My novel is out today! But how should I celebrate?

In complete harmony with my rock and roll lifestyle, I’m keen to celebrate my novel coming out in paperback today. Available at Waterstones, Tesco, Amazon, at all good bookshops throughout the UK, ‘A Grand Old Time’ has finally hit the shelves.

I have been on book tours, had radio interviews, been featured in newspapers, on social media, done a talk at Loughborough university, and I’m ready to launch into party mode now. It is an exciting way to live and I believe in taking every opportunity to celebrate.

My novel ‘A Grand Old Time’ has had wonderful reviews. The response has been better than I could have imagined. Here are just a few excerpts from bloggers and readers’ thoughts from Amazon.

5☆ I Loved Evie… She has a Passion and Zest for life… I want to go travelling with her!

I loved this book cover to cover

I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant story. I laughed and cried in equal measure

Made me laugh & cry- lovely book!

A lovely book about an older person finding a new lease on life.

It is being sold abroad in many countries incuding Canada, Sweden, Croatia, India, Denmark, Italy, Japan. It is all so thrilling. I have book signings coming up;  it’s totally rock and roll.

‘A Grand Old Time’ is about an older woman, a widow, Evie Gallagher, who has moved to a care home in the hope that she will have some company, but Sheldon Lodge is not for her. She wanders into Dublin one day, talks to strangers and enters a betting shop. One thing leads to another and she takes a plane to Liverpool, a boat to France, buys a camper van and sets off on adventures.

Her son, Brendan, who is struggling with his marriage and his job as a Sports teacher, decides to bring her back home, believing she can’t cope independently. Brendan’s unhappy wife, Maura, insists on tagging along and their parallel adventures begin.

The novel is character-led. Evie is feisty, full of mischief. She pretends to be a porn star, drinks too much and collapses, lies to the police and sings on stage in an Irish Bar. She meets a French septuagenarian hunk and sparks fly. Meanwhile Brendan and Maura discover that their marriage is in real trouble and inevitably, changes need to be made to their lonely unfulfilled lives.

The audio book is read beautifully by Aoife McMahon, who brings the characters straight from the page to the heart.

So, back to the celebrations, the rock and roll. I wanted to have a huge party, a band playing in the garden, champagne, a barbecue, a hot tub. Dancing on tables, singing up at the stars until four in the morning. Guests wandering lost in the rose bushes, stragglers asleep in the fish pond at dawn.

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I thought I’d have a Prosecco breakfast in the morning, ask the neighbours round for buckwheat banana pancakes, sharing jokes and good craic on the patio. Then there will be an open house all day, in which people I don’t see often enough roll up, have a glass of punch and a big hug and we talk about old times. Friends will jet in, land on the helipad: people I haven’t seen for ages, from India, Italy, Ireland, France, London, Liverpool, Cornwall and Totnes will duck the whirling blades and rush into my arms, tears on their faces and a bottle of Moët clutched in their fists.

My agent, publisher, publicist, the whole lovely team will be there under the rose-clad pergola, holding martinis, looking cool, laughing and reminiscing, chatting to novelist celebreties nibbling canapés.

Then as the evening dwindles, the perfume of jasmine and night-scented stock warm on the air, I will leave the happy throng and slide away for quiet chat with my family and a smooch with my significant other to something romantic, like ‘Pretty Vacant’ by The Sex Pistols. Then it’s back to the party,  moshing beyond midnight.

Of course, that’s all in my imagination. What is more likely is that I’ll wake up with the cat, have a piece of toast and read the paper in my pyjamas. My neighbours might pop round for a cuppa and then I’ll work at the computer all day. In the evening, I might go out.

An ex-student of mine has kindly sent me a thank you present of a meal at a local restaurant. He is now embarking on a psychology degree and I know he will reach the stars. I’ll toast him and Evie when I sit quietly in Flavours with a glass of Romanian red and a plate of vegetable wellington.

Then I’ll start planning the special launch party, which will happen one day, however retrospective. It might be on the beach this summer, or in my camper van in France, or round the table at Christmas time when the crumbling walls have finally been plastered, or with breakfast at the top of The Shard as the sun rises in a winter sky. Why not? After all, it has to be Rock and Roll.

