Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The White Camellia’

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.

seeds

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.

P1090817

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

Read Full Post »

Idwal

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

we_that_are_left_cover_artwork:Layout 1

Read Full Post »

 

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.

Post card 1

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

Read Full Post »

Bodnant Magnolia

Spring is in the air – let the sunshine and the publicity begin!

Over the past few days, I’ve emerged bleary-eyed from editing ‘The White Camellia’, blinking at bright sun that has suddenly appeared amidst the rain (don’t mention rain), with banks of primroses in my garden, and the frogs boldly chirruping in my pond.

Camellia 1

It was clearly time to get out from behind the desk, and back into the world again. Writing, and especially editing, is an all-consuming business, which I love, but I also always have to remind myself the importance of taking time off afterwards, and letting the jumbled, scrunched, and tumble-dried brain take in some much-needed stimulation that has nothing to do with words at all. Taking publicity photographs is a perfect way of coming down from the editing intensity without that empty feeling of having nothing to do (housework, however dire the post-editing house, doesn’t count).

White Camellia in Bodnant

My first mission was to hunt down as many camellias as I could find while it was still the blooming season –which given the oddities of this winter in the UK, was definitely urgent.

So on the first fine day, I twisted a friend’s arm, and away we headed to Bodnant Gardens in the Conwy Valley. It was the last few days of dogs being allowed in every day for a while, so Phoebe, and her elderly collie friend, Lucy, could come with us, on best behaviour, of course.

Bodnant gardens

I love Bodnant Gardens. There are formal bits, and a valley with a lake and a rushing stream, and whatever time of year, there’s always something to see. Being sheltered and near the sea, it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s north of Snowdonia, except for the snow capped mountains in the distance. I’d gone to photograph any camellias I could find, but there were also snowdrops, banks of daffodils about to flower, pretty irises and crocuses, and so many different varieties of hellebore it seemed there was another delight around every corner.

Hellebore

It was a wonderful surprise to be reminded of just how much life there is out there, even at this time of year, and, with the azaleas about to bloom, with a promise of more delights to come.

I love my own garden, but I could never grow the variety of plants, or the sweeps of snowdrops under the trees. It was an unforgettable day, wandering in the (sometimes) warm sunshine, watching new life begin to unfurl.

P1080467

I have a feeling that I shall have to go back on the next fine day, to see how it has all progressed. For the purposes of publicity, of course. Or, with the next book brewing, a little research…

Stop press: ‘We That are Left’ is currently on Amazon UK for £0.98! 

Amazon US at $1.36

 

 

WW1 Seed Cake small

Read Full Post »

Shell at llanf

 

Spring is definitely (if a little tentatively) in the air.

Time to emerge from finishing a book, followed by embarking on the edits for ‘The White Camellia’, which will be published by Honno Press this September.

The Hellebores take a bow

I love editing. Well, that is after feeling impelled to clean the bath, de-flea the dog, and other glamorous pastimes to avoid getting down to it at all. Followed by the ‘I can’tdo this’, ‘who do I think I’m kidding’, and ‘maybe the day job isn’t so bad after all’. Then I grit my teeth, ignore the washing, and get down to it, and we’re away, on the rollercoaster ride of coaxing and tweaking this book into the book I’ve always wanted it to be.

This is my third experience of working with my wonderful editor, Janet Thomas. This time it has been both different and the same. Different because there are not nearly as many edits as for ‘Eden’s Garden’ and ‘We SnowdropsThat are Left’. I’ve learnt the lessons and developed my inner editor, which feels like the moment you take off those stabilisers and soar off on two wheels.

Now, I’m not saying that I don’t need an editor. However experienced I get, I will never, ever say that. This time is just the same as before – an editor is the link between the writer and the reader, and all those bits that, as the writer, you just can’t see, because the story is alive in your head. There I was, worrying and fiddling over all kinds of aspects – and totally missed the one that wasn’t there, because I thought it was. It was in my head, but my readers don’t read inside my head. And, as ever, the moment it was pointed out, I knew exactly whatmy editor meant, and that she was right.

I’m not saying that I always obey: I often go off on a tangent and find a new solution that neither of us have thought of, and that makes for a much better story. I’m glad to say the buzz of editing is still there, big-time. I have loved every minute of it.

Winter sun

So I shall now crawl out from the emotion ride of my writing life (so far), blinking into the light of day, and my miraculous transformation from an Edwardian Cornwall to twenty-first century Snowdonia, into a house that is a tip, a garden best not mentioned, and a dog tapping her dainty little paws, demanding normal walkies service to be resumed instantly, or else.

And somewhere out there, is a cover for ‘The White Camellia’ all ready and waiting – and it’s gorgeous. And top secret, for now.

I can’t wait for the next part of the journey!

The White Camellia

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts