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The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn

The Hour Before Dawn is a book very close to my heart. It is one of those rare books that wrote itself…

It is on a special promotion for  the whole of September for 99p

‘A rich multi-generational sage set in Singapore and New Zealand. The mysterious diappearance of a young child sets in motion a series of events that will haunt future generations of the family..’

I was an army wife way back and living in Singapore.  To escape the heat we would head for the Rest Houses near Port Dickson on the east coast of Malaysia.The wooden beach houses with their huge pottery baths and wooden verandas facing the sea were magical.  The long beaches  of white sand were mostly deserted and framed by jungle. There was only the occasional screech of monkeys and the voices of  night fishermen working by torchlight in the dark.

There was a particularly spooky walk through  jungle paths to an old lighthouse. The hairs always used to rise up at the back of my head as the heavy silence pressed down in a myriad of little jungle sounds. Rustles and calls and breaking twigs. Often we never made the lighthouse but turned for home walking faster and faster until we reached the warmth of the sun again before the abrupt fall of night.

I had the sudden idea for this book many years later in an entirely different setting when I was visiting one of my sons in New Zealand.  I was intrigued by a painting  called ‘The Garden of the Happy Dead’ by the  Austrian painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived and worked in NZ. He was fascinated by  natures natural ventilation using plants and light. In this painting  trees become natural gutters and drainpipes and all creatures return naturally to the earth to enrich it. He was way ahead of his time ecologically and in the need to protect the environment.

My story flew out of nowhere, as I sat in a house in Northland in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a different jungle… Back home,I sat down and it unwound iteself like a ribbon until I had finished…

I espcially love the French and Polish covers for The Hour Before Dawn…

The e-book  for the September promotion has a woman on the cover. https://amzn.to/3aMqnUk

 

 

Lockdown Blog

Lockdown Blog

 

 

 

Come Away With Me was the last of six books that I wrote while I renovated a tiny listed cottage in a coastal village where this book is set.

I only have to glance at the cover and the air is full of the lilting sound of waders out on the mudflats of the estuary where I  used to walk my dog. I would plot another chapter of the book to the music of seabirds out pecking among the stones on the foreshore. The shrill call of the oystercatchers, the softer ‘ki-ki’ of the turnstones and the ‘pee-wit’ of the lapwings were all magical, but it was the haunting cry of the curlews, like ship-wrecked souls in the dusk, that caught at my heart the most. Their calls would carry across my garden and filter into the long window of the landing where I used to write. If there is music to a certain time in your life, then that rippling, mournful sound of a curlew is the music of these years.

Come Away With Me is on a special Amazon Kindle offer of 99p for the whole of June. For anyone who has not yet read it, I hope you enjoy, and I hope you will hear the lilting sound of sea birds in the background of this story…

Covid 19 has been a fierce reminder of how casually we treat our world and each other. The havoc and suffering caused by this pandemic has changed all our lives.  It would be so good to think that we will never take our world for granted again, that we will remember how loud birdsong suddenly sounded in the mornings, or how clear and wonderous the night sky. It would be fantastic to believe we will start to reward nurses and doctors and cleaners and front-line workers, to reflect the job they do, not merely clap and sing for them.

 

Lockdown has isolated us from those we love and made us face ourselves head on. We have so much time to think about what is important in our lives. The huge loss of the small everyday things we take for granted. Being with our children, visiting our families, hanging out with our friends, planning the small celebrations that mark out our lives in coffee spoons…

 

 

Unable to be close to another human being is isolating. Without touch we are diminished. A hug is not a tiny thing, it is a colossal loss of human contact;  an instinctive act that warms and revives and expresses all that we feel and are. Even the most casual hug of greeting demonstrates warmth. To hold another for a moment is an affirmation of love or friendship, and matters.

Lockdown will also have made the plight of those already suffering behind closed doors, far worse. The economic and physical effects of this virus will tragically go on reverberating into the future. Will it change how we read and what we write?

