I’m writing this with the soundtrack of ‘We Are Family’ playing in my head. A couple of months ago, the amazing human dynamo that is our Catherine Miller wrote a lovely post on here about how the Romaniacs have been having a series of ups and downs, and are in a phase of new beginnings. I’m not going to make lists here but some of the ups are…well, pretty uppish! The lows for some have also been spectacular and even bumping along in the middle lane has sometimes been a challenge.
For that reason, today’s LCOAW isn’t detailed – it’s just a celebration of a friendship group that’s standing the test of time with flying colours and never fails to be supportive, warm and not a little bonkers.
The month of June was one looong rollercoaster ride. I got an email from my super-top-best-agent-in-the-world Juliet Mushens the day I arrived back from holiday, saying she thought The Murder House was ready to go out on submission.
I’ve waited a long time for this moment – I’ve written the book, re-written the book, edited it, re-edited it. I’ve veered from optimism (hey – this is not bad!) to pessimism (this is the worst book ever written) many, many times. I was ready for it to go out there, but also terrified. Because this was it, wasn’t it? All those months of work and planning, this was it. It could all be over in a few weeks, or all about to begin.
It went out on submission in the UK and internationally the Friday after I returned from holiday. I didn’t know when responses would begin coming in, but by the Monday, I had no nails left to bite, I’d drunk ten million coffees and was checking my emails every five seconds.
First responses came in the early part of the week and… people were liking it! They were actually liking my book!! I tentatively said to my husband that I was starting to think this might really happen… Juliet set up conference calls with US editors, which were both terrifying and exhilarating.
By the end of that first week, I knew that more than one editor was offering and that The Murder House would be going to auction, in the UK and also in Germany.
All the years I’ve dreamed about getting The Call, I always imagined one call, one bottle of celebratory champagne. I didn’t expect two weeks of calls and emails about acquisitions meetings, conference calls, meetings with editors in The Groucho, UK offers, European offers… It was crazy. Insane. Beyond all my wildest dreams. I think when the first offer came in, my husband and I sat around in a daze for about an hour, doing little but muttering ‘Oh my God’ and laughing (and drinking champagne of course.)
The official call from Juliet came on a Friday afternoon, two weeks after the initial submission. I had a two book deal with Little, Brown. The Murder House is going to be published by Sphere in the UK and Grand Central Publishing in the US. It will come out in hardback simultaneously in the UK and US in early 2019 as a lead title, paperback later in the year. German rights were sold at auction to Droemer, and Czech, Polish and French rights have also been sold.
I am beyond thrilled. Beyond excited. I’ve laughed, cried, drunk a million bottles of champagne and basically celebrated every night since getting the news. And the best thing of all… this is only the start.
Well, it’s been something of a struggle the last couple of months on the writing front. I’ve been working on my structural edits for my next book, The Birthday Girl, which involved cutting out 40k words – very nearly half the book. I had taken a gamble on part of the plot where I introduced a police enquiry and to be blunt, it didn’t pay off. I couldn’t quite capture what I was trying to achieve. At several points, I wasn’t sure cutting so much out was doing the right thing and my confidence took something of a dip. I began to question my wisdom with the big changes I had made but, at the same time, knew not making those changes would produce a book that no-one would be happy with.
I did at one point wish I hadn’t started writing the book at all and that I could shove it in the bottom drawer and never look at it again. However, in reality, that wasn’t an option. I had to work out how I could rewrite it so it was more me and more the sort of book I like to write and read.
I had lots of support from my publishers, editor, agent and not least my family, who have all been very patient and understanding. I worked out how I could bring the focus back onto my main characters and with a certain amount of uncertainty I rewrote 40k words, the outcome being 94k words which I was much happier with. It felt like my book when I sent it back to my editor.
At this point, I’m still waiting for her feedback so I have my fingers crossed that she will like what I’ve done. I think there will be some more work needed on it before we move onto the next round of edits but nothing on the scale of the first round.
There have been lots of brighter moments, of course, not least seeing the Hungarian covers of Sister Sister and The Girl Who Lied and foreign rights for both books selling in six countries. Penguin Germany made an offer and wanted a response by midday, which happened to be the day I was out and about and hadn’t checked my emails. My agent had to text me and tell me to look at my emails – urgently!
I also saw a ‘shelfie’ of Sister Sisterin Target stores in America. I knew it was going into the stores but actually seeing a picture made it seem real. So, thank you to the lovely book blogger who took the time to tag me on Instagram for that. Again, through Instagram, I was tagged in a post from a book club based in Houston who read my book and had a great discussion about sisters and families. It’s wonderful when you hear things like that and it’s the biggest thrill I get from writing.
I’m heading off to Italy next week with my lovely Romaniac pals, Laura and Catherine, for a writing retreat headed up by Sue Moorcroft at Arte Umbria. It was my intention to get the first draft of my next book completed but with the way things have gone with the edits, it’s not a realistic ambition but I’m hoping to get a good chunk of it written anyway. I’m very much looking forward to spending time with other writers, which always has a positive impact on my own output. The prosecco and location, well, I’ll have to suffer those for my art!
It doesn’t sit neatly in a genre. Even a couple of the reviews have said as much. In fact, Olive would like to believe she’s a genre in herself.
“The book was a cosy hilarious feel good mystery if that could be a genre.” Kim the Bookworm
“This book is a whole lot of fun and as I was reading it, I found that I enjoyed it more because it’s not like anything I usually read. Of course the traits are still the same – a strong lead character, troubled pasts, plenty of friendship and frolics, but there was no need to categorise this and try and make a genre out of it. It was simply highly entertaining, and reading it was a great way to spend a day with a big smile on my face.” Sophie Headley – Book Drunk
But sometimes, the idea, the notion of the story is so strong you have to go with it, especially when your editor and agent encourage you just on the back of a blurb:
When Olive Turner’s son pushes her into a retirement home several years too early, she isn’t going to fade away to oblivion like he wants.
She sets about proving that the residents of Oakley West Retirement Quarters aren’t finished yet by turning her beach hut into The Gin Shack Club. But word soon spreads about the secret weekly meetings and everybody on Westbrook beach wants to become a gin connoisseur. The secret club becomes a legitimate business possibility, but are the residents of Oakley West too long in the tooth to pull it off? Or is it about time life began at eighty-four?
A story of friendship, defiance, and the quest for the perfect gin and tonic.
I’d sent two story ideas to my editor, both good ideas, both ones she was happy for me to write. The other story (I’ll write it one day) was in similar vein to my first two books and The Gin Shack was a wild card. Victoria was happy to support me with whichever one I chose, but I’m pretty sure there was a glint in her eye for gin.
I ended up having a phone conversation with my agent, Hattie Grunewald, to come up with an action plan of what I should do. Having not written a word of the book yet, I wasn’t sure I could do it justice. My first two books are emotional reads with an element of romance. This was completely different. We decided I should write the first chapter and see if it was something I could manage. So, I did. And I have never enjoyed writing a chapter so much and it didn’t take long for the rest of the story to follow.
And it was exactly that. The story led (Olive is a character) and I followed.
We never intended to break the rules. We didn’t mean to get rebellious, but sometimes the story leads you and as Sophie said “there is no need to categorise this.” It’s just the metadata guys I feel sorry for.
So, yeah, break the rules. Don’t conform. Go ahead and #BeMoreOlive
This usually Midlands-based Romaniac was out and about recently – seven days in the big city with RNA meetings and the summer party thrown in. Pretty exciting for a person who normally lives mainly in the thick of charity shops and card emporiums, you might say. But not only was it fun – the week away was a timely means of stepping out of my comfort zone and getting ready for the next writing chapter. A kick start was needed, in a very big way. Here are seven things I noticed, visiting the hub:
The RNA Summer Party is still a brilliant place to catch up with old friends and make new ones, and the committee meetings and AGM are NOT ONE BIT SCARY AT ALL. The welcome is warm, the Joan Hessayon Award is always a lovely tribute from a caring husband to a lady who believed strongly in the NWS and the short listed books are of a very high quality. Choosing a winner must be hellish. Dr Hessayon buys fizz too, every year. Congratulations to Kate Field – a worthy winner – The Magic of Ramblings is fab.
Sometimes, if you’re patient, surprising things happen. Tower Bridge opened for us (I’m assuming that was the reason) and I saw Stephen Fry in the very flesh (Yes, the real live Stephen Fry) just being his normal lovely self in Waterstones. I’d like to say I rushed up and wowed him with my witty banter but actually it wasn’t quite like that. Anyway, nobody fell over or burped or anything.
I CAN wear big shoes. It’s just…not for long.
Visiting places you’ve mostly seen on a Monopoly board is never going to get boring.
Maps are amazing – tube plans, guide books about Hidden London, street signs. I love them all. You have to have them the right way up though. Just saying.
A foxy new note book and pen is often all you need to spark off a brand new book. Or two in this case. #worryingbrainoverload
Going home is sad, but coming back is even more fun. In fact, I’ll be in the big city very soon. So all good. Just hope Stephen gets the memo.
Earlier this year, my lovely publisher Choc Lit announced they were off on tour and would be hosting events at various libraries around the country. On offer was an afternoon of author talks, Q&A sessions, fun quizzes, goody bags, a chance for aspiring authors to pitch their manuscripts to a Choc Lit editor. Oh, and plenty of choccies!
When I heard that one of the events would be in Southampton, not on my doorstep, but a place I can get to by train direct from East Croydon, I was tempted to volunteer to be part of the author panel, but couldn’t see past my morbid fear of public speaking. I slept on it, talked to Mr B and as much as the thought of it gave me palpitations, a lingering ripple of excitement in my tummy told me I should go for it; that it would be good for me.
So I fired off an email to the Choc Lit team and before I could bottle out, booked my train ticket.
No backing out now, Jan, I thought.
I was Southampton-bound.
Alongside me on the panel would be my fellow Romaniac, Laura James, who has written three books for Choc Lit, and Evonne Wareham and Liv Thomas (who writes under the name of Isabella Connor) – both ladies having published two books each. We’d be required to chat about our routes to publication and about our books themselves.
Hideously nervous, I put together some notes, both detailed and bullet-pointed. Laura had given me a great tip to use highlighter pens for buzz words and phrases.
Other advice I received, all of which I was hugely grateful for, was as follows:
Remember to breathe properly. Might sound obvious, but when I was practising my read-through, this was something Mr B picked up on, along with my habit of saying “Erm!” after nearly every sentence.
It’s fine to slow things down if you feel yourself wanting to canter through it. It also gives you a chance to scan your notes if using them for reference as I did.
Keep your focus on your audience soft as you begin, until you settle into your rhythm, rather than trying to gain eye-contact with too many people too quickly.
Be yourself. Smile. If you fluff a line, clam up or laugh inappropriately, it will be forgiven. You’re human. It’s your first time.
All of these tips proved invaluable, as did the public speaking/confidence hypnotherapy recordings my best friend sent me which I found really relaxing. Not for everyone, granted, but they did help me to focus on the ‘can do’ rather than ‘can’t’.
I also drew comfort from my own memories of attending these types of events, sitting in the audience with my pad and pen, taking precious notes and listening to authors talk about their books and feeling so pleased that I’d gone along, as I learned so much. If I could in any way encourage the aspiring authors among our audience and convey to the readers and bloggers among us how very grateful we are for their time and support, it had to be worth all my doubts and fears, didn’t it?
And so off I set, armed with my wad of notes, caught my train to Southampton, which another of my lovely fellow Romaniacs, Sue Fortin, hopped on en-route as she was coming along to the event. We then bumped into Laura at the station and the three of us went for lunch, with both Sue and Laura doing everything they could to ease my last-minute jitters, having both given author talks themselves.
This nice plateful of food helped …
When we arrived at the venue, the rest of the Choc Lit team welcomed us. I donned my T-shirt and after a lovely meet and greet session, we began our talk.
I heard the quiver in my voice as I began, was conscious of flapping my hands about a bit. I remembered everything I’d been told, though, and managed to engage the audience. We had a few laughs and talked about funny research memories and everyone on the panel had a different aspect and angle which gave the talk balance. I can’t deny I let out a long internal “Phew!” when my turn was over, but if I’m honest, I loved it and felt very proud that I’d seen it through.
We then had a fun quiz, lots of interacting and more laughter and the whole event was professionally organised and wonderfully informal. We had some fantastic feedback and even managed to sell a few books. The chocolates kept coming throughout and it was great to meet so many of the people I speak to online.
Thank you to everyone at Choc Lit, readers, bloggers, writers and Southampton Library for helping to make my first author talk such an enjoyable, memorable experience.
Should anyone be interested in future Choc Lit library events, have a peep here Choc Lit on Tour for ticket info and notice of who will be in attendance.
In the run up to my publication day on Friday, things have been manic – juggling university coursework and study, writing guest posts for my blog tour, promoting the book on various social media platforms, working at my local special needs school… it was relentless.
However, all the stress and sleepless nights were forgotten the moment the clock ticked past midnight, signalling the start of Friday May 5th…PUBLICATION DAY!
It was a scary feeling – it still is! I knew people were going to be reading my story, but nothing prepares you for that moment when you receive messages from both people you know, and people you don’t, telling you they have started reading your book. Will they like it? Will they hate it? Will they give me a bad review? Will they just not bother reviewing it at all? Will they think I am wasting my time… all these thoughts and more have been circling my mind for weeks and there is no sign of them letting up. But, I guess, this is just part of being a writer. I need to learn to accept the compliments (which is harder than it sounds when you are so self critical of your work) and grow a thick skin for those criticisms, because, lets face it, there will be plenty of those too.
So what did I do for publication day? Well, I indulged the whole day on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… all of them. Talking to my friends and feeling the pride wash over me as I listened to their wonderful words of praise and support. I was so surprised at the sheer amount of support I received on Friday. I knew the writing community was like no other, but I just didn’t expect such a huge network of praise and encouragement on that day. It was amazing – thank you to everyone who was part of my special day.
In the evening I hosted a live Q&A over on Harper Impulse’s Facebook page – please do pop over and take a look if you’re interested (There are two video’s as my phone decided to crash after 10 minutes! The wonders of technology!)
And of course, there was champagne!
The following day I held a small party at my house for my close friends and family and we celebrated in style with champagne, curry, chilli, jacket potatoes, Sambuca, music and disco lights! It was amazing! My friends and family were so generous with their gifts for me and my husband gave a little speech as he toasted me and it meant so much because, anyone who knows my husband knows he is not one for public speaking or showing his affection. I think the champagne helped him out 🙂
And now It is the following week and I have just yesterday started my blog tour. So please do take a look at my guest posts over the next week or so and I hope you enjoy reading them.
What a surreal few days it has been.
I can’t believe I finally did it … I published a book.