Claire King

Author
Claire King Edited Choices (10 of 10)

Posts Tagged ‘Bloomsbury’

The post in which I hug Hugh

Posted on: November 23rd, 2012 by Claire - 7 Comments

I was lucky enough to be in London on Wednesday for another drinks reception at Bloomsbury.

Authors who are releasing books in January – June 2013 were invited to meet each other as well as the Bloomsbury team who have been (and still are working on their books). Yet another wonderful evening, made of course by the people who were there – diverse, brilliant and lovely.

You might think (I did) that going to something like this might be a little scary – you know there will be authors there who you really ‘ought’ to recognise, or at least when introduced you should know of and ideally have read their work. (In reality of course no matter how well read you are this just isn’t possible). On the other hand there might be people who you read avidly and admire, but you worry about telling them so without gushing and looking like a bit of a stalker.

 Seychellen 2008 fish

But it seems that most established authors seem to know your fear, and everyone is very relaxed and usually find ways to turn the conversation a two way chat about both of you. No-one asked, for example, “Have you read any of my books?” Authors really are lovely people.

Another thing is that you can’t possibly meet everyone. Walking into a room full of authors is like walking into a bookshop – where do you start? There were so many other people in the room I would have loved to talk to, or even just say hello, but time just flew by.

My highlights of the evening:

  • Meeting the delightful grandmother turned snail-scientist, Ruth Brooks, who was bustling about the room meeting as many people as she could and finding out as much as possible about everybody. Ruth’s non-fiction book is ‘A Slow Passion’:

When BBC Radio 4’s Material World programme announced a search for the UK’s top amateur scientist, little did anyone expect that the winning experiment would comprise one of our humblest garden pests. Ruth Brooks posed this question: Do snails have a homing instinct? The nation was gripped by the unexpected thesis and by Ruth’s online diaries, which catalogued her trials and tribulations as she got to grips with these slimy little gastropods. A Slow Passion is Ruth’s story, with anecdotes and misadventures galore. What starts out as a ruthless vendetta against the snails that are decimating her hostas becomes a journey of discovery into the whys and wherefores of snail life. When Ruth dumps a group of the worst offending snails in a far-off wood, she decides to paint their shells with nail varnish, just to see what happens. And guess what, they come back home. This is the beginning of an obsession that sees the grandmother-turned-scientist prowling about and pouncing on the snails in her garden, sneaking off on night-time missions to repatriate bucketloads of painted snails, reading up on the sex-life of snails (which turns out to be unexpectedly romantic) and, eventually, sending off the application to a national competition for home science. With charming illustrations, A Slow Passion is a sweet, funny and surprising investigation into the hidden life of snails, which will change the way you look at the smaller (and slower) things in life.

Snail

  • * Chatting to wise and witty  Elisabeth Luard, food-writer, journalist and broadcaster, whose memoir is ‘My Life as a Wife :  Love, Liquor and What to Do About the Other Women’

They met in the back offices of Private Eye. He was the proprietor, the man the press called the Emperor of Satire, who every girl in London wanted to date. She was the reluctant debutante, an art student, and the office typist. Their affair was secret, and passionate, and days at the office were followed by nights in her Pimlico flat. When things got tricky, she swapped London for Mexico. He followed and proposed. She was just twenty-one when they married.

Luard’s fascinating, witty and often brave memoir charts forty years of marriage to a man who was as cavalier and unreliable as he was charismatic and charming. Good-looking and athletic, with a keen intelligence and a deep understanding of and love for women, Nicholas Luard was also an absentee father, a philanderer, a wheeler-dealer whose numerous harebrained business schemes usually lost rather than made money, and ultimately a man whose love of the bottle was all-consuming. But while life with Nicholas was never going to be easy, it was also never going to be dull.

In My Life as a Wife, award-winning writer Elisabeth Luard tells the story of her life with this hugely glamorous and extraordinary maverick of a man. She traces their years spent together in London, Spain, France, the Hebrides and Wales, with four children, one of whom died tragically from AIDS. It is a journey littered with numerous eccentric friends and innumerable escapades, often staying just ahead of the bank, through to the grim days of her husband’s terrifying descent into alcoholism and insanity, his liver transplant and ultimately his death.

Yet this is a story of laughter and hope as well as sadness – the healing power of children, the comfort of the kitchen table, the delight of good food and the simple joy of making life work – written by a woman of spirit.