My agent blanched at the thought of receiving endless dystopian novels and believes everyone will have had enough by the time we are out of this. For myself, I am suddenly drawn to happyish endings, something I never thought I would hear myself say…I do not think I will want to read books set in lockdown, I will want to escape.

Other writers have written about periodic bouts of being unable to read.  To suddenly find you cannot read any of the books on your TBR pile is terrifying, in case it lasts. (It doesn’t)

So, I was relieved to know that many other people are experiencing the same thing, including Nigella Lawson. Audio Books are a life saver.  An exquisite reading of a beautifully written book is a magical experience. Soothing for those long sleepless nights curled under a duvet. Telling yourself you will have an early night with Abir Mukherjee, after a bad day cheers you up enormously. Listening, is obviously, a quite different experience to reading, much depends on the reader and the way the book is written, so I’ve learnt to pick my books carefully. Some books just need to be read. (Hilary Mantel) But in this way I have discovered  authors I might never have read.

Here are a few audio books that have given me pleasure.

At the moment I am listening to Smoke and Ashes the third book in Abir Mukherjee’s Rising Man series about a flawed British detective and his  Oxbridge educated Indian sidekick serving with the police force in Calcutta in the 1920s  All three books are wonderful.

The Binding by Sarah Collins. (Beautiful book. Beautifully read.)

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (strange, but captivating)

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri (Exquisite)

The Dry, The Lost Man & Force of Nature by Jane Harper (Rattling good listening)

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn (Brilliant)

Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens (Fantastic setting and character, too many elements in one book was a distraction but did not spoil.)

I go back to The Cazalet Chronicles, starting with The Light Years– by Elizabeth Jane Howard again and again. Immersive, compelling, warm and familiar as a comfort blanket.

I am happily obsessed with growing things at the moment so I am distracted from the fact that I have a book out on submission.   Eating what you have grown yourself is smugly satisfying.  My days away from my laptop are spent guarding my fragile seedlings from drought, a vicious north wind in June, and fighting off snails and slugs and a thug of magpie called Malcom who likes to upend my pots to find bugs for his young

I am also trying to settle on what I am going to write next. Two entirely different stories are vying for dominance in my head and gardening and walking are excellent ways to free up creative decisions, or procrastinate…

I live on the SW coast path and when I walk, I take a lot of photos. As if I have a need to capture all the beauty around me. As if it will not be there the next day. This spring has been especially beautiful. All the wildflowers came out at once, to dazzle with the impossible beauty of nature. Into this new hushed world, birds are singing their hearts out and everything has seemed brighter and cleaner and more beautiful.

The other day someone isolating on their own tweeted they had an egg for breakfast. They tweeted this because, in the absence of social life or work, an egg for breakfast was the highlight of their day and they felt they might be disappearing. It resonated with me. I take photos. Of my garden. Of my seeds. Of the birds. Of my walks. To perhaps remind myself, in a locked down world, that I am still here, that I do  exist. And how lucky I am.

 

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has made me think about the women in my life both past and present. I think we take female friendship for granted when we are young.  We know our social group will change.  People move away, get married, divorced, have babies, but the ones that are special will stay somewhere in our lives.

Then we get older and a friend gets ill or dies suddenly. It is a shock. You were going to ring her. You meant to. Now you can’t. It is like a red alert suddenly. The need to cherish and not neglect your friends or take them for granted. It is not  necessarily to do with age, either. Death does not discriminate. In the last two years I have lost three of the friends closest to me. There is this huge empty space that they inhabited that I will never be able to fill. Twenty or more years of friendship cannot be replaced; a precious shorthand that cannot be replicated. Friends who know you inside out, have been with you through huge events in your life. Friends whose hands you have held in their last precious moments. Whose funerals have been soaring monuments to their capacity for love and life.

Loss is an alarm, to try to never put off being there for the people you love, to make all small joys into a celebration. They will not always be around, nor might you… So let’s laugh, love, cry and be happy with our friends, but also for them.

