Monday – Lunedì – the day of the moon…

How apt that this Monday, my guest should be publishing her debut novel: Under the Light of the Italian Moon

I’m delighted to introduce you to an Italian/American lady who has spent many years recording the true story of her relatives in northern Italy, and turning her research into a passionate novel. Please welcome Jennifer Anton.

Angela, grazie mille for having me on your wonderful blog! You are a star!

The pleasure is all mine, Jennifer. Honestly, I can’t tell you how excited I am for you on publication day, Also, fittingly, World Women’s Day 2021.

Tell me, how did you begin your book?

I began my book with no idea what I was doing. It was a research project out of curiosity about my Italian grandmother’s life. She told me a story once that I wanted to learn more about. I had many questions for her, but she died before having time to answer them all. That began a journey of searching for the answers through family members in the U.S., Canada and Italy and reading everything about WWII and Mussolini I could get my hands on.

Where did you get your ideas from?

In doing my research, I discovered so many interesting facts and stories that aligned to paint a picture of what the women in my family’s lives were like during the rise of fascism and WWII. These facts and stories fed more questions, which fed my imagination. Trying to get into the head of a woman who is the daughter of a strong-willed midwife under a fascist dictatorial regime interested me. The long-distance love story of a woman in Italy with her lover abroad spoke to my imagination. In the fourteen years that I wrote the book, my development as a wife, daughter and mother informed the work. Things happened to my friends, both happy and devastating, and I saw how they coped. I observed all of this and fed it into the pages.

How did the ideas arrive in your head?

The ideas came from the mixture of stories and facts. I spoke with over eight people who had lived through the 1930s and 1940s in Italy. Some left, emigrating to Canada and the U.S., others continued living in Fonzaso. They shared details about the Nazi atrocities that took place there. I walked around the cemetery and visited the monuments to the fallen. The stories, the history, the facts all came together.

How long did it take you to complete the book?

It took me fourteen years to write my novel. I’ve had to learn everything: not just about the book, but how to write, plot, line edit, and how to figure out what the story is truly about. It was all new. I’ve learned so much and loved it all. My first novel has been a journey—a chaotic joy that has been like a friend—always there in the background waiting for me. In the end, the novel needed to take fourteen years. It wouldn’t be what it is if it had taken less. I hope my next one doesn’t take that long!

I adore this cover. I know it was created from one of your own photos. Awesome! I hate to use a pun, but it seems to me that your book has been one long labour of love. I wish you every success with its birth today. Congratulations!

May you find joy and inspiration in the pages you read this month! Cento baci! Jennifer

Jennifer’s bio: Jennifer Anton is an American/Italian dual citizen born in Joliet, Illinois, and now lives between London and Lake Como, Italy. A proud advocate for women’s rights and equality, she hopes to rescue women’s stories from history, starting with her Italian family.

Under the Light of the Italian Moon is her first novel, based on the lives of her Italian grandmother and great grandmothers during the rise of fascism and World War II.

Preorder the novel on Amazon: www.getbook.at/Janton
Preorder the novel on BarnesandNoble: https://bit.ly/3n1nDqC
Connect with Jennifer on Instagram www.instagram.com/boldwomanwriting
Connect with Jennifer on Facebook www.facebook.com/jenniferantonauthorpage
Join her mailing list at www.boldwomanwriting.com


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First Monday of the month…

A pinch and a punch? March 1st? I think not. I’m starting gently this week. My lovely author friend this Monday is Carol Thomas , fellow Apricot Plotter and published by Ruby Fiction. She’s had a rough time recently and doesn’t need any more punches. xxxx

Over to Carol:

Whole, fully-formed story ideas don’t come to me easily. I wish they did. Especially at the moment when I know, I should be writing. But having very recently lost my dear mum, I can’t settle and get started. I think it would be a comfort if I could do it, to lose myself in it, but perhaps my mind doesn’t want me to escape the rawness of my true feelings at the moment.

In the past, I have found that inspiration can strike from a single situation or sentence; I used to sit in cafes, hear a snippet of conversation, and it would set my imagination going. How we all miss sitting in cafes and people watching!