 

  • * Making a bee-line for William Sutcliffe, whose book ‘The Wall’ is one of my must-read novels for 2013. William was telling me about his trips to Israel and Palestine to research his novel, and about how he managed to keep a focus on storytelling rather than political ‘tubthumping':
 Joshua is thirteen. He lives with his mother and step-father in Amarias, an isolated town on top of a hill, where all the houses are brand new. At the edge of Amarias is a high wall, guarded by soldiers, which can only be crossed through a heavily fortified checkpoint. Joshua has been taught that beyond the concrete is a brutal and unforgiving enemy, and that The Wall is the only thing keeping him and his people safe.
One day, looking for a lost football, Joshua stumbles across a tunnel which leads towards this forbidden territory. He knows he won’t get another opportunity to see what is beyond The Wall until he’s old enough for military service, and the chance to crawl through and solve the mystery is too tempting to resist. He’s heard plenty of stories about the other side, but nothing has prepared him for what he finds…
The Wall is a novel about a boy who undertakes a short journey to another world, to a place where everything he knows about loyalty, identity and justice is turned upside down. It is also a political fable that powerfully evokes the realities of life on the West Bank, telling the story of a Settler child who finds there are two sides to every story.
That’s just three of the amazing people in the room. And it was wall-to-wall with them!
  • I also got to catch up with some of my fellow 2013 literary debutants, as well Stephen May whose brilliant novel ‘Life! Death! Prizes!’ has just been nominated for the Costa Award 2012 and meet some other fellow newbies, like Hannah Evans, whose book MOB Rule (January 2013) talks about her lessons learned as a mother of 3 boys.
  • Finally, Roshi Fernando and I plucked up the courage to go and ‘mingle’ with the very approachable Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Here I am hugging on him like some kind of groupie, as we told him how we admired his work on sustainability, food integrity and eating seasonal produce and chatted about literature, France and figs.

Hugging Hugh

Last but by no means least, I had the chance to catch up in person with the lovely people at Bloomsbury involved with The Night Rainbow as well as other editors, designers, marketing, sales, PR and rights people, all of whom are working hard on all our different books with such passion and care.

I feel really privileged to be a part of this Bloomsbury family.

 

 

 

 

Bloomsbury Debutants 2013

Posted on: September 27th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments

This is where I try really hard not to gush.

This week I went to a party at Bloomsbury, held in the honour of the authors of their 11 literary debuts of 2013…and one of them was me!

The idea was to introduce us to some of the people who will be selling and hopefully talking about our books over the next year, over drinks and nibbles, and it was so much fun! I met so many lovely people who work at Bloomsbury that I’ve not had a chance to meet so far, as well as book retailers and people who work in radio, or newspapers or magazines. I talked about The Night Rainbow of course (elevator pitch, no pressure…) but also about things like the future of book covers, about the difference in reading ebooks and paper books, about the journey to publication. It didn’t matter who I found myself standing next to in the room, conversation was easy and passionate because the magic in the room was that everyone loved books. Utter, utter bliss. So much so that despite being scheduled to run until 8pm, I eventually left at 9.30, and there was still a lovely kind man that kept coming and refilling my glass of champagne. So much so that I was sad to have to go, because I still hadn’t chatted nearly enough to people, particularly my fellow authors. So much so that I didn’t tweet one single tweet, and I only took one photo. Here it is:

Debutants

In this pic you can spot Ciarán Collins, Seb Emina (or is it Malcolm Eggs?) and D.W. Wilson.

At one point, Alexandra Pringle, madly glamorous doyenne of Bedford Square, declared herself to be a little woozy after having just flown back in from launching Bloomsbury India, but then promptly ditched her heels and stood on a chair to give the most thoughtful and heartfelt presentation of the authors and our books.

Surprise! As part of the evening, a booklet anthology of each of the first chapters (or so) had been put together and all the guests got to take a copy home. What fabulous reading for my flight back to France!

It is such a privilege and a huge treat to read these extracts, from novels, memoirs and non-fiction books. Honestly, 2013 is going to be a Very Good Year.

Goodies

So, (ahem) I would like to introduce you.

Debutants, these are my blog readers.

Blog readers, these are my fellow debutants:

 

January 2013

Melissa Harrison (@m_z_harrison) whose novel Clay, we are told, whilst set in the city, has similar echoes to The Night Rainbow: a central child character, an unlikely friendship, a connection to the natural world. The first chapter is so compelling, thank goodness I only have to wait until January.

Lara Feigel‘s The Love-charm of Bombs looks intriguing. A chronicle of wartime London as experienced by five writers – driving ambulances, fighting fires and falling in love. the taster already hints at glamour, drama and fascinating insights.