In A Kingdom by the Sea is on an Amazon promotion for 99p for the whole of March…


Magnolia and Military Wives

Magnolia and Military Wives

 

 

 

The film Military Wives comes out this weekend and I can’t wait to see it. When the first Military Wives Choir was formed by Gareth Malone it felt especially poignant as someone close to me was doing a six month tour in Afghanistan.

In the strange timing of things, I am on the last chapters of my story about a military family and the toll Afghanistan takes on their lives. Although it is not the subject of my next book, a military wife is definitely part of an unfolding story, of love and loss, of hope and courage… The story of one small family caught in the cross fire.

The film will highlight, perhaps for the first time, how hard life can be for the wives of soldiers deployed overseas and left on their own for months at a time. The high death rate and  injuries to soldiers  serving in Afghanistan was horrendous. The military choir was born to uplift and bring anxious and lonely wives together and it took off like a bird, was a balm and a blessing for so many. I’m pretty sure the film will be fun and full of irreverent humour and army banter too. It is also what I have tried to capture in my book

Spring comes early in Cornwall. My Camellia trees, a mass of red, pink and white blooms, are getting hammered by constant storms. The daffodils and fragile narcissi  are out and I rush to pick them as they are dashed.  The magnolia trees at  just coming out in all their beauty in the wonderful Morrab Gardens in Penzance…

And…in case anyone feels like hunkering down until February has blown itself out… The Hour Before Dawn is still only 99p until the end of the month

The Sultanate of Oman

The Sultanate of Oman

When I was living in Pakistan and writing In a Kingdom by the Sea, I was lucky enough to travel to Oman. The Sultanate of Oman is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. I would love to say that I trekked through the Arabian deserts or went on a wild jeep safari looking for ancient falaj water systems. I wish I could say I experienced remote wadis and shimmering oases, but I can’t.

We were staying in the stunningly, fabulously plush resort of Al Jissah near Muscat, where brown mountains plunge straight into the aquamarine Arabian sea. Oman was our escape from a hot, febrile Karachi, where our movements were restricted, and violence ever present.

We did, however, go out on a day trip in a battered old Landover (that broke down, alarmingly, on the way home in the dark) The driver raced through the huge drift of the Wahiba sands onto a mountain track that climbed up, through a dramatic, wild and unchanged landscape towards the Hajar Mountains. We passed through silent villages that melded seamlessly into the earth. Stone houses crouched into the shadows of mountains.  We caught fleeting glimpses of children, a flash of dark eyes, a small fleeing foot, a slash of colour as they hid behind walls and doorways, away from prying eyes. A small faded blue mosque, a herd of goats, a sense of lives untouched by a modern world. Most of all the quiet, a sense of time stopped, that deep silence of mountains and hidden eyes waiting for us to disappear back from where we came…
The other photos are of Nakhal Fort with its spectacular views. This tiny glimpse of rural Oman made me vow to myself that I would return one day. I have not, but I did put Oman in my book, and I treasure these photos of that day.

Promoting

Promoting

 

 

 

Promoting your own book is definitely a skill that needs imagination and practice. I know I have touched on this subject before, but it is such a necessary part of selling  a book.

It is a fine and narrow line between needing to keep your book out there in the public eye and looking needy.

The amount of time spent thinking about witty tweets or clever posts has to be weighed against the time spent not writing and working on your next book. If you have billions of followers it will be worth it, otherwise I am unsure if it is time well spent. It is productive when your publisher or agent is promoting you because  you will  be re-tweeted, especially if you are included with other writers, and these posts always look glossy and professional.

Apart from following my writer friends I have always been wary of twitter and only started to use it regularly becauseI was politically motivated to follow interesting and knowledgable people who felt like I do. There is a comfort in that, even if it is an illusion that you can  keep your finger on the pulse of change in any meaningful way.