However, the idea for my novel Maybe Baby, released in paperback on February 23rd, came from the fact I had more I wanted to explore with previous characters. Writing Maybe Baby, the sequel to The Purrfect Pet Sitter (the first in the Lisa Blake series of books) was fun and interesting. I already knew my characters well, and so I could put them in new and challenging situations as they embarked on their lives together. You could say, the inspiration was born out of curiosity. I have often wondered what happens after the happy ever after / or content, for now, moment in romance stories. Maybe, as I have already mentioned people watching, I am naturally nosey!

Starting the story, I picked up where I left off, but of course, my characters had already been on a journey in the first novel, and so I had to have them ready to start a new one. I enjoyed that, especially as I was writing about characters (two couples) in established, happy relationships. It was refreshing, and the ideas came to me quickly, especially once I embarked on research. I am not always a plotter, but as the story involved a pregnancy, I had to make sure every date and milestone fitted completely. I’d never written to such a detailed spreadsheet before. It probably helped the book get written quickly; it was completed and released in ebook and audio within a year.

Carol went on a writing retreat in Umbria

During that time, I also spent a week on a writing retreat in Umbria, with Sue Moorcroft, who has an amazing work ethic. With her as inspiration, I got a big section of the book written.

I have tried working to a spreadsheet again since and strayed somewhat. I think I would describe my style as a plotter who, once writing, then forgets they have been a plotter and becomes a pantser!

My latest novel, coming out with Choc Lit later this year, was inspired by something that happened while volunteering in a charity shop. Someone had donated a photograph album, but in it was a picture of a couple with a baby. That inspired me to write a story about a charity shop worker who receives a donation that unlocks secrets about her past. The title is currently, It’s All About You – but these things sometimes change so we will have to wait and see. Whatever it is called in the end, I’m looking forward to sharing it.

Thank you for having me on your lovely blog.

It’s a real pleasure, Carol. Your new book sounds intriguing. I love charity shops too. Looking forward to reading it.

Carol Thomas lives on the south coast of England with her husband, four children and lively Labrador. She has been a primary school teacher for over twenty years and has a passion for reading, writing and people watching. When she is not in school, chasing after her children, or stopping her dog from eating things he shouldn’t, she can ordinarily be found volunteering for Cancer Research UK or loitering in cafes drinking too much tea and working on her next book.

Maybe Baby:

Just when you thought you had it all worked out …


Best friends Lisa and Felicity think – maybe, just maybe – they finally have everything sorted out in their lives.


Lisa is in a happy relationship with her old flame, and busy mum Felicity has managed to reignite the passion with her husband, Pete, after a romantic getaway.


But when Lisa walks in on a half-naked woman in her boyfriend’s flat and Felicity is left reeling from a shocking discovery, it becomes clear that life is nothing but full of surprises!

Buying Links:

Amazon: http://getbook.at/MBAmazon

Ruby Fiction: https://www.rubyfiction.com/dd-product/maybe-baby/

Website:

Facebook:

Twitter: http://twitter.com/carol_thomas2

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/carol_thomas2/

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Monday blues – and greens, brocades, gold, silver…

My guest this week is Kathryn Gauci. She frequently posts beautiful images of costumes, interiors, textiles and antiques which take me to another place. So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that this author has a background in textiles. I read The Carpet Weaver of Usak during lockdown and so enjoyed being taken away by the characters and places she wove for me.

Over to Kathryn:

Thank you for inviting me on your blog, Angela. Because of my background as a textile designer, I always think in images. The words come later. As a writer of WWII among other things, as you are, the imagery is combined with knowing the area well and hearing the stories. I always think it’s like walking with ghosts: being familiar with the area seeps into your bones. You smell the fragrance of the countryside and imagine the food that was cooked by maquisades in the ruins of the homes, and much more. Touching the senses through food, sounds and smell is vital in giving heart to a novel. It rekindles memories. This has happened in all of my WWII books, but particularly the latest, The Secret of the Grand Hôtel du Lac, which was inspired by the Resistance in the Jura and the area around the Swiss Alps. I was alone for much of my research time and it fired by imagination as to just how hard it was for the maquisards to survive and move about in the terrain – even more so for escapees.