 

February

Seb Emina (@sebemina) – along with Malcolm Eggs (@malcolmeggs) the editor of The London Review of Breakfasts – whose ‘The Breakfast Bible’ appears, from the extract, to be a work of culinary magnificence. Forget innaccurate and unhelpful egg timers. Now you have…SONGS TO BOIL AN EGG TO. Genius.

 

March

She Rises by Kate Worsley (@KHWorsley). What Alexandra described as a rollicking novel is vividly descriptive and has such a confident and unique voice. Can’t wait to read the whole book!

Servants by Lucy Lethbridge. An original and fascinating portrait of domestic servants in twentieth century Britain.

 

April

Ciarán Collins (@ciarancollins77) – The Gamal. I never even got to say hello properly to Ciarán, but I’ve read his first few pages and, oh boy.  Shades of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime, but in a bold, irreverent adult voice and the hint of something very dark to come. Set to be a star.

 

May

Maggie & Me by Damian Barr (@Damien_Barr). I don’t know what I was expecting from the ‘manhattan swigging, chicken loving salonnière’ but it wasn’t this. In the space of a couple of pages I am nine again, as if by magic. I now have a bit of a crush on this man.

 

June

Ballistics by D.W. Wilson. I only managed the briefest of chats with D.W.: “Do I have to call you D.W.?” “No, my friends call me Dave.” before being whisked off to meet someone else. Pity because I wanted to talk to him about his short story writing. But there’ll be another time I’m sure. Another really fresh voice, but with echoes of American classics, his opening pages grabbed me from the first sentence. June? Seriously?

 

August

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (@say_shannon). You may have heard of Samantha, “suddenly” super-successful whilst still an undergraduate, ‘The next…J.K. blah blah blah”. Let us not forget that people who are “suddenly” successful have practised their writing, a lot, and written an entire novel (at least one, there’s usually a practice novel) and all of this before their “sudden” success. What’s interesting about Samantha is she’s managed to get a book published with Bloomsbury in a genre they don’t usually include in their lists. I bet a lot of fantasy fans will be deeply envious when I say “I’ve read the first chapter and it’s soooo good!” It’s a double edged sword though, as the launch isn’t until August.

See Samantha’s take on this party here.

 

September

Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta. As Alexandra pointed out, not only is Carlos one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers, he’s an amazing literary talent. It’s hard not to compare the feel of his narrative to Isabelle Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but at the same time it’s clear that this story is going to be unique, and uniquely told. A treat coming up in a year’s time.

A huge thank you to Jude and everyone at Bloomsbury for organising this fabulous evening. This is a picture of me flying over London. No, I am not in the plane. I am flying over it. I am whizzing and soaring through the clouds.

In the clouds.

[Ed.] Tess from Bloomsbury just kindly sent me this lovely pic of me with Tram-Anh and Erica. Thank you, Tess!

Claire at the party

 

Potato, Potato, Tomato, Tomato, Book Covers.

Posted on: April 29th, 2012 by Claire - 21 Comments

Today we’re talking about that Special Relationship….

I’m in the amazing position of having The Night Rainbow being published in several countries, including the U.K. and the U.S.A., where the cover designs have now been developed (I had input into both). I’m delighted with both of them, but they are markedly different (U.K. on the left, U.S.A. on the right):

I’ve asked some very kind booksellers in both countries, and my editor from Bloomsbury U.S.A., to talk about the importance of a book cover, and to try and define what defines the differences in our tastes. Here are some of the first responses:

First, Robert Gray, who from 1992-2005 was a bookseller and buyer for the Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Center, Vermont.

He has also been a contributing editor and columnist at Shelf Awareness since 2006. As a writer, his work has appeared in numerous publications, ranging from Tin House to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine toPublishers Weekly. He has an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. Rob tweets as @Fresheyesnow

Rob says:

The cover was always a factor for us when buying in stock, though not the deciding factor (excepting, of course those counter books that could be sold as gift items on strength of their covers or titles alone). If a book with a lousy cover was still something I loved and knew I could handsell, content always trumped art. But if a book wasn’t so great and the cover was irresistible, then the decision came down to a question: “Is this a book I know there are readers for, even if I’m not crazy about it?” Another factor I don’t see discussed often: When booksellers are building displays, a great cover always has a better chance of being showcased.

I do think customers instinctively reach for a book with a great cover if it’s on a display or face-out on the shelves. If it’s spine-out, then the game is over before it starts. Ideally, what a great cover does is get the potential reader to pick up the book, maybe scan blurbs on the back cover, open the book and flip through the first few pages.

Anything that inspires a customer to initiate that ceremony is critical.

