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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.

Storm Ophelia

Storm Ophelia

As I write, the wind is wuthering around the house and through the bent, protesting trees, making a noise like a wailing child.   The sea is a frothing mass of white waves, crashing against the rocks and spewing up in great dramatic arcs. I cannot capture the power of the elements on my mobile phone, the camara flattens everything as the strength of the gusts blow me sideways. Small birds have gone to ground and the larger ones are flapping and anxious.

The phone lines were the first thing to go, but miraculously connection is now back. I am woefully unprepared for a sassy storm that did not want to be demoted. I dread the electricity going down as I have a log burner, but I am out of logs and would be wary of lighting an unreliable old stove in these winds.

I only moved a few miles yet I am experiencing weather so much more exaggerated and  extreme than a town house that I might as well have moved to another country.

It is exhilarating to watch a storm raging from a warm, sunny room, behind glass, but I realised, when I only just had the strength to shut the back door against the wind, how terrifying it must be to be caught in a real hurricane. Powerless, small and utterly helpless as your house and possessions are blown to smithereens in seconds.

I live by the sea but I am not (quite) perched on a cliff top totally exposed to the elements, yet this storm has made me realise it is wise to be organised for extreme weather at all times, especially if you live down a long rutted track lined by large trees and you drive a Mini.  Maybe, a permanent stack of logs, milk and bread in the freezer and a little camping gas stove… just in case.

I have delivered my completed book to my editor and I am in that strange post-finishing book trance of slight exhaustion and vague unwillingness to address all those boring domestic tasks that have been on hold- while I await an edit and a fresh pair of eyes…

Books!

I much enjoyed The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson.  (Court Of Lions is on my beside table)

As is, The Lost Estate by Henri Alain-Fournier.

Good Behaviour, by Molly Keen ( A little master class)

I am listening to Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough. It is riveting!

I am loving Travels in a Dervish Cloak by Isambard Wilkinson. It was a present and all the more precious for that.

New books and Bookshops

New books and Bookshops

Jane Johnson gave a great talk last night at Waterstones Truro.  Her fabulous new book Court of Lions is out. The talented staff at Waterstones gave her the most beautiful window display I think I have ever seen.

It was a lovely event. History, intrigue, little Morrocan rose-almond pastries, wine… welcoming staff… and books…

As Jane signed her books I roamed a blissfully empty bookshop. A novel experience! Shelves and shelves of books all to myself. Oh joy. What utter heaven. I circled and circled like an excited magpie while a lovely member of staff tempted me with so many wonders I had to rein myslf in or go bankrupt. There was an amazing selection of nature writing I shall return for, but last night I came home with

Inside The Wave by Helen Dunmore

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson. ( I am already reading Court of Lions)

Cove by Cynan Jones

We returned home in the rain and I fell into my house in the middle of nowhere very happy. Apart from the fact I have had no broadband to post this…

Just to remind any readers, Come Away with Me is on a special Kindle offer of 99p for all July and August.

Come Away With Me

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