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How I became a novelist – the journey so far

Like most writers, I started young, with a pen and any paper I could find to scribble on. I wrote my name on the kitchen walls when I was two and had a slap for my efforts. I penned poems on empty Corn Flakes boxes. I filled jotters with an assortment of stories. In my spare time, I composed some shocking song lyrics on the back of scraps of paper.

My teachers, the nice ones anyway, said they expected to read my work in print some day and I thought I’d achieved it when I had a non-fiction book published about Drama teaching.

Once I’d made the decision to write full-time, however, I concentrated on being published anywhere I could. Niche is good. I made money from having all sorts of short stories included in all sorts of publications. I wrote articles for magazines and newspapers. I entered competitions, being placed in a few, including a second prize for a story about a hedgehog cake and a second place at The Winchester Festival for a piece about a woman searching for the same man throughout time. I liked the idea so much I wrote it into a 90,000 word novel last summer: it’s the only serious one I have ever written and I think it is both tragic and uplifting.

A year ago, I was a hopeful writer, with an ambition to be published. I had written my first novel, found a great agent and believed I could actually do what I had dreamed of for so long: I would see a work of fiction with my name on it for sale in a book shop.

It didn’t take long for my agent to find me a two-book deal with HarperCollins Avon, and I was on my way, hardly believing my luck. I had always intended to do it and I suppose I always believed that I would.

Being published has taught me so much. I didn’t realise how my thinking had changed until other writers handed me their work and asked for an opinion. I suddenly started hearing the voice of my editor and suggesting important details which would upgrade the readers’ enjoyment. There is much more to writing than interesting words and characters. I now think much more visually about what the readers will see in their imaginations. I’ve always been a bit of a cimematic writer  but now I focus totally on what images the reader will experience.

The same goes for feelings. I’d assumed if a character sighed, for example, every  empathic reader would automatically know how she felt and be able to understand her plight. Now I focus much more on inner dialogue and thoughts, what has led to emotions and how they manifest themselves.

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The most interesting part of the journey in many ways has been to do with my character’s impact on the reader. Evie Gallagher, the 75 year old role-model in ‘A Grand Old Time,’ is inspirational, as she takes off on a road trip in a camper van, having adventures. She learns a lot about the world and even more about herself, and develops her capacity for enjoying life independently.

Interviews and questions are part of writing a book. I have loved the opportunity to go on the radio, talk to newspaper reporters, complete questionnaires, write articles and guest blogs.

The question I’m asked the most is ‘why did you write about a 75 year old woman?’ This makes me smile. I wonder if Thomas Hardy was asked why he wrote about 16 year old Tess, or if Vladimir Nabokov ever explained about why he invented 12 year old ‘Lolita’? Age is a number. It defines my character less than traits like a sense of humour, altruism or a positive attitude. Yet repeatedly, people are fascinated by a 75 year old protagonist who defies stereotypes and has a tendency to behave badly.

I couldn’t be more delighted by the responses to my 75 year old role model as she takes off in a camper van and has crazy adventures. Reviews have said things like ‘I want to be Evie’ and ‘I want to go travelling with Evie.’ Someone else said they ‘laughed and cried in equal measure’ and, honestly, there can’t be better praise than that.

One woman wrote that her mother is 75 and has recently embarked on a jaunt to Amsterdam, just to behave like Evie. Another person said that her mother was delighted to read a book about an older person living life to the full and now had a role model.

However, I believe readers who will enjoy the novel won’t just belong to the category of women in their seventies and beyond, although I’m delighted that older people have a trail blazer in Evie. There aren’t enough stories about brilliant people enjoying their golden years.

I have farmed early versions of the novel out to friends, including  young men in their twenties, who’ve found Evie hilarious and upliftingly iconoclastic. They decided that the scene where she pretends to be a porn star is hilarious and, equally, when she sings karaoke, gets drunk and lies to the police officer, they loved her sense of mischief.

But there are tender and poignant moments in ‘A Grand Old Time.’ Evie finds love where she least expects it. As a widow, she’d had no thoughts of meeting her soul mate, but when she does, this part of the novel is both comic and touching.

Now I am a full-time writer, and published, with a real novel I can hold in my hands, I can reflect on the past year, going from aspiration to publication. Yet I’m still aspiring. That’s the point of a journey: you never get there. There is always so much to find out, to learn, to reconsider, to aim for and to try again.

‘A Grand Old Time’ is out in paperback on 3rd May. It’s already an ebook and an audio book, read gorgeously by the talented Aoife McMahon. I’ve written several other novels and the second one is currently at the editing stage, scheduled for publication at the beginning of 2019. I’m living a dream.