Looking at your covers, I do think the U.S. cover will appeal more to American readers. I’m not sure I can be more specific than that. It’s an instinctive reaction for me, since I’m not a graphics or even a particularly visually-oriented person. I’ve just watched thousands of books being sold over the years. 

***

Anna J G-Smith has worked at Stroud Bookshop for the last 15 years.
Stroud Bookshop is an independent book shop, keeping books on the High Street and part of Stroud’s cultural heart. Anna is passionate about her job – even more so since she started writing, and rarely seems to have her bookselling hat off these days. Her writers blog is here and she tweets as @eryth
Anna says:
When ordering a new title in for stock, the most important thing is the write-up, and any advance reviews. Also if we like the premise, and feel it fits with the zeitgeist of the moment in which it is published. BUT, once the new titles arrive, then we can assess how best to display them, depending on jacket design (and heft!). I tend to be the one mostly responsible for the displays, as I am acknowledged to have a good eye for overall balance of colour/design. If I think a book looks particularly beautiful, then I will display it as prominently as possible, and especially if it is a hardback. With paperbacks it is slightly easier, in that the bestsellers tend to be displayed depending on how many we have in stock, and what the prevailing colours/designs in paperbacks are at the time. For example, Julian Barnes and Graham Swift look well next to each other at the moment:
Design is important to customers. Hardback design in particular: if they’re going to shell out on a new title they might not otherwise buy (unless they’re die-hard author-addicts who can’t help themselves!) then they like the idea that they are buying something beautiful. Smaller hardbacks in particular fit this niche, (Julian Barnes – again – was an example last year), as do books that they might like for themselves, but can only justify if buying a gift for someone else. Paperbacks are where the most committed browsing takes place. For backlist/classics it helps to have either a smart and recognisable livery (Oxford, Penguin, faber etc) or something beautiful and striking. Joanne Harris’s Chocolat still stands out years later, because of the rich purple; David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns Of Jacob de Zoet is another good example.
When a title is new, and selling well, then it is more likely to be displayed face-out. This is where good design comes to the fore.
A good cover helps a book more than a bad cover hinders it. If a customer really wants to read a particular title, then a poorly designed cover will not put them off – though it does cause comment. This does happen a lot, and especially if the design is changed between hardback and paperback, or between trade paperback and A-format. Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English is a good example here. The original design was very striking in red and yellow. The A-format paperback is less memorable, and especially when there are so many other blue covers around.
Now to your covers. They are BOTH beautiful. I much prefer the English cover for the hardback  – and it will look lovely stacked high in the middle of my hardback display, and in the window! – the U.S. edition is too much like other jackets I have seen, but will look very strong as a paperback cover, whereas I think – lovely though it is – the striking detail on the UK cover will be diminished once it is scaled down. And I’d be very surprised if my customers don’t greatly admire the hardback cover. It is unlike anything I have seen in a very long time, so will stand out well. Bloomsbury do have a knack for GOOD covers that buck the mass market; Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell being another example.
***

Rachel Mannheimer is my editor at Bloomsbury in the USA

Rachel says:

It’s difficult to pinpoint how important is the cover design for a novel. With the closing of so many bookshops, and the rise of online shopping – for print books and especially for e-books – I think there are fewer face-to-face encounters, as it were, with the book cover. There are new ways to find books, which are great, but it’s rarer for readers to discover books based solely on an eye-catching image. Still, when I’m in a bookshop, it’s definitely still my eyes leading me. (Then I read the blurbs or reviews on the back). And a memorable image still makes an impression if you see it online, in an advertisement, wherever. The cover conveys something about the style of the book before you know anything else.

When you consider the difference between what readers in the U.S.A. like in a cover, compared to the U.K., I think it’s a matter of a slightly different visual language, and just what the customer is accustomed to seeing – what connotations different visual cues have. Successful British book covers look like other successful British book covers, and successful American covers tend to look like other American covers. And I would say, to be supremely reductive, that British covers can look a bit schmaltzy to American eyes, while American covers can look stiff and boring. But sometimes something works perfectly in both markets! It just depends.

I love the cover we came up with for The Night Rainbow; it’s evocative and stylish. There was discussion early on about how difficult it would be to match the title literally (though the UK cover does come close). But it’s also such an interesting phrase, “night rainbow.” The designer had to work with both its sweetness and its mystery. Also, you had been clear about not wanting a straight representation of Pea; you wanted the reader to have space to imagine. This image the designer found, I love that it shows a little girl, but it’s a bit disorienting; you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at. You want to read and learn more.

***

Many thanks to Rachel, Anna and Robert for taking the time to comment.

For more discussion on UK versus US covers:

Here’s a link to a brilliant talk by Chip Kidd on Book Design on Seth Godin’s blog.