The Jura Forest
Lookout near the Swiss border where many maquisards lost their lives in WWII

Apart from actually being there, art is a huge inspiration. This was especially so in my Asia Minor novels like The Embroiderer. Orientalist painting played a big part in trying to get the décor and clothing. I never stop looking at art. Looking at old photography was also important. My current WIP is a WWII novel set on a Greek island and a painting inspired that. When I saw it, I had no idea where it would take me, but it touched me. My next step was to make a rough storyboard.

Girl with Two Caged Doves by John Frederick Lewis on left. On the upper right: The Quayside of Smyrna (lzmir) prior to the Great Fire in 1922 and below right: Preliminary Presentation Board for WIP The Blue Dolphin

And then there is music. I always play music related to the period while writing the story. With my Asia Minor novels, it was the oud, and other oriental sounds. One of my books, Seraphina’s Song, is completely inspired by music. Rebetika and Smyrniot songs played in the hashish dens and tavernas of 1920’s and 30’s Piraeus. Which brings me to another source of inspiration – films! Never on Sunday and the Greek film, Stella, were inspirational for Seraphina’s Song.

Cinema is a wonderful inspiration –, especially Film Noir, for mood and the pacing of a story. I can think of countless films that have inspired me for WWII, including The Third Man which had a profound effect on me as I later went to live and work in Vienna. I aim to try and evoke that mood for my next book which is set there.

Thank you so much, Kathryn, for inspiring us on this Monday morning. I have The Secret of the Grand Hotel du Lac on my kindle and look forward to reading it.

Bio

Kathryn Gauci was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where she specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, she spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia. Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years, work which she enjoyed tremendously as it allowed her the luxury of travelling worldwide, often taking her off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. Since then, she has gone on to become an international bestselling author. Code Name Camille, written as part of The Darkest Hour Anthology: WWII Tales of Resistance, became a USA TODAY Bestseller in the first week of publication.

Links:

Website: https://www.kathryngauci.com/the-books/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006545417928

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/KGauciAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KathrynGauci

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathryngauci/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kathryn-gauci-409a638b/

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Monday, Monday, so good to me…

as the song by the Momas and Papas goes.

Today on #Motivation Monday is the turn of Angela Barton. Feast your eyes on these covers:

I am proud to say that Angela has used part of my review for some of her ads about my favourite book: Arlette’s Story Set in World War 2, there is the most moving chapter describing an actual massacre that took place in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane.

Small wonder, having read Angela’s beautiful descriptions, that she is also a talented creative. I hope this modest lady won’t mind me bigging up some of her clever hand-crafted work to be found on NEEDLEPULLINGTHREAD.CO.UK

Anyway, back to today’s business. Yipee and hip hip hooray – Angela has started another book and I chatted to her about how she embarks on a new writing project.

Hello Angela. Thank you so much for inviting me to join your weekly blog on how authors start their books. Actually, this is very good timing as I’m writing Chapter 1 of my fifth novel, which has a working title of, The Mountains Wept.

How did I start it? Well, I knew I wanted to write a third book set in France during WW2. One of my previous novels was set in the city of Paris and the second in the countryside of southwest France. I wanted a different landscape for this book, so I chose the foothills of the Pyrenees.

