Claire King

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Posts Tagged ‘Vanessa Gebbie’

Now in Paperback! Interview with Vanessa Gebbie & Bloomsbury’s paperback editor.

Posted on: March 28th, 2012 by Claire - 15 Comments

As some of you will have noticed, Vanessa Gebbie is a little like my Moses. She is busy parting the Red Sea of debut-novelling in Bloomsbury, and I am standing a year behind her peering over her shoulder. March sees the launch of her novel The Coward’s Tale in paperback, so I have invited Vanessa back along with her (and my!) paperback editor from Bloomsbury, Trâm-Anh Doan, to see what it’s all about.
Vanessa Gebbie (Photograph by Andrew Hasson)

CK: How has life been since the launch of your novel last November?

VG: Well, apart from the joy of knowing my novel is ‘out there’, nothing has changed. I am not doing anything different – still working hard at a hundred and one different things.

CK: What have been your highs and lows?

VG: Highs have been seeing some lovely reviews in the newspapers – especially the glowing reviews from A N Wilson. But the best thing? Getting letters and emails from complete strangers to say how much they have been moved by the book. And even better – when those come from Wales!

Of course there are lows, but it is really important to put these in context – I am delighted and very lucky to be with Bloomsbury, am learning such a lot, and enjoying working with everyone.  But it would be an unusual journey if there were absolutely no shades of light and dark.  The most surprising low is the discovery that if I want to support publicity, marketing and selling The Coward’s Tale,  I have to forget my professional rule of sticking to Society of Authors’ minimum earnings guidelines.I’m also downhearted at the lack of interest in ‘The Cowards Tale’ from lit fests – I love these, and was greatly looking forward to mingling with readers, writers, picking readings to intrigue, raise a smile – but it obviously ain’t to be. If Bloomsbury can’t get the book in, no one can.I suspect it is a vote less against the book, more against the older female author. If I was younger, the story would be different, judging from the authors’ events info on the website – I’m caught somewhere in the no man’s land between glamour and gravitas. (V shuffles off to spinning wheel, sucking her one remaining tooth)

CK: Wait, come back! What else have you learnt?
VG: A lot. That it is not an end, but just another beginning. That your book jostles for attention with a whole raft of brilliant books. Yours is just one of many.

 

CK: The Cowards Tale is getting a new boost this month with the launch of the paperback edition. What is significant about this for you?

VG: It has happened very quickly; I think usually, there is a greater distance between hardback and paperback publication. But for this writer, the daughter of a librarian, and a person who adores books as lovely things, I was delighted to have a few months in hardback, and having now got my hands on my gorgeous paperback, I am as nuts about that book as I was about the hardback.

 

CK: What has it been like working with Trâm-Anh as your paperback editor?

VG: Lovely. All I ask is that there is communication – because I care enormously about my book and need to know what’s happening, or not. And Trâm-Anh is wonderful…she seems to understand that. Thank you Trâm-Anh

 

Trâm-Anh (“This photo makes me look like Head Girl”)

CK: Could you tell us a little about your job as a paperback editor? 

TD: I oversee all paperbacks on our trade list, fiction and non-fiction. I brief our in-house designers for all paperback covers after discussing with our marketing and sales teams which direction we want to take the paperback. I then work closely with our designers as they progress their visuals and, alongside the commissioning editor and our marketing and sales directors, make the final decision on which cover we will have. I also put the book through press, selecting the best press reviews for the cover, making any corrections that need to be made to the main text, and making sure the costs for the book work. Then, in the run-up to a paperback being published, I work with marketing and publicity on their campaigns. It’s a very varied job, and I love the different aspects to it, but the best part is helping an author bring their book into the world.

 

CK: What is the usual time difference between the launch of a hardback and the paperback version? What are the reasons it might vary?

TD: It depends on the book and the time of year that we publish the original edition. In general there’s roughly a year between hardback and paperback, but with Vanessa’s book it made sense to publish in the spring, quite soon after the hardback. Spring and summer are our busiest times of the year for paperbacks as people tend to buy them when they’re off on their holidays, while the autumn market tends to be geared towards Christmas gifts, which suits higher priced books like hardbacks (publishers will almost always save their big cookbooks for October publication). So, of the 120 paperbacks we will publish this year, over two thirds of them are published between January to July. We look at our schedule carefully to make sure we’ve spread out our titles so that similar titles aren’t competing with each other.