Some very interesting comparisons of the last year’s novels on The Millions.

Not just a wildly different cover, but a different title too, from Morag Joss

For more information/to see other work by the designers of my covers:

UK: Holly Macdonald

USA: Jennifer Heuer

The Night Rainbow – Hardback Jacket

Posted on: March 19th, 2012 by Claire - 54 Comments

It’s something I’ve waited over a year for. Wondering what, having read my novel, will the designer come up with? Will it capture the spirit of the story? If the characters are represented, will they be as I imagined them? I tried not to engage in picturing what I would do for the cover art, so as not to be disappointed. I’ve seen many of the beautiful jackets Bloomsbury design, and I put my trust in them that they’d ‘get it.’

Still, when I the jacket proposal was emailed to me it made me cry. In a good way.

Since then, in the last two weeks, we’ve bounced ideas backwards on forwards with my editor, my agent and the designer on possible teaks or changes, but in the end we’ve ended up very close to the original proposal. Here is the final jacket, and huge thanks to Holly Macdonald, for taking good care of Margot & Pea:

 

Publication has come forward slightly, so The Night Rainbow will be out in hardback next February. I may have to go and have a lie down now.

 

The Coward’s Tale – Interview with Vanessa Gebbie

Posted on: November 10th, 2011 by Claire - 18 Comments

Today I’m thrilled to welcome Vanessa Gebbie to my blog, to talk about her novel The Coward’s Tale, which launched officially three days ago  (7th November 2011). I was lucky enough to have an advance copy to read, and it’s an absolute treasure. The writing is so lyrical I felt as though it was being read out loud to me, the storytelling so thoughtful…

Claire King: Vanessa, first I have to tell you how much I loved The Coward’s Tale. So many novels these days play on our worst fears, make readers anxious and immerse us in the trauma of the characters. Your story was like a breath of fresh air: a careful untangling of cause and effect, written with great generosity and respect. How did you know that this was the story you wanted to tell?

Vanessa Gebbie: I can’t tell you what it’s like hearing those words, Claire. Thank you.  When a reader gives up a few hours of their life to read a book when they could have been doing a zillion other things, that’s always great. But the reader who does that and ‘gets’ it – that’s rather special.

The honest answer to ‘how did I know this was the story I wanted to tell’ is this –I didn’t!  I was hijacked, and it happened like this. I wrote the first section with no thought as to what it was saying, other than the surface story. I was playing with the character of Tommo Price, the Clerk at the Savings Bank, and the story that unfolds in the narrative ‘now’. I’ve always been hugely interested what makes characters who they are, and most of that has no place in the story – but here, there needed to be a bit of his history. I’d already written much of that backstory, but when I came to ‘cut n paste’ it, I couldn’t make it ‘fit’.  Not until a completely new character wandered into the piece, uninvited, and started telling the backstory himself, in a first person narrative.  That was the beggar, Ianto Jenkins. I had no idea who he was, or why I was going along with this (this is where non-writers shake their heads and think we are nuts!) but it worked so well, I let him get on with it.

It wasn’t until I’d written perhaps half the novel that I tumbled to the importance of what was happening… Ianto’s narratives were revealing a rather important backstory, not only for each character, but for the community.  A single event was common to all of them, however peripheral it seemed. And there was a switch – some time towards the end of writing it all – where his stories took on a much greater significance than the bits I’d been creating deliberately.  The novel should really be ‘by Ianto Jenkins with a bit of help from Vanessa G’!

CK: The Coward’s Tale appears to be a collection of short stories that are all intertwined. How did they grow together under your pen?

VG: I’m a story writer by trade, Ma’am. I approached the novel as a series of stories with the same cast of characters, each with a backstory that made up another strand.  I wasn’t satisfied with a book of linked short stories that could be called a novel for marketing purposes. It needed to be something else – and after a year of editing and rewriting, the backbone of the book is a now a quadruple strand weave (I think) – made up of Laddy’s story now, Ianto’s own story then, the gradual reveal of what happened at Kindly Light then, and the separate character tales. Never been one to tackle simple things, me.

CK: There are so many strange and yet believable idiosyncrasies in The Coward’s Tale – the wooden feathers, the  search for a straight line through the town, the fish in the river, the annual bread ritual…did you find all this in your imagination?

VG:  Aye. I’ve always preferred being in my own head to being out on the street…it’s much more fun.  Refused to go out and play as a kid, always nose in a book, or dreaming. But when you do eventually get out there, people are endlessly interesting, aren’t they? There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ person, a mon avis.  Long live not being normal, I say!