 Once I’d decided on the location, I look for factual events that happened during the war in that place. I don’t give my characters an easy time! I chose the perilous journeys made by exhausted and injured airmen and refugees as they tried to escape over the mountains while being hunted by the Germans.
When I established the theme of my book, I began reading fiction, non-fiction, books on mountaineering, diaries, online articles on escape lines and safe houses, watched films, documentaries etc. Reading not only gives me lots of information, but it also puts me in the frame of mind of a passeur (mountain guide) and my imagination and storylines build from there.
When I’ve thought of the main story arc and smaller arcs (that keeps the drama unfolding) I need to build a cast. I find it easier to establish what’s going to happen before I invent people to fill the pages. I suppose it’s a bit like being a casting director!
 I start a Pinterest board with images of my characters, setting, story ideas and especially my hero. It’s tough work ploughing through so many images of handsome men, but it needs to be done! I keep adding to the board while writing. 
 https://www.pinterest.co.uk/abarton3862/novel-5-image-board/
  Next I’ll draw a sketch of the village and surrounding land so I can refer to it and know I’m sending my characters in the right direction and passing consistent landmarks. In this sketch I like to add interesting features like a dilapidated moulin à vent, caves, grottos, shepherds’ huts and water of some description.
Then it’s time to get writing. As I write each chapter I jot on a piece of paper the chapter number, a sentence or two about the chapter’s storyline, which character is involved and the timeline. This helps with continuity, and if I want to add something to a particular chapter, I don’t have to scroll through the novel looking for a particular scene.
I continue reading books of the same genre throughout the time spent writing. They inspire me and help with my imagination.
 I’ve written a book in three months (You’ve Got My Number) but one has also taken me a year (Arlette’s Story). I don’t have a set routine for writing, but try to do some every day. It really depends what’s going on in my life. There’s nothing better that experiencing that feeling of being in the ‘zone’ while writing; it’s as if I’m inside my story living amongst new friends.

Thanks so much, Angela for sharing your methods. I love that idea for a map. And I also understand totally that great feeling when you’re in the “zone” and you feel as if you are living amongst friends. Good luck with this new book. Can’t wait to read it.

Author bio

Angela Barton was born in London and grew up in Nottingham. She is married with three grown up children and adorable six-year-old twin granddaughters. She is passionate about writing both contemporary and historical fiction and loves time spent researching for her novels. In 2018 Angela signed publishing contracts for three of her completed novels.

In addition to writing, Angela also relaxes by making landscapes using free motion sewing on a machine. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a reader for their New Writers’ Scheme. Angela is also a member of Nottingham Writers’ Studio, the Society of Authors and Ellipses and Ampersands’ fiction critique group.

Find out more about Angela with these links, and buy her books here:

Arlette’s Story: amzn.to/2lAyIlb

Magnolia House: smarturl.it/fttfc2

You’ve Got My Number: http://amzn.to/35Q19jB

Website and blog: https://www.angelabarton.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorangela.barton.3/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/angebarton

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Inspiration behind starting. Jane Cable on #MotivationMonday

Another Monday in lockdown and I talk to another author about the inspiration behind a new story. Meet friend and author, Jane Cable. I love all her books.

Every book starts with an empty page. It sounds obvious when you think about it, but that huge expanse of whiteness is one of the single biggest things that stops would-be authors in their tracks. But for me it has always been inspiration over motivation; once I have the idea I just have to write.

Thinking back to how I started the first full length manuscript I would go on to finish, it began with idle musing, as I watched the England cricket team parade around The Oval after winning The Wisden Trophy at The Oval in 2004. And I thought… what would it like to be the new girlfriend of one of the squad watching this happen, and feeling like a fish out of water? 250,000 unpublishable words later, I knew.

My next four novels were all inspired by a place. The house my husband and I bought in Yorkshire yet never managed to live in; a fairy tree on the banks of the River Hamble; beautiful Studland Bay in Dorset and, most recently for Endless Skies, the empty blue vastness above northern Lincolnshire.

But a place alone is not enough – people need to live there too. And those people must have compelling stories to tell. There are times I have been well into a first, or even second, draft, before I really know what that story is. Take Another You ; I had been writing about Marie and her trials and tribulations as she tried to break free of her abusive marriage for a while. It was only when I researched more about the history of Studland that the World War Two element fell into place and the story felt complete.

Now I have a publisher, writing organically is no longer possible, because I need to provide an outline of the book for them to decide whether or not they wish to acquire it. Characters, settings, plots, all need to be set out in advance of even starting to write – although I do always say that things may change as I go along. Sometimes, well, quite a lot of times, the characters are too strong to ignore.

My next book, which will be available to pre-order from Sapere Books in the spring, was written in this way. Timeslips were selling well for their authors (indeed, many authors) and Sapere is known for Regency, so that got me thinking. Plus I wanted to write a book set in my new home county of Cornwall… and Regency in Cornwall has more than a whiff of Poldark about it. Brooding scenery, mine owners – and in the present-day story, abandoned mines – came together in what I hope readers will find a thrilling romantic mystery.

