Letting Go

For some writers letting go of their precious manuscript is very hard. There is always another edit, a final read, a change of mind on this, or that minor point. Then when the book, play, short story makes it out into the world, they obsess about its place in the rankings, despair over bad reviews, are euphoric over the good.

Am I strange because I don’t feel that way?

As soon as my work has been published, or performed, I feel that it has gone. It has a life of its own out there with only a very slight connection to me, its author.

When we were living in Jamaica I wrote, ‘Stich and Bitch’  a play to be performed at the Canadian High Commission about the lives of ex-pat women. One of the actresses had to go back home and it was suggested I take her part. Could I learn the lines? I could not. In spite of the fact that I had written them, they simply would not stick.  It was as if I had never seen them before. I don’t believe it was stage fright, in the end I too had to go back to the UK and never got to act, or see the play. I think it was because for me the lines were as new as if someone else had written them. The play was out there. It was no longer mine.

The same is true of my short stories, some of which I find hard to recognise, let alone remember when I wrote them and indeed my books. Which makes it extra hard to throw myself into the whole marketing thing.

For three days over the Christmas period ‘House of Shadows’ has been on special offer as a free e-book. I’ve promoted, tweeted, FBooked and the response has been brilliant. The book reached #4 in the Time Slip charts on Amazon and I couldn’t be more pleased. Yet at the same time there is an element of unreality about the whole experience. It’s almost as if it’s happening to someone else.

Books have a life of their own. Release them, let them go and made their own way in the big wide world. Unfortunately in the 21st Century that’s not how it works.

If I have a resolution for 2015, it’s to do more to tell people about what I have written, to promote my books, to give them a helping hand on the road to being a best seller.

Happy New Year!

The Best Presents

For me Christmas without books isn’t really Christmas. After the food has been eaten, the wine drunk and the TV watched there is nothing better than curling up on the sofa with a new book.

This year I’ve been especially lucky. Family came bearing boxes, with a huge variety, ranging from Caroline Duffy’s Christmas Poem ‘Wencelas’ to Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Museum of Innocence’ and on a less demanding scale, I found David Walliam’s ‘ Gangsta Granny’ in my stocking.

Thanks to my kids and their partners I’ve been introduced to writers I’ve not read before, others I know and have never read and some I would never have thought of reading.  All are treats in store and will last me months into 2015.

The books I’ve given should give an equal amount of pleasure.

Who could fail to be delighted, amused and touched by Jan Edward’s ‘Sussex Tales,’ of have their hearts wrung by the selection of stories in ‘It Never Was Worth While’ by Jem Shaw and Malcolm Havard?

That both these books were written by friends makes them extra special, because like all voracious readers I love being able to recommend books I’ve enjoyed. It Never was worthwhile.sussex-tales small

And now I have to get on with my reading.

 

A Christmas Story

Christmas 1980

Christmas Tree Kneeling on the window seat in the front room of his grandmother’s house Tom pressed his face to the black glass and stared out beyond the orange glow of the street lights. His mother had told him to watch for the first star and he must not move, although he did so want to explore the interesting pile of presents at the foot of the Christmas tree. Behind him a thin spill of light slanted along the carpet connecting him through the half open door to his grandmother Joanna in the kitchen, his grandfather setting out the wine in the dining room and rest of the family getting ready for Christmas dinner in the tall thin house. In the guest bedroom Diana Grey tightened the bow at her waist and shivered as she smoothed down the skirt of her wine dark taffeta. The house was not cold, but Christmas with Peter’s family was a daunting experience. Looking round for her shawl, she caught a glimpse of the single bed and shrugged her shoulders. Peter coming into the room caught her gesture.

“It’s only for a couple of nights,” he said.

“Can’t you creep in after everyone’s asleep?”

“Not in this house. My mother sleeps like a cat and the place is crawling with kids.” He grinned. “You’ll have to manage without me.”

“I’ll never forgive you,” she pulled a face. “I’ll sulk for days.”

He slipped his arms around her waist and rubbed his cheek against hers. He was as tall as she was and standing side by side their faces were reflected in the dressing table mirror. She thin and pale with a curtain of dark hair that swung over her eyes, he golden haired with bright blue eyes and high cheekbones.

“You don’t look English,” she said suddenly.

“I’m really.”

“Until now I never thought about it. Apart from your name, you seemed just like the rest of us. I suppose it’s all in the blood,” she spoke seriously, aware for the first time of something different about him.

“I don’t feel any different,” he assured her. “Kate’s the one who’s all mixed up about where she belongs. Says she knows she isn’t Polish because she was born and brought up here, but at the same time she doesn’t feel English, because the parents speak Polish at home and we do things in the way they did when they were young. It’s never bothered me. As far as I’m concerned I’m as British as you are. Come on we’d better go downstairs. ”

“What happens tonight?”

“We wait for the first star to appear. That’s what my nephew Tom’s doing. Then we eat our Christmas dinner, twelve courses all fish.” She wrinkled up her face and he grinned again. “That’s how it used to be, but now there’s meat as well. Then we unwrap our presents, have some drinks and go to Midnight Mass at the cathedral.”

“And back to our solitary beds.”

