Saturday, 20 June 2015

Twelve in May

I read twelve books in May.


Accomplishable partly because I was on holiday in London for a week, travelling there and back by four-and-a-half-hour train journeys; and partly because, ahem, I was not doing much writing. But I was having a long-overdue tidy-up of writing-related bumph, about ten years’ worth of notes from classes and workshops, scribbled bits of stories etc. Etc. Also had big reorganisation of bookshelves – nothing I like doing better, apart from reading what’s on them.

I wrote about the last chapter of this book in a previous post A Penchant for Pencils. Mary Norris has been a proof reader at the New Yorker since 1993. As the blurb says: ‘Now she brings her vast experience, good cheer and finely sharpened pencils [yay!] to help the rest of us in a boisterous language book as full of life as it is of practical advice.’ See also:

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
I finally got round to reading one of the highest selling and critically acclaimed books of recent years – and found it deserving of all the hype. Love the writing and the story, and the picture it paints of 17th-century Holland.

Rescue in Ravensdale by Esme Cartmell
This is a book I loved when I was about ten and I rediscovered it during the aforementioned bookshelves reorganisation.

I must have reread it several times because I found I could remember great chunks of it. It’s about a family – parents, four daughters and their eighteen-year-old male cousin (from whose point of view the story is told) – on holiday in Yorkshire in August 1939, who get involved with the search for an apparent German spy.

It stood the test of time for me, and I think this was why. It is unusual in a children’s book for the parents to be so much involved – generally they are got out of the way as quickly as possible. Here, with their writer/reviewer father and artist mother, the girls (I remember being intrigued by their names – Thelma, Kyra and twins Daphne and Dione) and their cousin have wonderfully wordy, punny, literary conversations that I enjoyed this time round too.

Neither the book jacket nor Google can tell me anything about Esme Cartmell and whether she/?he wrote anything else.

Hysteria 3 – read on Kindle. An anthology of winners from the Hysteria Writing Competition, which include my fellow Edinburgh Writers’ Club member Olga Wojtas, and her typically amusing, and wonderfully named, story Green Tea and Chocolate Fudge Cake.

Read on Kindle. A dual narrative, cleverly interspersing contemporary Eilidh’s return to the Scottish town she left as a child, and the story of Robert Burns and his doomed romance with the lass known as Highland Mary. With its great sense of place, the book is also a love letter to Burns’ home county of Ayrshire.

Read on Kindle. Ellen’s transition from no-baggage career girl to hands-on guardian to her sister’s children is very believable, as is her slow-burning romance with neighbour Kit. I loved the farming background too.

The Pearl Locket by Kath McGurl
Read on Kindle. Enjoyed this even more than The Emerald Comb. Again, it’s a dual narrative, this time contemporary and WW2.

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym
Read umpteen times before but never stales. Have just joined the Barbara Pym Facebook page and thought my favourite title of hers was due for a reread.

The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming
Love a good spy story. Was there a sixth man – along with Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Cairncross and Blunt?

Kissing Mr Wrong by Sarah Duncan
‘Lu Edwards may write and illustrate books for children, but she's certain she doesn't want children of her own. She believes in travelling light, with not even a goldfish to tie her down, until Nick – a WWI expert with more baggage than Heathrow, right down to the kids, ex-wife and hamster – blows into her life.’ A good read.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Christian Aid sale purchase. The second LM book I’ve read, following The Husband’s Secret. Much enjoyed this one too – her characters are really … real. Alice hits her head and when she comes too she thinks it’s ten years earlier, but her whole life has changed.

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
Christian Aid sale purchase. Enjoyably farcical situation. And a reminder, if it’s required, that trying to relive your youth with your first love is never a good plan.