CK: I’d seen on your blog that there is a map of the town, which I love. (For the musical version click here - although if like me you’re the child of a mining community, beware the colliery brass band, which made me a bit teary) I’d expected the map to appear in the book, why did you decide not to include it?

VG: I didn’t. I was kind of hoping a place might be found for it. I love novels with maps in the endpapers – can you imagine The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings without?  It adds another element that smoothes the reader’s initial experience, I think. But Bloomsbury have created the most beautiful book – initially a stunning hardback with gorgeous foil-blocked jacket by designer Holly MacDonald, and the paperback out next March in the UK is equally great.  The US version, also coming out in March has yet another cover – again, absolutely stunning.  I love them all. And you have to draw the line somewhere, I understand that – it’s tough times for publishing, innit?

CK: It is, and we have to count our blessings! What has been your favourite or most memorable part of bringing The Coward’s Tale to life (either in the writing, the research, the road to publication etc)?

Vanessa Gebbie:

Favourite: The realization a while back (its taken over 5 years!) that this was a novel, not a short story, and that I was in for the long haul. I had something that would last, a world to which I would return over and over again, whilst also working on the other short stories that became my two collections.  It was very grounding.

Memorable:  The research – I left it until the book was finished to first draft stage. I didn’t want the temptation to cram the work with research detail just because I had it in a file. I had to make sure each detail really earned its place in the story. I needed to check some technicalities of coal mining, to check what I’d written from imagination and memory was correct. I will never forget reading the reports of so many mining disasters in the Welsh valleys, especially the 1913 Senghennydd disaster.  I needed to get it right, hard as it was to revisit some of the tougher passages in the novel to make my characters go through their experiences again.

Memorable: My visit to Big Pit at Blaenavon, where I had to remove mobile phone, watch, don a hard hat with light fitment and an incredibly heavy battery round my middle, before dropping what seemed like miles down the shaft in the cage, and spending abut an hour walking in the tunnels beneath the ground.  Unforgettable, really.  All that massy rock above you. How little the spaces are where the work got done.  The sense that we are absolutely insignificant…

I’d like to pause a minute and remember the recent Gleision colliery disaster here, if I may.  Men who work in mines are among the bravest souls.

Memorable: My visit to Bloomsbury to meet the team, and seeing the boardroom table awash with bags of toffees! (As you know, Ianto Jenkins only tells his stories if he is fed toffees…) next time I shall write a novel about gold mining, in the hopes of taking away bags of gold – although actually, sitting on the train home, chomping toffees, knowing this was the team I wanted to look after my book, was rather lovely!  (If terrible for teeth and now non-existent waistline.)

CK: OK. The toffees just gave me such a frisson I welled up! Aaaanyhowz…Charles Lambert described your book as “The unlikely but entirely legitimate child of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Dylan Thomas” and I’ve seen you’ve already had a number of reviews on Waterstones. How does it feel, seeing your work through the eyes of the readers? Is it different for your novel than for your short story collections?

VG: I love that description from Charles. DT and GGM are two writers whose work I admire hugely, and I count them among the best writing tutors! I am delighted that The Coward is in some way descended from them. Isn’t that perfect? And it is just great to read reviews from readers. As I said above, I am always aware that readers give us a few hours of their lives when they read our ‘stuff’ – I am hugely grateful both for that and for their comments. There’s nothing better, really.

The Waterstones page is here, the reviews now number 13 – and are simply lovely.

CK: In the town you wrote, I could picture the echoes of ancestors wandering around in borrowed clothes, mingling amongst those they left behind, and the new generations. We all carry the echoes of the past with us, to some extent. What are your strongest childhood memories of Wales, and where do you call ‘home’?

VG: ‘Home’ is a difficult word for me, for personal reasons. I’m never sure where it is, but that’s a legacy from my adoption, I suppose. I know lots of adopted adults – many of them, like me, never quite know where they belong. Spend our days looking for it.

But what a gift for a writer, huh?!

I loved staying with my grandmother in Merthyr Tydfil with a passion – never wanted to leave.  Both my lovely parents (adoptive, if we must…) came from Merthyr, so both grandmothers and respective families were there. Some still are. Every setting in The Coward’s Tale is based on somewhere I knew as a child. The kitchens where most of the gossiping got done, where the mantels were hung with gas brackets and carried brass plates and candlesticks and broken cups with spare change for the meter.

I used to play on the tip – the old slag heap at the end of the road, where wild ponies came to graze. We used to try to catch them. Fat chance!

I could ramble on for hours, I’m afraid..