CK: Why do paperbacks tend to have different covers from hardbacks? What were your thoughts when preparing The Coward’s Tale?

TD: The market for paperbacks is different from hardbacks – it tends to be a younger, much broader market for the paperback which is why we often go for different covers as we’re trying to reach a bigger readership with the paperback. The gorgeous, illustrated cover for the hardback of The Coward’s Tale (designed by our very talented designer Holly Macdonald) was perfect for making a statement to the trade and literary editors that this is an important literary novel that people need to take notice of. When it came to the paperback, Helen Garnons Williams (Vanessa’s editor) and I both agreed the cover should be photographic, concentrating on the boy Laddy Merridew, with a real sense of south Wales’s sweeping valleys. I have a close friend who grew up in Caerphilly and she helped me find the right kind of photographs of the Rhymney Valley to show our designer, Sarah Greeno. Here are some of the options that we initially looked at but subsequently discarded – we all wanted the cover to be more uplifting, and these designs weren’t quite strong enough (though the feather design is a beautiful and clever idea). As soon as we saw the vibrant orange sky, we knew it was perfect, and the image of the boy running down an empty street was so poignant. There was a collective, simultaneous sigh of ‘Ahhhh’ when everyone saw this cover. We later realized it’s uncannily similar to the cover for one of Vanessa’s previous books, but this was a pure coincidence!

 

CK; Books published under Bloomsbury’s new imprint, Bloomsbury Circus, will launch as ‘unusually sized’ trade paperbacks. When the paperback editions of these books launch, will there a be a difference in how you work versus one that launches in hardback?

TD: No, Bloomsbury Circus books will still be published in paperback in the same way as books that were originally launched as hardbacks.

 

CK: How do you see the share of sales changing between hardbacks, paperbacks and electronic books?

TD: Over the past year or so we’ve seen a marked increase in the sales of electronic books but so far it’s difficult to tell how much they’ve impacted on sales of print books. Sales overall for publishers are down (hardback and paperback), but we’re yet to see if the rise of eBooks has compensated for this downturn, as unfortunately the sales data for eBooks isn’t quite accurate enough for us to get a clear idea of how they’re doing.

Traditionally, the paperback is the main life of the book and 9 out of 10 print books purchased are paperbacks. In America, eBook sales of big, commercial titles have been known to outsell the print edition. We haven’t quite seen that level here, but I suspect it’s just a matter of time.

 

CK: What has it been like working with Vanessa?

TD: Vanessa is an incredibly warm, intelligent and passionate author and it’s genuinely a pleasure to work with her. I remember first meeting her on our editor-in-chief’s houseboat last summer and having a lovely chat with her about books, families, life and everything. It’s also brilliant to work with authors who are clued up about using social networking sites: I cannot count the number of times our marketing and publicity teams ask editors if their author is active on Twitter! Via her blog, website and Twitter feed, Vanessa clearly works hard to promote the book, and it’s increasingly important to have authors as pro-active as her. More than anything, we’ve all found Vanessa to be a very gracious author, thanking everyone involved in every stage of her book (marketing, publicity, production, design, etc).

 

CK: How early on in the life of a book do you get involved? OK, I admit that’s a slightly loaded question…so have you been having thoughts about The Night Rainbow yet?!

TD: Ha, good question! Well, I’m very much involved in the acquisition process here at Bloomsbury and try to read as much as I can of the books that the commissioning editors are considering. It’s impossible to read everything (especially when you have over one hundred paperbacks a year!) of course, but I try to get a feel for as much of our list as possible. So, I normally start thinking about a paperback as soon as the commissioning editor has bought it, and the editor also talks to me about their thoughts on the paperback at a very early stage. Helen Garnons Williams is such a passionate advocate of all her authors and is constantly checking on the progress of all her paperbacks.

And to answer the question about your book: as you know, I’m a huge fan of The Night Rainbow (I almost cried when Helen was launching it at the marketing meeting recently) and have some thoughts on the paperback cover but you’ll have to wait and see!

