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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.

Book Festivals and Parties

Book Festivals and Parties

June and July have been exciting. In A Kingdom by the Sea is published on the 25th July, but my lovely box of books arrived at the end of June. It is always a special moment, the result of months and months of work, held in the palm of your hand…

There were interviews, the glamorous HarperCollins party at the V&A. (The exquisite Dior exhibition was on and it was fantastic to be able to walk around without crowds to enjoy the mind-blowingly beautiful clothes)  @PenzanceLitfest was happening in the same week so I’m still pretty much buzzing…

On Saturday, I was talking about my book with @JaneJohnsonBakr in the wonderful @morrablibrary, one of my favourite places, full of atmosphere and lovely people. It was a full house and great fun.  Afterwards there was champagne  in a friends garden under the trees…

Here are some wonderful photos of the Dior Exhibition, the Morrab library and Cornwall.

Summer is here!. If you love to be transported to other worlds, In A Kingdom by the Sea is on a special Kindle offer  on Amazon for At HArperCollins Summer Party at the V&A 99p for the whole of July. It will take you to  on a roller coaster ride to Karachi and on long walks down the stunning coastal paths in Cornwall…

The Morrab Library

Christmas, New Year dips, friendship, lovely books and walking.

Christmas, New Year dips, friendship, lovely books and walking.

2017 is sliding to a close. In February I sold my town house and moved to the country. All summer I wrote the first draft of a book and experienced the euphoric highs of being back in the country.

I watched a close friend battle courageously with cancer. I reveled in my first spring here. Walking with a friend through the gorse and hawthorn, exploring the coastal paths, looking down on hidden coves of aquamarine sea; meeting lovely neighbours, making new friends and experiencing a sense of a community.

Summer, although it largely passed me by, as I was working, was wonderful.

I could watch the sun rise at the back of the house in the morning and the sky catch fire and spread ripples of scarlet and gold over the sea at nightfall.

From my windows I could look across the garden and see the sea crashing onto the rocks below me. I could stand in my garden in wonder at the roll and catch of ever changing light on the water, as subtle and abrupt as a mood change.

Out of the corner of my eye I could sometimes spot a big silver fox run along the field wall in the dusk and experience the wonder of looking up at buzzards and sparrow hawks hovering over the fields like exotic shadows

I had to watch a close friend battle courageously with cancer. She came and sat in the garden, delighting in the peace and the view, holding her face up to the sun and to life. We talked of safe things and what we would do when she was better. Her wrists were a child’s and her long thin fingers as fragile as twigs.

Autumn came and the leaves were blown off the trees before their time. My friend lost her battle for life quietly, without fuss. It was how she lived her life. She chose happiness. Every small event was a story, every simple joy a celebration. She was a wonderful Fine Arts Restorer who renovated neglected ancient church panels as well as restoring portraits and paintings. The beat of her life was her beloved music. She went to her choir until she could no longer stand.

Years ago she told me about a small figurehead she was restoring in the old chapel in St Agnes. It had come from a British shipwreck off Newfoundland and ended up in Canada, and now it had been shipped back home to England. She was the bravest person I know.

Fascinated, I drove over to look her sitting in a corner of the chapel with a wild overgrown garden outside. Where had she been, this little figurehead? What was her provenance. My imagination was fired. That is how ANOTHER LIFE was born. I owe that book entirely to my friend and it is dedicated to her. She not only gave me my story, but she was so generous with her expertise for my fictional picture restorer.

Now winter is here. The weather can be bleak and close in like a relentless blanket. Sea mist creeps in with the speed and silence of a snake. It can linger for days shutting the world out and you in. Coastal paths become dangerous and inaccessible. The wind, straight from the sea is unbelievably ferocious. It blows in like an express train and sounds like one. It hurls large plant pots and wooden benches across the garden. It lifts and whooshes doormats into the bushes. It steals into every crack and moans and whirls round the house like a dervish.

Large trees in my garden groan and bend and crack, dead branches fly everywhere. The sky becomes a purple bruise filling the sky. Below me the leaden sea churns and sprays upwards, warning, threatening, taking no prisoners.

I knew my first winter would be challenging as I put a house to rights, and so it has sometimes been. Windows leak, taps fall off, heavy kitchen cupboards fly to the floor narrowly missing me, or the cat.

The new gate, made so heavy I cannot open it in a wind, (there is a real danger of being crushed by it -and death by a gate is not romantic) broke and hung off in the latest storm, swinging and squeaking eerily like the pub sign in Jamaica Inn. Everything needs attention and as I am trying to finish a book, sometimes I quail and crumple.

But, I know that my windows will not always leak. I will have a bathroom with heating. Spring and summer will be round again. I will make a garden. Friends will brave the rutted track and puddles to come again and sit in the sun and walk the paths.

When I take flight going to the dustbin, or aquaplane in my poor, muddy, little mini, through the ruts and puddles, when I wonder what I have done, I look out of my ‘office’ window, past the red and pink camellia bushes to the sea shimmering or boiling below me, and, in the silence and peace of a life I have chosen, I know exactly why I am here.

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