CK: Many of your characters have names that have been bestowed on them by the townsfolk in some way, that have become more than nicknames. How important do you think are the names that others give us?

VG: Oh hugely important. A name holds so much more than the sound, don’t you think? And of course the tradition of linking name to occupation is immensely powerful, if a bit of a cliché. Must be careful with these things…

CK: If you were a character in The Coward’s Tale, what would your given name be, and why?

VG: What a brilliant question. Hmm. I’d be an old bat who wanders the streets with a notebook, her hair in curlers, who sometimes forget she’s still wearing her dressing gown. I’d appear in a line or two in most stories and Laddy would pick up a notebook after I’d left it on the bench in the park…what would my name be?  ‘Imagination’ Ellis, I expect.

CK: I love it! Vanessa, thank you so much for your time, and here’s hoping Ianto Jenkins finds his way into the hands (and hearts) of many, many readers.

Vanessa’s wacky website is www.vanessagebbie.com and her blog is www.morenewsfromvg.blogspot.com and here’s a quick link to Amazon…

Room of One’s Own.

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by Claire - 16 Comments

I’m just back from a two day writers’ retreat at Tilton House in Sussex. Having never done a writing course/retreat/anything before I blogged about having booked it…and now as promised, here are my thoughts on how it went:

The setting at Tilton House is sublime. Very spacious, clean and comfortable. Hammocks in the sunshine, crackling log fires and comfy sofas and many, many nooks and crannies perfect for writing in. Books everywhere. Healthy and delicious food morning, noon and night and a yurt at the bottom of the garden for yoga before breakfast. The location undeniably was a great foundation for our writing.

Vanessa Gebbie, who was running the weekend had put together an ambitious schedule of workshops, one-on-ones and individual writing time, as well as some opportunities to get out and about. During the two days we talked about where stories come from – the internal and external stimuli that prompt us to start writing. We tried some visualisations and other creative exercises to spark off ideas that really grabbed us. We also talked about the things that can block us from writing and how to get around them.

We also had two exceptional guests over the weekend. On Saturday evening Carole Hayman regaled us after dinner with tales of her writing life and advice on how to succeed (including how having a rasher of bacon festering down the side of your cooker is perfectly normal). And then on Sunday, Helen Garnons-Williams, editorial director at Bloomsbury (who also happens to be my editor) brought her passion and enthusiasm for great books, talking about the world of publishing, how literary agents fit in, how she sees e-books evolving and answering our questions.

What did I personally get out of it?

I was one of a diverse group of eleven women who had jumped at the opportunity to put our writing first for a change. We included playwrights, poets, creative non-fiction writers and novelists and some writers who were just starting off on their writing journey. The virtual writing community has been a life saver for me over the last couple of years, but it was truly lovely to meet people face to face and I’m sure I’ve made some friendships that will stick.

The workshops that Vanessa ran were great fun and very informative. I found that some of the exercises really clicked for me, and others less so. So I’ve learned something about my own creative processes and I have some new ideas, tips and tricks to keep things moving and, I think, bring some new life to my prose.

At the start of the retreat we talked about our objectives (mine were very vague, but involved writing a lot!) then afterwards we had a chat about how we had done versus those objectives. Perhaps I was expecting to write thousands and thousands of words on my novel over the weekend. What I actually came out with was a surprising piece of flash, a poem, the beginnings of a short story and some work on my novel…but not the work I’d been expecting to do.

I think the biggest benefit is yet to be seen. By actually allowing myself some down time, time to think, sleep, do some yoga, be inspired, try new things…the nourishment that that provided, along with the seeds of inspiration will see me in good stead for the writing I do over the next few months and I suspect will bear fruit when I’m least expecting it.

Thanks to Vanessa Gebbie for conceiving and running this weekend, from a very happy writer!

Holding My Happy

Posted on: February 10th, 2011 by Claire - 2 Comments

This is me holding something that made me very happy. I know the writing is mirror imaged, but when I flipped the photo my head looked all wrong.