 

Vanessa

CK: So, Vanessa, now you’ve seen the alternative covers to the one you were proposed and ultimately ended up with, what are your impressions?*

VG: I am struck by the sombreness of the palette used in firstly the cover showing the close rows of houses – and secondly the boy on the hilltop overlooking the town.  And, although I prefer the third concept – the colours in the ‘feather’ cover have the same effect on me. The Coward’s Tale is not a gloomy book – it is about healing, at base – the meta-nattative is about the healing power of story, the way repeated telling of the same tales  finally  helps the community to acknowledge the past and move on.  And frees the teller.  

If I tried consciously to do anything at all, I tried to make the story sing. So when Trâm-Anh’s note, in with the paperbacks, said ‘Doesn’t the orange sky sing?” that felt absolutely right!

I know colourways can be tweaked. But the first (hilltop) holds no intimacy, whichever colour it is. The second (close up houses) is too ‘house-orientated’ – it’s muddly as an image, and I don’t really like it as a cover.  The feather idea is better, it is clever,  but it kind of misses the point – the boy is not the coward,  and it leads the reader to expect him to be.

The chosen cover works so very well – and one of the most resonant things for me,  apart from the street being ‘right’, the Cat public house, the mine in the distance…the flame-colour of the sky – is the shadows. Or not. When I was sent that cover I liked it immediately. It has very close echoes with the cover of my first book – a red-haired child walking away from the onlooker. So there was a synchronicity about it. It is a more commercial cover than the hardback, and that has to be a good thing, for sales.

The most important thing for me in all this was that I was in the hands of professionals who know the market, who know what works and what doesn’t. It would seem silly to impose my likes and dislikes onto that, as they ought to be irrelevant. Besides, Trâm-Anh told me that some important book buyers liked the cover we ended up with – and that was key. It’s just a product, in the end.

So, on to a cover I like came the fabulous quote from A N Wilson when he made ‘The Coward’s Tale’ his novel of 2011 – saying the book is lyrical, moving and funny. You can’t get better than that, and coupled with an engaging, eye-catching image, more than that we cannot do!

 

CK: Vanessa, you said at the start that you’re ‘working hard at a hundred and one different things’! What are you up to now/next?

VG: Top of the list would of course be anything needed for ‘The Coward’s Tale’. Thus far, there has not been much to do apart from a few visits to read/talk/record video etc at Bloomsbury. But I’m not twiddling my thumbs doing nothing, I hate not having lots of things on the go! While I was writing The Coward I also wrote two collections of short stories, pitched, organised, edited and contributed a chapter to ‘Short Circuit, a Guide to the Art of the Short Story’, wrote an as-yet-unpublished flash collection, did masses of teaching, and started to learn about poetry.

1. Next Novel! Yes! The working title is ‘Kit’, and it will be a prequel/sequel to The Coward. I started it in Ireland back in Jan/Feb and came back with 40,000 words to play with. Early days, and it’s going to be a rather tough call to make this work - but I will give it a good go. I’ve got a Hawthornden Fellowship for November/December, a period of four blissful weeks in a drafty Scottish castle, with no internet, no phone signal. HO HO! Hot water bottles, blankets, laptop. Imagination. Hopefully ‘Kit’ will start taking shape…. at the moment, it is shut away and I won’t look at it for a few months. Already I know I went down completely the wrong road with one character, and he has to come out.

2. Planning the most exciting thing – a residency on the island of St Helena for 2013. For anything up to six weeks/two months I would like to be on this
fascinating island, responding to the place and the people, somehow, in writing. Whatever comes. Stories, hopefully, then it becomes a third collection. If not, a travelogue with a twist. We’ll see. I’m also hoping to work with the schools, and other plans up the sleeves. And of course, it will be a suitably remote place to work on ‘Kit’.

