And Then the Sun Came Out

goodreviewAfter last week’s snivelling post it seems only right that I also share the joy. The Grand Duchess got a fabulous review in today’s Daily Mail.  My fingers have been fairly rattling across the laptop keyboard this morning. So much so that I feel able to take the afternoon off. Well…. to go to Tesco at any rate. It sounds like they desperately need my custom.

Rolling With the Punches

openbook     My official position on reviews is that authors shouldn’t read them. If they’re bad they can pull your confidence from under you like a rug on linoleum. If they’re good they may bathe you in an unmerited glow. I regret to say I abandon this position at the drop of an email.

So it was on Monday that my publicist alerted me to what she described as ‘an unnecessarily snippy review’ in the Sunday Times.  Could I leave the file unopened? No. I just had to run, throat bared, towards the reviewer’s knife.   The charge : that The Grand Duchess of Nowhere lacks rigorous rooting in historical time and place. This was all the more painful for being sandwiched between cracking reviews of books by two already hugely successful novelists.

Author, Know Thyself


 Whenever I have a new book out I get a  welcome flurry of correspondence from readers and quite often they say something along the lines of, ‘I booksearchloved that bit where….’  Then, more often than not, I have to go rummaging through the book looking for the bit they loved but I have quite forgotten.  Shocking, I know, but my interest in a story last only as long as I’m writing it. Immediately it’s finished I have to turn my attention to the next project. I leave behind me a trail of abandoned literary offspring. Thank goodness somebody loves them.
Today a reader wrote to me about a line in The Grand Duchess of Nowhere that had particularly touched her.  My first thought was that she was mistaken. It was possible I’d written it  –  it sort of had my thumb print on it  – but I had no recollection of doing so.
It took ten minutes of speed-reading but I found it. My reader was spot on and an ember of memory began to glow. The scene was the deathbed of Ducky’s father and, as I recall, it was a late addition to the manuscript, put in during the second edit when I was nearing the ‘Oh God let it be over’ stage (of the rewriting, not the dying). A casual addendum that someone found moving. Well, well.
So three cheers for my readers, who are always generous with their time and praise. And nul points for a forgetful old scribbler.

The Jury is Out

So here she is, The Grand Duchess of Nowhere, published tomorrow. I love her jacket (book and clothing), but what I think when I look at the copy sitting on my desk is this: it represents a year of my life. Was it a year well spent? The reviewers will soon let me know. Grand_Duchess_of_Nowhere

I never planned on becoming a long-distance runner. Actually I never planned on becoming anything much, except a mother. But the long haul has turned out to be my career groove. Two months of fevered research, eight months of writing, and then the slow ping-pong of edits, rewrites, long silences and urgent final tweaks. Do I feel a thrill when I hold a finished copy in my hands? Not really. More like relief.

Does Size Matter, II ?

blog     Someone asked me recently why I have a blog. My reply went something along the lines of: these days, if you’re a writer you have to. To not have a blog would be like omitting to put your trousers on before you walk down the street. Of course a surprising number of writers don’t even have a website which, to continue the analogy, is like never leaving the house, with or without trousers.

Does Size Matter?


A bit late in the day but I feel I should sidle into the discussion initiated by Ian McEwan on lengthy novels. It is a topic close to my heart. I remember… cue nostalgic Hovis advert music… when a book was published on its merits, not on the distance between its covers. When I started out (more Hovis music) a 60,000 word novel was considered perfectly acceptable. Provided the writing wasn’t crap. Then things changed. No more Hovis music, I promise.

Out to Lunch

ladylunch1    I heard a week or so ago that The Lady Literary Lunch on September 9th was already fully subscribed. It was an encouraging piece of news  – even if I must clearly share any credit with my two co-speakers, Lesley Pearse and Kate Williams  –  because this will be my only public appearance this year. Literary event organisers, where the heck are you? Was it something I said?

A Dress With Three Sleeves


Not So Super Thursday

bookpiles     Mid-August, when publishers begin to wipe the Ambre Solaire off their iPads and think about their autumn list.  The Grand Duchess of Nowhere is scheduled for publication on October 2nd. Is that good or bad? I have no idea. There’s probably some algorithm for working out your best chance of a major review in The Times but as I’m not consulted about pub dates I’ve never worried about them. Until today.

A Touch of the Gadzooks

yeoldethorn1       Any writer of historical fiction has to decide where to position themselves language-wise. I have never dared venture further back than the 18th century and even then I only permitted one ‘La!’ to escape (or should that be ‘scape??) from a maiden’s lips.  I still wonder if it was a mistake.  I’m already slightly regretting the use of ‘maiden’ in the preceding sentence.

But anyway, let’s talk about ‘ye’.  Ever wondered where it came from? Wonder no more.  In olden times, that is to say before them Normans invaded us and inflicted words like hors d’oeuvre upon us, the ‘th’ sound was represented in writing with a runic sign called ‘thorn’. thorn1thorn1    Here it is.