1939. Two days after Britain and France had declared war on Germany. You see, without this little postcard, I, and my brother, would never have existed. The scrawled note is from my mother, to let a friend, who would one day be my dad, know that she had safely arrived back from a terrifying journey across France, including surviving a channel crossing. What she didn’t say until later, was that her boat had been pursued by a submarine at one point, and she was lucky to survive. And if she had not been able to get away from Paris? I dread to think what might have happened to a teenage girl, totally on her own in a strange land, with little money, and certainly no connections to bring her home.

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I’ve known this story all my life. I’ve written about it earlier in this blog, and the letters we found that had passed between my mum in France and my dad, who was working in London. I remember finding the postcard among my dad’s things, along with the letters. It was one of those eerie moments when the past, that that has been familiar as a story, suddenly becomes real. At the time, I couldn’t deal with it, it was so real.

It’s only been recently, and while I was writing ‘We That are Left’, that it has struck me just how much that postcard, and the stories that lie behind it, have made me the writer I have struggled to be, all my life. You see, when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the versions of the war you saw in films and on TV were the gungho, shoot-em-up heroics, with Clint Eastwood finishing off a few hundred German nobodies in one sweep of his machine gun.

What my mum saw in that terrible journey through a country swept up into war for a second time in living memory, and therefore with the additional anguish of knowing what lay ahead, was the saying of final goodbyes. Of lives broken up, and families about to be extinguished. The story of ordinary women and men caught up a horror that could, in this uncertain world of ours, engulf us all.

Postcard

That is why, when I came to write, ‘We That are Left’, I wanted to write about the experience of ordinary civilians, from all walks of society. And I wanted to reclaim the stories of the women, who in all warzones are the survivors, the ones holding it all together, and who, in the films from my childhood, never appeared. The odd dollybird whimpering in a corner, maybe, not the ordinary, the unglamorous, and the middle-aged, who kept on going, whatever was thrown at them. Who kept the world turning.

It’s also, I’ve come to realise, why it’s those women, too, who are always at the heart of my books. In ‘The White Camellia’, Mrs Pankhurst makes only the briefest of appearances. I’m far more interested in the ‘ordinary’ women, who are, in the end, utterly extraordinary, and, against all odds, changed the world.

And sorry, Clint. It’s not a fairground game. That is some mother’s son, brushed casually into oblivion, who most probably never asked to be there in the first place – any more than those French boys wanted to die, when my mother’s train made way for them, as they were swept off to war.

The little postcard is now back in a safe place, where the pencil won’t fade. But I shall print the scans and frame them, and place them on the wall of my writing room, as a reminder of the little fragment of history – both global and personal – that will always be my inspiration. The past is indeed a different country – but one that is, after all is said and done, not so very different from our own.

Hellebore

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