3. Second edition of ‘Short Circuit,’ for Salt Publishing. You can’t let a great ‘how-to’ book go stale – so I’m making it bigger – adding new stuff – and working with writers like Scott Pack, Stuart Evers, Tom Vowler, Nicholas Royle, either on new interview-based chapters or they are going off and writing their own. It begs the question why am I doing this – I won’t earn much from it – but it’s a good thing, a great book, and I love the thought that it is helping new writers, inspiring tired ones. Passing this thing called writing on to the next generation is very important to me. Many of the original Short Circuit writers, whose chapters will remain an important part of the book, have blossommed even more in the last couple of years – Alison MacLeod, Graham Mort for example – both finding success in national competitions – and Carys Davies – winning the Society of Authors’ Olive Cook award. We have a strong strong team, giving insights and practical advice.

4. ‘Ed’s Wife and Other Creatures’. I am working with a fantastic illustrator on a mad collection of flash, subtitled ‘Portrait of a Marriage’. We are planning to publish this as a gift book with a tiny tiny press, planning, funding, designing, sorting all the stages of the production process ourselves – and that will be a fab experience. Sales, marketing, distribution – ask me later! All I’d like to do is break even at this point, so it is an interesting project.

5. Learning! Poetry. I am loving learning about poetry, and maybe uncovering a small talent for this slippery thing. As I write, I am in the middle of a series of wonderful poetry workshops tutored by Pascale Petit. She is poet in residence at The Tate, and we meet every Monday after Tate Modern has closed, in
whichever exhibition she has chosen that day – just us, a group of twenty or so - and we respond to the art. Yesterday, we were with Boetti and his world maps sewn by Afghan women who didnt know what the sea was, so coloured it with what silks whatever they fancied, and sometimes filled it with patterns. Amazing.

6. Teaching! Invitations so far this year to take workshops for Spread the Word in London, New Writing South in Brighton, Wellington College, University Campus Ipswich, Claremont School, The Winchester Writers’ Conference Pitstop, Hope and Anchor Writing School in Whitstable, a week on the short story at Anam Cara Writers and Artists Retreat in Ireland – and I’m in discussion about another week at a Spanish writers’ retreat. I love teaching – and besides, it pays. That is very necessary now, the combination of husband retiring a while back, our youngest son in his first year at university and the recession has done its worst in our household – I am seeing Toby through uni on what I earn as a writer… go figure!

***

Thank you to Vanessa for coming by to give us an update, and especially to Trâm-Ahn for taking the time to be interviewed and providing us with the ‘rejected’ covers!

***

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

Finally, it’s Bloomsbury’s Year of the Short Story. Vanessa’s ‘unofficial’ contribution is to read and record for posterity what she thinks is one of the most powerful short stories ever written. ‘The Ledge’, by Lawrence Sargeant Hall. Here it is – interspersed with a bit of natter – in two sections. It’s long… http://readmesomethingyoulove.com/?cat=110

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…

Pumpkins and such.

Posted on: October 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

I’ve just landed back in France after a short trip to London.

If this time last year, when I was still waiting to hear from my first batch of agent submissions on my novel, you’d told me that you had the power to see into the future and that in September 2011 I’d be invited to Bloomsbury’s 25th birthday party as part of a star studded guest list…well it would have made me giggle.

But strange things do happen. And the invitation came.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it. It clashed with a week when my husband was away earning our daily bread and I was supposed to be at home feeding and bathing the children, walking the dogs, helping with homework and so on. But how could I NOT go? Cinderella needed a fairy godmother*. Or at least a cunning plan.

“I know, I shall take my children to London”, I reasoned!  We will stay with good friends who won’t mind a night babysitting. Upon investigation, cheap flights were available. “It’s a plan,” I thought. And to make up for a couple of days missed school I will make sure the girls experience things like the science museum, the botanical gardens at Kew, and their cultural heritage in general.

Anyway, yes, so.

The party was held on a beautiful indian summer evening in Bedford Square. There were lots of delicious things to eat and drink, but most of all there were lots of lovely people. There were some rather famous people there of course, and I had been terribly worried about meeting them. What would I say, for example, if I hadn’t read their books? There are so many books I haven’t read…

Special thanks to Vanessa Gebbie, for understanding my angst, standing me a G&T at the New Cavendish Club before we went, and walking in alongside me. Thanks also to author Stephen May who took this and other photos on demand, despite having only just met me!

In the event, I met one *famous* person – Grayson Perry. I didn’t know who Grayson Perry was. I had never heard of Grayson Perry. I blame this on living in France and never reading newspapers and seldom watching the TV. So the first I knew of Grayson Perry was a man dressed like a babydoll wandering in my direction at the Bloomsbury party. How could I not smile at him? Vanessa got chatting and I came to the conclusion I liked him. He was chatty and interesting and just generally rather groovy. He’s a groovy guy. And his exhibition is opening this week and I’m sad I can’t go. But click here to see a pic of Vanessa and Grayson/Claire and click here for information on The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman at the British Museum.

The highlight of the night for me (the author who still has dreams that one day I’ll get a call saying that it’s all been a big misunderstanding) was meeting my future paperback editor Tram-Anh. The conversation went like this:

Me: I’m Claire King, my book is out in 2013

Tram-Anh: Oh, which book was that? I read so many…

Me (a bit sheepishly): The Night Rainbow.

Tram-Anh: OMG! I love that book! (Cue long and expressive pointing out of all the bits of my book she particularly liked, even though she read it almost a year ago).

Me: *Hugs Tram-Anh* Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou.

Did I mention there was also wine?

There were around 1000 of us altogether, including Bloomsbury staff, authors, agents, press, reviewers and many others. It was lovely to finally meet up in person with lovely author tweeters Marika Cobbold, Jane Rusbridge and Precious Williams and I have to thank you all, along with VG, for being friendly islands in the sea of Big Mingle, and for introducing me to lots of Bloomsbury authors like Georgina Harding, Louise Levene, Roshi Fernando, William Sutcliffe, Tim Kevan, Andrew Marshall, Selma Dabbagh…can everyone see my to-read list expanding as I type?

Thanks also to my lovely agent Annette Green and her partner David, who were waiting kindly and patiently just inside the gates to make sure their authors weren’t lost in the crowds, and to my lovely editor Helen who spent most of her night rushing around making sure all her authors were having a good time. I think I can safely say that we were.

*By the way, I had to run to catch a cab at the end of the evening, and I lost a shoe in the process. If anyone found a glass slipper in Bedford Square, could you let me know?

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!

Time to Write – Fancy that?

Posted on: August 2nd, 2011 by Claire - 18 Comments

In September I am going on my first ever writing anything.

I’ve never been on a course, a retreat, or a workshop. Never been to a festival or a book show. Never been in a writing group or book club. But in September, finally, I am. Along with a small group of other women writers, I’ll be spending two days at Tilton House in Sussex, at a writing retreat led by Bloomsbury stable-mate Vanessa Gebbie, whose novel ‘The Coward’s Tale’ will be published this November.

Yes, this one is just for the ladies. A chance to retreat to the beautiful and peaceful surroundings and “leave behind those other roles women accumulate, just enjoy being a writer and find your own, personal “room to write”.

There is a big part of me that is saying how much of a huge luxury this is, me sloping off for a weekend on my own, just for me, all about writing. But another part says I deserve this, that what with all the years juggling three jobs and two children and one husband and writing in the cracks, a weekend away is a just reward. I can pay for it out of my novel advance, after all. And on top of all that I feel I need a boost to my own writing, I want to learn and develop, and I’ve not done that, except on my own, since school!

I’m not sure who the other participants are yet, but am told we’ll be a mixed group of writers from poets, to academic writers, novelists published and unpublished…a playwright too.

The two days includes six writing workshops geared to creativity, shedding worry and ‘roles’, character, voice and lots of flashing, as well as some one-on-one time with Vanessa. Sharing what you write there is entirely optional, the aim is to help you on your writing journey not embarrass anyone unnecessarily! There are also walks, yoga, time for chatting and plenty of time for your own writing. How perfect does that sound?

And if that’s not enough, Saturday night dinner has the award winning Carole Hayman as special guest and Sunday Lunch includes a Q&A with the lovely and talented Helen Garnons-Williams, Editorial Director at Bloomsbury, and indeed my (and Vanessa’s) editor. After lunch Helen will give a talk on the subject of literary agents, the world of publishing and what editorial directors are looking for.

If you can’t make this one, have you ever been on something similar? Do you have any tips to share about how to make the most of it?

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