Re-reading childhood books on the other hand is, mostly, a very good plan.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Interview with Sophie Claire

I am pleased to have Sophie Claire on my blog to answer questions about her debut novel Her Forget-me-Not Ex which was published in May 2015 by Accent Press:

Natasha has consigned her wealthy French ex-husband Luc to the past, so she’s horrified when he turns up at her village florist’s shop out of the blue, pleading for help. He never dared to tell his family about the divorce, and when he asks her to come to France and pretend they’re still married for a couple of weeks to please his dying father, she’s not sure she can say no. She certainly isn’t prepared for the warmth of his family’s welcome, or the attraction that’s still simmering between her and Luc. But it’s just two weeks in a vineyard, no strings attached, right?

Sophie – congratulations on the publication of your novel.

Tell us how the novel came about – and are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m kind of in between, or a wannabe plotter! Before I start a book I need to have a plan (for my peace of mind!) of all the main plot points, but most of the time that plan gets abandoned as I write. I think of better plot developments, or I write a section and it doesn’t feel right so I change it. I don’t mind rewriting huge chunks of a book if I think it will improve it – unfortunately, this isn’t the most efficient way of writing, and I do wish I could think up a perfect plot in advance and then stick to it. 

Her Forget-Me-Not Ex came about because I’d had the two main characters, Luc and Natasha, floating around in my head for a while. I knew they’d been married and divorced, but I wanted to bring them back together in the present day and I wasn’t sure how to do that until I went to a writing workshop. During one of the exercises the book’s opening scene came to me – it just wrote itself. It was very exciting and I wish that would happen more often!

Some writers say that characters arrive in their heads fully formed. Did that happen to you with Natasha and Luc?
I get to know my characters as I write, and I need to put them in different situations to see how they will react. As I get through the first and second drafts they become more rounded individuals and develop their own quirks – for example, Natasha’s nail art. Don’t know where that came from! The wonders of the subconscious…

I think it’s true to say that, traditionally, romantic novels did not include a male point of view but it is a requirement of some publishers now. Did you know from the beginning that you were going to include Luc’s pov?
I did include Luc’s pov from the start, but I was advised to add more and I’m so pleased I followed this advice because it really added to the story. It gave me a greater understanding of him as well as his strained relationship with his father. And it also revealed how Luc and Natasha hadn’t known each other very well in the past and had more in common than they realised.

Natasha is a florist. I loved her arrangements with sunflowers! Is this something you’ve done yourself?
No, never! I’m far too clumsy to be able to do anything like that. I knew that Natasha liked modern flower arrangements and I think I may have got my inspiration for the sunflowers from Pinterest. I made a board as I wrote this book (which you can see here: www.pinterest.com/sclairewriter), and found the visual inspiration really helped me as I wrote.

You pitched your novel to Accent Press at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference. Could you say a little about that experience?
Pitching your work to industry professionals is nerve-wracking, but it’s such a golden opportunity to get feedback on what you’ve written and also to find out what people are looking for (for example, the publishers I spoke to liked the French setting). I was thrilled because Accent asked to see the full manuscript and then made me an offer for it ten days later! I’ve never known a publisher respond so fast and that was part of their appeal for me.

Do you have a writing routine?
My routine varies depending on which stage of the novel I’m up to (first draft or revising/editing) and whether the children are at school or on holiday, but generally I write first thing in the morning, then do Twitter, Facebook or writing blog posts later. For the writing I set myself targets – a word count when I’m writing the first draft, or a number of hours for editing. When I get to the editing stage, I’m happy to write all day and into the evening because I find it so much easier than the first draft.

I believe that you spent many family holidays in Provence when you were growing up; clearly the landscape left a lasting impression on you. Will your next book have ‘French connections’?
The book I’m finishing at the moment is set in Manchester so it’s a long way from Provence! However, I’m not sure about the next book yet…

Thank you for answering my questions. All the best with your writing.

It’s been a pleasure, Kate, and thank you.

Find out more about Sophie Claire (a pseudonym for her own name Johanna Grassick):

Website:  www.johannagrassick.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sophieclairewriter
Twitter: @SClaireWriter