He nodded laughing and this time she laughed with him. Next door in her old room, Kate lay on the bed, her hands smoothing her swelling stomach.

“Kate you’d better get up. If you’re not dressed when Tom calls he’ll burst,” her husband said.

“I could go down like this,” Kate glanced at her slip.

“You could, but you won’t. It’s got to be best clothes for Christmas Eve.” Adam held out his hand and helped her to her feet. “Though you look pretty good in your underwear.” He slid his arms around her.        “In spite of being eight months pregnant,” Kate laughed and freed herself from his embrace.

“Mummy is it time?” Elizabeth resplendent in velvet and lace burst into the room. She was followed closely by Lucy, whose blonde curls stood like a halo round her head.

“Nearly,” Kate began, when a triumphant cry peeled through the house.

“Granny I’ve seen it. It’s here. Christmas can begin.”          Elizabeth seized her sister’s hand and together they raced down the stairs.        Joanna discarding her apron rushed out from the kitchen.        “Children , children come downstairs,” she cried; her excitement and joy sounding through the hall.

“Come on,” Peter took Diana’s hand. “Christmas has started.” They crowded into the dining room. Joanna and Boleslaw, Peter and Diana, Kate and Adam and the children, who wriggled their way through the adults towards the table, eager to sit down and begin the meal, which had to be eaten before they could have their presents. First they had to wait while Joanna took the unleavened bread which had been sent from Poland and divided it among them so that each member of the family could share their piece with everyone else and kissing wish them a happy Christmas. Only then could they take their places. Boleslaw at the head of the table Joanna at the foot, the others ranged in between them. Sitting with her husband on one side, her son on the other, Kate was stirred by a deep sense of belonging. In this country in an alien culture surrounded by her family she had finally found her place. She was the bridge between her mother and her children, between the old world and the new. The new baby too had its place in the pattern. She smiled, the child inside her kicked. Peter picked up his camera and the moment was frozen for ever.

Christmas 1980 is based on my own family traditions. In our house we celebrated Christmas Eve Polish style, while for Christmas Day we adopted English traditions; giving us children the best of both worlds.

Advice to writers and being a book tart.

A piece of advice I was given a while ago proved its worth again today. Whether you’re traditionally published, Indie published or you did it yourself, always carry a copy or two of your book with you.

Why because when someone asks what you do, not only can you say that you’re a writer, scary though that is, but you can also show them your book. This not only proves that you’ve actually done it, but also gives them a chance to buy.

Sounds a pit pushy? It needn’t be. Keep it casual, always give the option not to buy, or to get it later. If they don’t want it, it’s no big deal, weep later in private, if they do they are getting a bargain, as you can sell at a discount. That way everyone is happy.

Today at the hairdressers the conversation turned to what we’d been doing. I had my copies of ‘House of Shadows’ with me and in my new role as book tart I showed them around. And Denise, thanks and I love you, bought a copy.

Talk then turned to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and how that book made it through word of mouth. Hopefully the same will happen with my new novel and now there are three more people in the world who know about it. HOS cropped A

Creativity and Cake

Why do so many of my writer friends also bake? And bake brilliantly. Is there I wonder a correlation between baking and creativity? It certainly seems so in my case. In the same way that there are days when I am driven to write a certain story, there are also days when I know I must make cakes. Not because I am miserable, or guests are coming, or even because I’m feeling greedy, but just because I must.

On those days nothing but a lemon drizzle cake or a batch of muffins will do. The only question is whether to give into Mike’s demands and cook marzipan muffins or go down the fruity route with raspberries, or blueberries, or even bananas, the variations are endless.

Or should I give in and make chocolate cup cakes iced with cream cheese frosting?

Whichever I choose I have to give in and only when the kitchen is full of the smell of baking will I be satisfied.

And then of course there is the first bite…

Baking also plays a part in my writing. I love reading recipes and imagining the situations in which I might use them and I love the feel, the taste, the smell of the ingredients I  might use. In the case of Jo in “House of Shadows” she is an artist and she approaches the making of Florentines in the same way as she would paint a picture.

“In the brightness of an early summer morning, Jo weighed out sultanas, raisins and oat flakes. She chopped glace cherries and licked the sweet redness from her fingers. She mixed in plump hazelnuts and nibbed almonds and measured out two tablespoons of butter, which she heated in a pan. Warming a spoon in hot water, she dipped it into the tin of golden syrup and watched as it slid slowly and sensuously to join the melting butter. Yellow became gold, gold became brown. She tipped the warm liquid into the dry ingredients and stirred. Wrinkled fruit glistened, oats took on a glossy sheen, the rich smell of syrup rose to her mouth. The cherries glowed like rubies in amber. Humming tunelessly under her breath, she smoothed the mixture into the baking trays and reached for the phone. She’d try Helene and Cecile again. She’d found their numbers before she’d finally gone to bed in the early hours and if they didn’t answer she’d text. If they did then she’d ask them round for coffee and cake and ask their advice as to what she should do.”

For her the whole art of baking is a sensual experience. It is also a communal one. She wants to share her Florentines with Helene and Cecile, I want to share my muffins with family and friends. It’s a way of cementing relationship, of providing comfort and pleasure. It’s almost ritualistic and most certainly life enhancing.

As is the act of writing.DSC01850