Looking down at Wheal Coates

So as an author your inspiration – and the way you write – can change over the course of your career. But the day that I stop waking up aching to get on with my story will be the day I question whether I am doing the right thing.

Jane Cable writes romance with a hint of ghostly mystery. Follow Jane on Twitter @JaneCable or find out more on her website www.janecable.com, where you can also sign up to her newsletter. If you do decide to subscribe, mention Angela in your email to be entered into a prize draw to win one of Jane’s books.

Thank you, Jane, for chatting to us about your writing. We are learning and growing with our writing all the time. Rather than finding that daunting, to me, it is all positive. May it never stop.

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Five on Friday with Angela Petch @Angela_Petch

What fun it was to appear on this blog – thank you so much, Jill for letting me spend time in your book cafe. xxx

Jill's Book Cafe

This week I’m delighted to feature author Angela Petch. Angela is an award-winning and bestselling writer of fiction – plus the occasional poem.

Every summer she moves to Tuscany for six months where she and her husband own a renovated watermill which they let out. When not exploring their unspoilt corner of the Apennines, she disappears to her writing desk at the top of a converted stable. In her Italian handbag or hiking rucksack she always makes sure to store notebook and pen to jot down ideas.

The winter months are spent in Sussex where most of her family live. When Angela’s not helping out with grandchildren, she catches up with writer friends.

Over to Angela,

This was the most difficult question to answer as I listen to so much music and have quite an eclectic taste.

I find Ludovico Einaudi so relaxing to listen to, and of course, he…

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Motivation Monday with Caroline James

I don’t know about you, but I feel I’ve trudged through January. Lockdown seems never ending. I’ve enjoyed some fantastic walks, albeit very muddy, but I have to admit to feeling a little muddy in my brain, dragging the words out to write a new book.

But, it’s never too late to kickstart, so I’m inviting fellow authors to chat about how they go about writing their new books. I hope we can pick up a few ideas along the way.

This week, I’m welcoming fellow RNA author, Caroline James.

Angela, thank you for inviting me to chat about writing. I am thrilled to join you and your readers.

You’re very welcome. I hope we get to meet each other soon in real life at the next RNA Conference. Tell me, how do you begin your books?

When beginning a new book, I buy a big A4 notebook, with tabs and plastic folders. This is my ‘book bible.’ At the back, I list the chapter page numbers and word count, which helps me see a rhythm. My chapters tend to have similar word counts, which isn’t deliberate, it just seems to happen. Any research quotes, notes, pictures or information go in the folders in sections. At the front is a chapter-by-chapter analysis, then the characters and their backgrounds. Finally, as I write, I list by page number and brief detail, any points that need picking up further on in the book.

I use a journal for each novel

I have tried to use writing aides such as Scrivener, but I much prefer a hard copy version of my own. It’s tactile and useful for research if writing a series.

Where do you get your ideas from?

From life and people watching. If you were to sit down and write a bucket list of things that you have done, I am sure you will have experiences that can be the framework for a story. For example, a holiday may create a destination scene. You know it well, so why not write about it? Change the names and fill the picture with words and your story has begun.

A holiday may inspire a story

How do the ideas arrive in your head?

My ideas begin set in stone, but as I write they shoot off, like the branches on a tree and I very often have no idea where they are taking me. Which is fun, like telling myself a story. I plot initially then let my imagination have free fall and by the time I’m halfway I know exactly where the book is going and it tends to gain momentum and write itself.

What is your routine?

In Lockdown my routine has changed to fit in with my new working life. I am at my desk by 7.30 am to work on client’s social media accounts and whatever projects need my attention in my husband’s business. I mentor several authors through www.thepublishhub.com so spend time with them. Next, I work on my own social media and admin, which can be anything from writing food and recipes, or book related articles, to arranging bookings and content for online talks, which have replaced my public speaking engagements during lockdown.

Wow, Caroline! Such a tidy desk. I wish…

Ideally, at lunch time, I cycle or walk Fred, our Westie, then settle down to continue work on my current novel. Nothing is set in stone though and this routine often changes.

How long does it take you to complete a book?

