The Missing Quote

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Finding a title is, for me, one of the most difficult things about writing a book. Most of my novels have a name that I know will not make it to publication. All my books, to date, started out as something completely different that, as the novel progressed, or my editor/beta-readers gave their feedback I realised simply didn’t work. Then it was back to searching for an appropriate phrase that hooked potential readers.

Mostly this involved hours of brainstorming and searching through the text for that magical combination of words that no one would be able to resist.

As you know, from pervious blogs, “Shadows on the Grass” started as a full scale historical novel which I called “Daughters of the Eagle,” which I thought worked well as four of the main characters, Maria, Mimi, Hannah and Marianna had all lived through the tumultuous history of Poland in the late 19th to mid-20th century and the eagle referred to the Polish coat of arms.

With a shorter novel, much of which is set in sixties Bristol this did not work as well, so once again I had to re-think my original concept.

The phrase “Shadows on the Grass” was used in the early version by Marianna but deleted in the new version so I felt that if I wanted to use it, I would have to find another source.

A quick Google and I found,

“What is life? …It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot Warrior and Orator.

Since “Shadows on the Grass” does indeed deal with the impermanence of life, this was perfect.

Why then did it not find its way into the final version?

Well, this is where I have to admit to a total slip-up. When Peter Coleborn, who proof-read and formatted the book, asked for the prelims, I forgot to send the quote. When he asked me to check that everything was in order, I missed it.

So no one to blame but myself.

Lesson to self: be more careful next time. Though hopefully the lack of the quote has not taken away anyone’s enjoyment of the novel.

 

 

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Happy Mothering Sunday

Four Generations

Four generations of women in my family

It’s that day in the year when we are all supposed to think about our mothers, send cards and flowers and take them out to lunch.

In the beginning, however, this tradition was nothing to do with mothers but it was the day when people went back to their mother church, the church where they were baptised, or the local parish church, to celebrate Laetare Sunday.  Anyone who did this was said to have gone “a-mothering.”

In later times, Mothering Sunday became a day when domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother church, usually with their own mothers and other family members. It was often the only time that whole families could gather together, since on other days they were prevented by conflicting working hours, and servants were not given free days on other occasions.

The children would pick wild flowers along the way to place in the church or give to their mothers. Eventually, the religious tradition evolved into the Mothering Sunday secular tradition of giving gifts to mothers.

Lovely though it is to be given a special day the relationship between mothers and children is an on-going one that begins at birth and continues often beyond the end of life.  Whether our mothers are still alive of not their influence conscious and sub-conscious continues shaping our thoughts, emotions and behaviour.
It’s this link between mothers and daughters that is a constant theme in my writing. In “House of Shadows” Jo’s mother refuses to see herself in that role, preferring to be treated as an older sister and leaving the mothering to Jo’s Gran.

Picking Up The PiecesIn “Picking up the Pieces” independent, resourceful Liz encourages her daughter to go travelling, but misses Poppy dreadfully while she is away. While self-absorbed Elsa is enough of a mother not to want to trouble her son with her problems.

“Shadows on the Grass” follows the lives of a grandmother, mother, daughter and aunt showing how the care, or lack of it, can make a profound difference in the way a young woman sees herself and what she can expect of life.

Even in my latest work in progress, the children’s book “City of Secrets”, Letty Parker has an unconventional relationship both with her mamma and her step-mamma.

 

365-A Clear-Out

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9 of 365

If you’ve seen pictures of my office you will know that I am not a tidy person. My work space is not in total chaos but there are no clear surfaces and although I know, in theory, where everything is, that isn’t always true in practise, which means that I spend more time than I should searching for the elusive piece of paper/documentation/snippet of research.

I know I should do something to make my work space more efficient but the thought of a total overhaul is too daunting. Added to which we have recently had a kitchen makeover which entailed clearing everything out and then putting all our stuff back.

This time I was determined that only things that were useful, or lovely, or carried emotional resonance were to be allowed back into our lovely new room. Bit by bit I sorted through what we really needed or wanted and gradually came to the conclusion that for me the best way of doing a life laundry is in small, very small, chunks.

And so I made my great resolution.

Every day for the whole of this year I will throw out, re-cycle, pass on, sell one thing. It can be as small as a half-used scented candle, or as large as a coffee table but every day something will go.

To make sure that I keep my resolution I make a note every day of what has gone and so far this has proved very effective. So much so that I am currently ahead of myself. Not only are things going but the whole exercise is so liberating that I am finding it easier and easier to decide whether something stays or goes.

As I’m gaining more space I feel lighter and at the same time freer to concentrate on my writing. shadows-on-the-grass“Shadows on the Grass” is now out in paperback and I’m working on another novel and doing a final edit on the first of a series of books for children, when I’m not wondering what I can get rid of next.

How my book came to be written

 

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Mum and me.

“Shadows on the Grass” came out as an e-book in January and after the first flurry of excitement, there’s time now to sit back and reflect on the whole process.

This book has taken many, many years to write. Not because I am a slow writer, quite the opposite in fact, but because it started out life in a very different form.

Back in the day I was interested in writing historical novels, I was also, at more or less the same time, researching my family history.

My parents came to England after WWW2 and settled in a country that was totally foreign to them. Because at that time Poland was behind the Iron Curtain they had very little contact with any of their relatives and neither did we. Curious to know more about my family background I began asking questions and listening to the stories my mother told about her childhood.

