Hello – and thank you for inviting me over to Romaniacs. It’s always interesting hearing about everyone’s route to publication. For me, it’s been a winding journey, with several u-turns and road blocks, but I’m a big believer in the saying ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight’ …
Maybe you’re the same – the signs were there early on, writing stories, diaries as a child, being asked to write love and break up letters on the school bus for friends to send to their boyfriends! It was all good practice. I was, and still am, a voracious reader. At school it was the era of ‘Lace’ and ‘A Woman of Substance’ – the well-thumbed romantic bits handed round and read aloud during break time. I think that’s when the seeds of writing sweeping, romantic histfic were sown.
In 1997 I began drafting my first novel after joining a writer’s group in London, ‘Women’s Ink’. We met one evening a week in the basement of Nomad Bookshop in Fulham, and it was a great introduction to writing fast, and getting over any nerves about reading and sharing your work.
I had short stories published, and some editorial, but writing a novel seemed like the ultimate challenge. I used to get up an hour before work to write, balancing the keyboard of the computer on my husband’s sock drawer in the corridor of our flat. The first book took a few years to write – and it was mammoth, nearly 200,000 words (newbie mistake!). It is, needless to say, unpublished, but the best way to learn anything is by doing it yourself, and I learnt a lot.
In 2000, out of the blue, my husband announced he wanted to quit his job and retrain as a pilot. We took the plunge, sold the home we had just finished renovating and moved to rural Spain. I kept on writing, learning and improving – another novel, a screenplay, editorial. I used my rejection letters as kindling. Put it this way – we kept the fire burning constantly during that first winter. It was in Spain that I began researching ‘The Perfume Garden’, about the Spanish Civil War.
With a young and growing family, and working full time, writing had to go on the back burner – but the ambition to write never went away. Some time in 2007 – ten years after starting it, I picked up the first novel and revised it. This led me to signing with a wonderful agent. In 2009 I started a three year MA in Creative Writing – working late at night when the children were asleep. I was also chosen for ITV’s ‘The People’s Author’ contest, and my agent liked the new book I was working on, ‘The Beauty Chorus’.
Success seemed tantalisingly close – then my husband was made redundant just before Christmas when his airline suddenly laid off hundreds of the youngest pilots due to the recession. We were on the move again in 2010 to Qatar – I had to get out the atlas to see exactly where this small country next to Saudi Arabia was.
The night before we left the UK, I had a call from my agent – a publisher was offering a two book deal. So in 2012 after fifteen years, eleven moves, two children, several jobs, and countries I finally achieved a MA and two books published. ‘The Perfume Garden’ has just come out in paperback, and is being translated into several languages this year. A lesson in never giving up on your ambitions, and a fairytale ending – or beginning.
Thanks for having me, and I hope I’ll get a chance to meet you all at an RNA event soon. Now, I’d love to hear your story …
The PerfumeGarden combines the gripping storytelling of Kate Morton with the evocative settings of Victoria Hislop to tell this sumptuous, escapist story of lost love and family secrets set between modern day Valencia and the Spanish Civil War.
High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco’s forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled; the garden, laden with orange blossom, grown wild.
Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed in her mother’s will, she has left her job as London’s leading perfumier to restore this dilapidated villa to its former glory. It is the perfect retreat: a wilderness redolent with strange and exotic scents, heavy with the colours and sounds of a foreign time. But for her grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed here during Spain’s devastating civil war, Emma’s new home evokes terrible memories.
As the house begins to give up its secrets, Emma is drawn deeper into Freya’s story: of crushed idealism, of lost love, and of families ripped apart by war. She soon realises it is one thing to let go of the past, but another when it won’t let go of you.
Thank you so much, Kate, for spending time with The Romaniacs. We wish you all the best for The Perfume Garden.
Romaniacs’, Celia and Laura will be sharing their ‘road to publication’ stories in the near future. As Kate asks, what is your story?