My first novels were written and edited in a year, that seemed to be the way I liked to work, fitting writing in between my day-to-day consultancy work. Last year I wrote and edited two books and would like to think that I am speedier now but won’t hold my breath. Life has an unexpected way of throwing irons in the fire that can upset the writing flow.

Happy reading and writing everyone xx

Caroline, many thanks for dropping by. I admire your work ethic. We all know that a book does not write itself. Good luck with whatever you are doing next.

Caroline’s bio:

Best-selling author of women’s fiction, Caroline James has owned and run businesses encompassing all aspects of the hospitality industry, a subject that often features in her novels. She is based in the UK but has a great fondness for travel and escapes whenever she can.

A public speaker, which includes talks and lectures on cruise ships world-wide, Caroline is also a consultant and food writer. She is a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association, the Society of Women’s Writer’s & Journalists and the Society of Authors and writes articles and short stories, contributing to many publications. Caroline also runs writing workshops.

In her spare time, Caroline can be found walking up a mountain with her two Westie dogs, sipping raspberry gin or relaxing with her head in a book and hand in a box of chocolates.

Books by Caroline James:

Hattie Goes to Hollywood

Boomerville at Ballymegille

The Best Boomerville Hotel

Coffee Tea the Gypsy & Me

Coffee Tea the Chef & Me

Coffee Tea the Caribbean & Me

Jungle Rock

Contact:

www.carolinejamesauthor.co.uk

Twitter: @CarolineJames12

Facebook: Caroline James Author

Amazon Author Page

See you next Monday, everyone, for another motivational chat.

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When you’re inspired…

Many moons ago, when my three children began to be less dependent, I embarked on a Creative Writing Course with the Open College of the Arts. I had always wanted to find space to write and I loved every assignment.

At about the same time, I read East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. I lcouldn’t put it down, and decided to write to the author. I was more than delighted when Julia replied and we’ve swapped a few e mails over the years. I revealed that my dream was to write a book and she was so encouraging.

I love all her work and am delighted to have here on my blog today. The writing community is so special: the way authors share tips and are so approachable. Julia read my first novel (which back in 2012 was called Never Forget and was in dire need of a good edit or two. Nevertheless, she gave a copy to her own publisher. It wasn’t accepted – it took a few more years before I found Bookouture, who helped me polish up The Tuscan Secret.

Anyway, enough about me.

Let me introduce you to Julia Gregson

 I love your work, Julia, and I wrote to you more than ten years ago after having read “East of the Sun”. You were so encouraging and told me how a group of you, (not so very young ladies) met in a pub regularly to chat about writing. And you told me not to give up. If you only had one piece of advice for a would-be writer, what would it be?

I would still say the same thing. Don’t give up – look what happened to you!

I would add patience. I have a quote by the Danish writer, Isak Dinesen on my noticeboard: “I write every day without hope without fear.”  If you expect quick results you will be frustrated. Luck and timing will play their part, but perseverance is key.

It’s worth confessing here I am both fearful and impatient. It’s funny you mention, ‘East of the Sun’, because only last week, during a lockdown clear out of cupboards, I found a diary I was writing at the same time.  I opened it on a page where I told myself the book was a disaster- best thing would be to chuck the whole thing in the river and give up.

I’d been so happy with East of the Sun when I first started it, done one fascinating research trip to India, was planning another, had written, maybe 50,000 words, but suddenly I  felt I’d hit a wall, and had no idea how to finish.  It was horrible, and devastating, and somehow shaming to have put so much of myself into something that suddenly felt so worthless.  

This is the point when I think it is so important to have the right people around you.  When I confided some of this to my husband, also a writer, he asked to read the book. He said he loved it, (that, in my mood of despair, I discounted, he had to live with me!), but, more importantly, he pointed out, it was a book about female friendship. Such a simple, even throwaway remark, and of course I knew it, but it gave me the key to my way in again, and how to finish. That book sold over a million copies. It changed my life.

East of the Sun is a book that I have read several times. I have visited India and vow to return one day. At the moment, when we can’t travel, I recommend travelling via Julia’s words into this story.

  Which of your books was easiest to write, Julia – and why?  