Like any journey, any dream, I have no idea where it is going, but as long as I’m in the driving seat with the wind in my hair I know it will be a blast. I have many people to thank for this first year: my agent, publisher, publicist, reviewers, all the loveliest of people. Kind and encouraging friends, the very best family. It is good to feel blessed and it is great to get up every day to do something you love doing. There may be many more novels out there. I hope so.

Here’s looking forward to the next chapter.

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A novel, hours of editing and me.

My third novel is almost finished and editing it is my next focus. What could be better? It’s time to see if I would choose to read my own novel and, if so,  how I can make it more readable.

I am learning all the time. My first novel is out there with a really experienced agent, although I know it might lie in between two genres.

My next two novels are almost finished and edited. I know, thanks to smart advice by an intelligent agent, that these two fall bang in the middle of the genre I have chosen. They belong where they are.

I have researched the genre extensively, reading books I have liked and hated. The ones I liked had plausible and interesting characters who had some impact on me as a reader as they embarked on their journey. These characters have some depth. I know now who the writers are who have readers who will love my work.

I know which writers I have found laborious to read. Too many protagonists are bland middle class passive women. I understand that readers may want an accessible heroine, but my protagonists, while being hugely flawed and with a lot to learn and  experience, have determination, guts and resilience, and are not afraid to make up their own mind.

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I’ve read novels by a woman whose audience I’ve been told will enjoy my novels, according to an experienced agent and, I have to say, that writer has been pivotal in my learning journey. I will never create characters like hers. They simper, fret and seldom make a decision -and that is both male and female central characters. By the end of these novels, I know the characters no better than I did on the first page and, what’s worse, I don’t like them. I have nothing in common with them because they are weak, flaccid and incapable of change.

Worse, the pace is slow and the writing indulgent. I have learned to give up on a book. Like some relationships, sometimes there is nothing to be gained from ploughing on uphill.

 

My female protagonists are always strong characters. The same can be said for the men. In one novel, a male ‘co-star’ was a really nice guy, which would balance the female character’s personality and action well. Women who read my novel said they would like to meet him, would benefit from knowing such a man, so I let him stay where he is.

But in the last novel, I wanted to create  male characters who are unpredictable and perhaps a little unusual. I also wanted to reflect the world we live in: hence a character who is not mono-dimensional, but has tendencies to behave in ways the reader might not expect. I also wanted my reader to smile.

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Reading others’ novels and reading widely is vital, not just to see what I like and don’t like. In a way, my own opinion of others’ novels  is not hugely important. Someone must like them – they’ve been published and are popular. I have to read analytically and go beyond the choice of characters and action.

It’s important to look at how writers signpost events. It is vital that I map the reader’s journey, as a reader myself. It is interesting to see how writers use conversation, how they show that time is passing or places change.

It is interesting to note how they weave plot and develop the action. I analyse roaming protagonists, flashbacks, tropes which work and others which scream  cliché from a mile away. It is fascinating to consider the use of language and to ask myself what appears to make for satisfying reading and why.

I am in awe of some authors’ beautiful writing and their ability to create thrilling characters and plots. Some novels leave me cold and some make me wonder how the book came to be published at all. The important thing is that I continue to think and I continue to learn.

I then need to edit my own writing and apply what I have learned. I have already decided to rewrite a chapter completely. I know where some of the editing will take me, but not all decisions are made at the outset. Some changes will emerge slowly and will change again after several edits.

I like to have days where I just think. Thoughts come during exercise, conversation, sleep.  I can alter ideas, adapt action, conjure a new device. Editing doesn’t always happen at the computer. I can wake at five in the morning and think ‘I know what I need to change.’

I work best when I have left the novel for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes and a rested mind. If it works then, it is pleasing and it can stay. If not, it is ripped out and edited.

I cannot underestimate the value of having good readers: not just friends, people who like the genre and people who have taken the same MA as I have, but people whose experience, age, background, gender is different to mine. I consider what they all have to say very seriously.

Then of course there is the weather, which is a really major influence. My central rule. Edit inside when the weather is cold or wet outside. If it’s sunny, go to the beach and think. The beach and the sunshine give me my best ideas for the novel I’m editing and more inspiration for later novels to come.

Who said a writer’s life isn’t perfect?

 

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