Some of this material was incorporated in the original version of “Shadows on the Grass” a long shambling novel that had no real centre, or any particular theme. I remember finishing it one snowy December day and rewarding myself with a glass of vodka, then putting the manuscript away in the box along with all the research I had done on Polish history.

Of course what I should have done was to get feedback and start on the next draft, but somehow I had lost impetus. Life got in the way and it wasn’t until some years later that I took it out again, decided there was something in what I had written and decided to give it another go.

The first thing that went was the structure. Instead of following a chronological narrative, I went for a series of flash backs so that the story of the Dzierzanowski family would be told through the view point of three main characters. Grandmother, mother and daughter. And so a theme emerged, the relationship between the three of them became the focus of the book.

I have always been fascinated by how the generations interact, in particular mothers with their daughters. This pivotal relationship in a woman’s life can give her the confidence to grow into her own person, or prove incredibly destructive.

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Mum at ninety

 

In my own case I was lucky. My mother was a nurturing parent who was only concerned to do the best for her children and we’ve all grown up as fairly well-adjusted people. I hope I’ve done the same for my children, but other people I have known have not been so fortunate.

In “Shadows on the Grass” seventeen year old Kate is a rebellious teenager who both loves and despises her ever patient mother, Hannah. Who in her turn is struggling with her feelings for her mother Mimi and trying to find her way in a foreign country where she feels she will never quite belong.

The paperback is now available and if you would like a copy of either format here’s the Amazon LINK

#Friday Favourites: War in the Val d’Orcia by Iris Origo

War in Val d'Orcia

 

I’d never heard of this book or the author and am indebted to my friend Heather for introducing me to both.  Looking at the title and reading “An Italian Diary 1943-1944” I was half inclined to leaving it on my to-be-read pile. I’ve read enough harrowing accounts of war not to be particularly inclined to start on another, but there was something about Italian landscape on the cover which drew in me.

I was also intrigued to read that the book was a factual account of those years and had been hidden buried in tin boxes along with the writer’s jewellery to hide it from the retreating German army.

Reading a diary, the expectation is of an emotional life laid bare. “War in the Val d’Orcia” is not like that. The style is sparse, very matter of fact. Talking about a very sick young man Iris Origo writes

“We discuss what is best for him. What he needs is proper nursing at the clinic, but he is at the crossroads, the first place the Germans would search. In the end we decide to leave him where he is.

“And so I go to bed, my heart full of the murdered workmen and the young partisan, who soon must die.”

If this sounds dry, then it belies the courage it took to harbour wounded soldiers, escaped prisoners as well as over twenty refugee children, all the time knowing that if they were caught Iris and her husband could be shot. But even though they had two very young daughters they felt they could not abandon anyone who came to them for help. Together Iris and her husband, Antonio, fed, clothed and interceded with the Germans on behalf of desperate people, who had nowhere else to turn.

Throughout it all, Iris is conscious of how the Italians are being perceived by the rest of the allies and is keen to put the record straight. This and the history of that part of WW2 was new to me.

Shadows On The GrassAlthough I had a lot of research into that period for “Shadows on the Grass” I knew next to nothing about the war in southern Europe. I had no idea, for example,  about the number of political factions and their various stances on surrendering to the allied forces, or continuing to fight with their Nazi allies, nor of the complete exhaustion of the general population who could only hope that the long drawn out campaign would soon be over.

The book was a fascinating insight into a short period of history. More diaries have recently been discovered and I look forward to reading them too.

Thank you Heather.

 

After the launch is over.

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“Shadows on the Grass”, the e-book, was launched the week before last. I hosted a Facebook event and am in the middle of a blog tour. At the same time, I was tweeting to remind people of the free story “The Making of a Revolutionary” that comes with the book and trying to think of other ways in which to effectively market my book.

I was so caught up in the whole process that that I could think of nothing else. How can I get more reviews on Amazon? How many times, is too many to remind friends and family that I have a new book out and would really appreciate it if they would buy and review?

At first it was all very exciting. The adrenaline had kicked in and I was on a roll. The downside of that is the inevitable slump. fainting-woman-340x503This is when I want to run away to that deserted beach, get rid of the laptop and never, ever write another word.

The characters I had lived with for so long have gone out into the world. I have done my best for them and now I want a rest.

This phase won’t last. In fact it is already on its way out. Even now I’m wondering how to give you a subtle nudge in direction of my book. After this post, I’m going to send off a few e-mails, scan my list of contacts….

But if I could be teleported away for just a few hours that would be so good.

 

Count Down…

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Ten, nine, eight…only three more days ‘til launch day. On January 11th my novel “Shadows on the Grass” will be launched as an e-book. The past few months have been busy editing, re-editing, blogging, tweeting and sending out newsletters. I’ve been in touch with bloggers and reviewers and am very grateful to all of you who have agreed to host a blog tour, or write a review.

There’s an event scheduled on Facebook for the evening of the 11th but otherwise there is not much left to do. These next few days will be ones of anticipation and not a little nervousness.

Launching a book is like sending a child out into the world. You hope you’ve done everything to prepare them but there is still that underlying thread of concern. Will they be all right? Will they cope? What will they do if things go wrong? And in the case of a novel, will people like it?

Still, like the process of childbirth itself, there comes a moment when there is no going back. You’re committed and that’s it.

Shadows Grass Final Cover

So “Shadows on the Grass” out you go and to quote my favourite Vulcan “Live long and prosper.”