I don’t find any books easy to write. I think I’m partly drawn to the work by the fascination of what’s difficult. What has changed is that I have learned how to handle my own temperament better.  If I have a difficult day, I’m much more likely to say. ‘OK, here’s the bit when I want to chuck it.’ So what?

 The writer, Eudora Welty, put the stages of writing a book so well when she describes the first few chapters as feeling “like a walk in the spring rain.” It’s all new and fresh and everything’s possible. The second part she called, “the Gobi desert,’ because it’s inevitably trickier: the engine of the story has to start to fire, the characters to find direction, this can feel like a slog. The last part, was like skiing down a hill.

What I’m better at now is not forcing it, but relaxing into the work, and meeting my unconscious half way. I work most days because I want to be there, it’s not an act of will – novel writing is addictive

When my husband died in 2019. I became even more aware of how lucky I am to have this work to do – work that is engrossing and energising.  This has been a hard time in different ways for all of us, but also a time of stripping back, of understanding what our engines are.

How true. So sorry about your loss. I cannot imagine a life without my husband. He is my best friend.

Where do you do your writing and do you have any photos of this place to share? Do you have a writing routine?  

All my working life I have longed for a shed of my own, and after the publication of my fourth book, ‘Monsoon Summer,’ I finally got one. My hut is half a horse shelter and, in summer, two horses, peer in through the glass and watch me typing. 

How absolutely idyllic. I love the view of the trees too. I could easily become distracted.

It has a wood burning stove and a tiny kitchen, a compost loo, and views of a rushing stream, woods and fields. Having it has been life changing.

Up there I feel free It separates me from the house where I’m more liable to make a soup or load a machine, and be distracted by almost anything.

When I’m working, I do three to four hours in the morning, when it gets to the more hectic parts before publication, or deadlines, I’ll carry on in the afternoon. 

Another great read. Here is my review

Please can you tell us a little about your path to publication? 

Uneven! And baby steps.   I left school very young, 16, and had a lot to catch up with. First, short journalism pieces which taught me a lot; later, a career as a feature writer, including a spell in New York and Los Angeles as a foreign correspondent.

Years later, I was in my fifties, I was very lucky that my first published short story won the Literary Review/Rymans, short story award which gave me confidence to go on and also an agent, (Curtis Brown). I’m aware nowadays how difficult even that agent step is. About that time, I was commissioned, by the Sunday Times, to write a travel article which involved a 7 day ride on horseback from Wrexham to the Lleyn Penninsula .  I had the idea for my first book, ‘The Water Horse,’ on that ride, and that book was bought by Century Hutchinson.

(Here is Julia researching for The Water Horse)

Loved this story too. I am always totally swept up into Julia’s locations

What are you working on at the moment?

While I was researching my last book, Monsoon Summer, I interviewed a young midwife, Anna Kent, who’d delivered babies in S Sudan, Haiti India.  Her life was so astonishing that, half way through our talk I said, ‘Bloody hell! You should be writing your own book.’ Turned out she’d written extensive diaries, and she and I have spent the last year turning them into a book to be published by Bloomsbury this year. While we wait for proofs, I’m going to work on the second draft of a novel set in New York in the seventies.

Wow, you are so busy, Julia.

Finally, please can you tell us something about yourself that we wouldn’t guess.

I was once a cowgirl (jillaroo) in the Australian outback.

Now, that is so intriguing. Yet another book, perhaps?

I’ve loved chatting with you, Julia, and I wish you continued success. Thanks for sharing with us and good luck for your next books. There is plenty of room on my shelves for many more by you.

Another great book on my shelf that Julia hasn’t mentioned is Jasmine Nights

For all details, here is a link to Julia’s website

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Open your eyes…

This morning I was stupidly excited: I was going on an outing that I usually dread – a breast screening appointment at our local hospital.

For days, during this lockdown, I’ve slopped around the house in comfy trousers and baggy sweaters. Showered, hair washed, I opened my wardrobe doors and chose something coordinated. I had forgotten about the hat I eventually chose – I wore other clothes too 😉 . A quick spray of my favourite perfume, a dab of makeup and I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror.

‘I’ll walk,’ I told my husband, who offered to wait in the car during my appointment.

‘But it’s pouring with rain.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ I replied.

And I was.