Pub/Lit Roundup

Posted on: February 9th, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

I’ve decided to keep a log of the best links I find and post or retweet on Twitter and I will post them here periodically. Here is the first batch of twenty:

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Literary Agents and Publishing

Questions to Agents (and replies) – Jennifer Laughran (Literaticat) Open Thread

The self publishing Hoo-Ha – Chuck Wendig

On deciding to self publish – Robert Chazz Chute

The speech that all writers need to hear (on rejection, success and living your life) – Jane Smith

How much editing does a contracted book need? - Jody Hedlund

Are e-books killing the literary novel? – bnet

Bloomsbury Restructure along global lines – Publishers Weekly Feb 8th

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Craft/Writing

The four most common mistakes fiction editors see – KM Weiland

What point of view do you use? – Patty Jansen

The lies writers believe in (are there really any rules for writers?) – The Literary Lab

Anxiety and The Modern Writer – Amber Sparks

Maximising Pay-Off with a Character Fix – Novel Resolution by  Lydia Sharp

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Writing Competitions

Why writers should enter competitions – Jody Hedlund

Yeovil Prize

Putting rejections into context – Nik Perring

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Things to Read – Short stories, new short fiction

Sparks - featuring flash by Jon Pinnock, Vanessa Gebbie and More

Horizon Review – Edited by Jane Holland

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Literature

Is there a Literary Glass Ceiling for Women Writers?

Mariella Frostrup talks to Sebastien Faulks on Heroes/Heroines and the great british novel – BBC Radio 4

The dangers of a single story - a TED talk from Chimamanda Adichie

Tick Followed Tock

Posted on: February 3rd, 2011 by Claire - 28 Comments

I’ve had a few conversations this month with Indie Authors who are baffled by my willingness to sign up for a 2013 (yes, a full two years away) launch of my debut novel.

The main question is “Why Wait?” –  Not why I decided to stop approaching other publishers (who may have offered a 2012 launch) when I got the offer from Bloomsbury, but why, in this day and age, I could wait so long. If I had chosen the Indie Author route, I could have my work out there, being read by others and making money (hopefully) six months from now.

That is a really good question, but first, this:

For me, making the decision to wait is a mix of heart and mind. The heart part is easier to explain because the rational part of the decision still offers more questions than answers. Here are some of the questions that concern me, as an author, and which have guided my decision:

  • The number of books being published is increasing rapidly, but what is happening to the number of books being purchased or read? Is it keeping pace?
  • If not, does supply vastly outstripping demand mean a strong downward pressure on prices and if so is this across all books, or does it depend on how they are published?
  • In this context, what is the best way to get a literary novel to market, to ensure the widest readership and the most royalties? Is this different to genre fiction?
  • What are my aspirations as a writer?
  • Can I do this alone? Do I have enough money, do I have enough experience?

I’d also really like to point you to this excellent article here, about literary fiction, advances and e-books.

Is there a right answer or is it horses for courses? I’d love to hear your points of view on this.

Jumping for Joy

Posted on: January 18th, 2011 by Claire - 52 Comments

It’s really true! My novel, The Night Rainbow, will be published by Bloomsbury, Spring 2013!

This post is a moving feast as I try to answer some of the questions you’re all asking.

In the meantime, thank you to my wonderful agent, Annette Green and to Helen Garnons-Williams, my new editor at Bloomsbury, for believing in The Night Rainbow.

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How long has this taken you?

I started thinking about writing The Night Rainbow sometime in 2009. I actually started writing it at the end of that summer. By spring 2010 I had a full first draft, about 75,000 words. And then I started this blog, so you can follow some of my deliberations:

So, in terms of timings: Writing the book – about a year; Finding an agent – about two months; Agreeing to an offer of representation – about two more months; From there to publication – about two more years!

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2013? But that’s AGES away!

It does seem like that doesn’t it? But my understanding is that the average time is around 18 months, so it’s just a little longer. One of the things that frustrates a lot of authors in their search to be published is finding publishers who love their book, but whose list is already full. And there is only so much time and money in the budget. Debut novels are a particular case – the marketing effort is also launching an author’s career. In my case, Bloomsbury, even though they loved my novel, had already filled their 2012 quota for debut novelists and so they proposed the following year. Of course I discussed the other options with my agent, but after having met Helen, Erica and Alexandra at Bloomsbury I was pretty convinced I could wait a few more months if it meant having these people launch my first novel and hopefully a great future.

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What did you talk about when you met your editor-to-be?

We talked about me – what brought me to France, the fact I had a blog (seen as a good thing), my writing to date and plans for the future. We talked about The Night Rainbow – what people at Bloomsbury loved about it, the different reactions from different readers, one particular editorial suggestion, how it compared to other novels, were there any elements of truth in it, what marketing for it might look like etc. We talked about the fact that the 2012 list was definitively closed, and the quandary that this posed…

And then I had to go and sleep on it. And Helen would go back to the Tuesday meeting to discuss it all further.  Would I get the best Christmas present ever?

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What happens next?

I’m not entirely sure! Contracts are being drawn up and will be signed, and then there will be work to be done. A good glimpse into the future can be had at Vanessa Gebbie’s blog here where she is charting the same journey!

And thank you for being interested in all this!

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