I follow and my followers grow because we have the same passionate beliefs and hopes for the future but this does not translate to any other sort of posts. People who follow you for  your political views are not going to read or repost promotions of your fiction. I mostly, safely, retweet other peoples’ opinions so I am a blank canvas in any case.

Instagram and Facebook are easier, fun platforms in which to talk to people about yourself and your books but you have to be an innovative and clever promoter to intrigue and encourage readers to buy your book rather than seem pushy and repetitious.

You also have to post often and regularly to build up followers and this takes precious time. There are writers  and creatives out there who are seamlessly good at this. I admire  and envy their skill and effortless way of promoting their work. It is an art form and one I clearly understand as vital if you want to succeed.

It is also sometimes an illusion, those endlessly colourful photos of a constantly busy, succesful life. We rarely post of the set-backs or life in-between. When someone is honest  and courageous enough to admit to rejection or writer’s block, or depression or illness I am full of admiration and immediately interested and go and look for their work.

Happiness and any success can go up and down like a see-saw and self promoting books is part of the job. The exciting bit is the writing of, the hard bit is gathering readers, but it is all one job. All we can do is give it our best shot and go on writing our stories…

Karachi

Karachi

This is the pool in the ‘real’ hotel where I set and wrote my book. I had a small table under the trees in the shade where I wrote each day. The wonderful staff would bring me breakfast in the deserted garden and I would write, and melt, and swim. Even in the shade  it was too hot by mid-day to stay outside.

Most mornings I had this lovely place to myself, just the chipmunks and birds singing in the undergrowth, and the gardener with his hennared hair and beard sweeping the dropped leaves.

Beyond this safe walled garden, the traffic of Karachi hummed like the distant sound of bees. In the cool of late afternoons, I would return to  the pool to read Pakistani authors while a huge sun  dropped like an orange and the kites flew low in the dusk, and I would be transported away to a different life and a different culture…

Writing In a Kingdom by the Sea has kept the memory of my time in Karachi and the voices of my friends as clear as ever it was. My characters are fictitious but Karachi was real and vivid and my memories of that city will never fade…

 

Publication Day, holidays and promotions…

Publication Day, holidays and promotions…

Publication Day for In a Kingdom by the Sea is coming right up! Tomorrow the 25th of July, my paperback officially comes out although it has been on Kindle as a special offer all July.

There are so many new books being published that it seems a lottery that someone should choose to buy my book. This is why social media is so important in promotion. And word of mouth. For this we have to rely on friends and loyal readers. Writer friends always support each other generously, and review and spread the word, but we all need the writing community out there in the ether too  We all need to re-tweet and and Like and support each other. I do not want to be thanked by an author on twitter for re-tweeting a promotion for their book, it is my pleasure. I would just like them to do the same for me.

Promoting your own book is hard. It doesn’t come naturally to me, I cannot do it effortlessly yet, like a second skin, but it is part of the job of a writer, as necessary as editing, so I am growing a thicker skin and twittering and instagraming and facebooking away… I owe it to the lovely @fictionpubteam HarperCollins who work so hard on my behalf to bring my book to the public eye.  What’s more, I’m proud of  In a Kingdom by the Sea. It is my book…


July thoughts

July thoughts

This is the world I walk in  at the beginning and end of each day. Whatever happens during the day slips away. Against the backdrop of nature problems assume a perspective.  Within this, I am just a speck. All this will still be here long after I have departed. People ask me why I return to Cornwall in my books. I return because the landscape is as much a part of me as breathing…

Some authors, especially younger ones, are brilliant at promoting their books regularly, wittily, repeatedly, or with businesslike aplomb. I am not one of them.  How little is too little? How much is too much? How to titalate without irritating… So hard, so it was lovely to see Jenni Balow’s piece on my book and  my time in Karachi in Cornwall Today and repeated in The Cornishman last Thursday…

I am already well into my next book. It is a very different story but is again set with the background of Cornwall and Pakistan.

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