The kind, professional nurse asked me to wear one of the hospital masks instead of my floral one and to put on lots of sanitiser. The horrid squashing of my boobs in the horrid machine that presses down and squeezes until it can’t squeeze anymore (and that I always fear won’t stop at the critical point) – that was all over in less than ten minutes and then I was free and out into the drizzly, salty air.

And, magically, as soon as I started to walk, it stopped raining and, boy, did I relish my hour and a half. I kept stopping when I noticed sights that I’ve no doubt seen dozens of times before. I paused and gazed and enjoyed.

The strange fungi growing on the bark of a tree in the park:

I know that my Italian friends eat certain tree mushrooms. I’ll ask them to identify. The daffodils poking through yesterday’s frosty soil, announcing that spring will be here soon. The fishing boats resting on the pebbly shore near the pier.

The patterns in the shingle where the tide had tossed seaweed and shells. My two characters, Mavis and Dot http://mybook.to/MDot, sitting on a shop shelf, staring at the wet promenade. They bossily told me to get on with writing their next adventures…

I’d made myself a flask of coffee and half way along the sea front, I sat on a groyne, watching the tossing sea:

and lo and behold, as if entering stage right, some hardy swimmers passed by in the cold foam, providing me with entertainment, their colourful safety buoys bobbing behind them.

I passed a couple of signs which up until now I’ve ignored. They told me of past shipwrecks and courageous World War Two stories. I hadn’t realised the Canadians were garrisoned in the Worthing area. More stories to track, perhaps…

Once again, this morning reminded me to appreciate the little things. Somebody had decorated one of the shelters along the prom with painted stones, showing flags from all over the world and it reminded me of what the breast screening nurse had told me an hour earlier: ‘We’re all in this together. Stay safe!’

Indeed. Stay safe, everyone. We’re getting there. And open your eyes and drink in our world.

Now, back to writing my next book

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FAREWELL…

I was thinking of saying good riddance to 2020, but I’ve had a rethink. And I’ve changed my wording to “farewell”:  a leave taking; an expression of good wishes at parting…

This year has been so difficult for us all. Harder for some, I know, and there has been a lot of suffering. But I want to extract the positive from the grief and fear.

Looking back on just a few of my photos, I realise it is the little things that I will take from 2020. The little things that have turned into big things for me.

I fully realise that I am writing this from the position of somebody fortunate: being retired, without mortgage or work worries.  But it has still been very hard not to be together with friends or to help with family. There was a brief interlude while we were in Italy, during August, when the Covid-19 numbers went down dramatically and we were able to be with some of our family for a short while. (Always sensibly… hugs were off limits ☹).

On one hand, I will count the “little things” that are now “big things”:

  1. The members of my family and friends whom we haven’t been able to see. They mean far more to me now than before the epidemic. I love them so much. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it’s much more than that. How I miss sharing food and conversation round the table with them and taking them in my arms for a cuddle. As I write this on New Year’s Eve, we should have been celebrating our youngest daughter’s wedding, but that has been postponed until the end of this year. ☹
Baking our first pizzas in our newly-built oven, with two little helpers
Building dams in the river with Grandpa
The bride to be – next year…

2. The slower pace of life that isolation and lockdown enforced on us has been a revelation. There’s been time to bake, to discover new interests, to take long walks and to try out new recipes. Time to stop and literally smell the roses, gaze on the countryside both here and in Tuscany. Time to research and to write. It has been precious and I don’t want to forget about slowing down when all this is over.

3. Social media has been a lifeline. I think about what my Italian mother-in-law told me about her early life in England as a young war bride. How homesick and lonely she felt. How her letters took ten days to get to Italy and how she then had to wait ten further days for an answer. She had no access to a phone – or the internet as we do now. This summer I have taken part in several Zoom talks and caught up with family and fellow writers through this medium. I was able to share the amazing day when my books reached the hitherto-dreamed-of target of 100,000 sales. I celebrated by plunging into the April sea, fully clothed.

I wish you all a far happier new year. Keep safe, hold onto your dreams and keep appreciating the little things. And look forwards to when you can hug and kiss your loved ones again. 

Seen on one of my lockdown walks

 

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