A Richard and Judy moment

As any writer knows, one of the best ways to improve your writing skills is to read and one particular novel I’ve thoroughly enjoyed recently is SeaSea Sisters Sisters by Lucy Clarke.  Not only is it another fabulous pick from the Richard and Judy Book Club but it’s also a book that was originally spotted by my editor Sarah Ritherdon at HarperCollins who also acquired my book Yesterday’s Sun…another Richard and Judy selection.

So while I immersed myself in the lives of the Sea Sisters, at the back of my mind I was also marvelling at my own good fortune.  As I considered what it was about this novel that caught Richard and Judy’s eye, I couldn’t help wondering what it was that caught their attention in my book.  What I do know is it was very exciting time in my life and one I’ll never forget.

Yesterday’s Sun was selected for the Spring 2012 list but it was in October 2011 when I first heard the news.  I had finished work (my day job) early because HarperCollins had arranged for some photos to be taken for my author profile.  The photographer was lovely but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience for me trying to look comfortable in front of a camera.  I’d switched off my phone so it was only when I left the studio that I noticed a missed call from Sarah.  I was walking through Cavern Walks in Liverpool laden down with the outfits I’d taken for the photo shoot when I phoned her back.

She was delirious with excitement and at first I wasn’t quite sure what she was telling me.  It took a while for the news to sink in but when it did I sank down onto some nearby stone steps.  You know how you try to talk quietly when you’re on the phone in a public place?  Well not me, not that day.  It didn’t take long before I was just as excited as Sarah, tears were in my eyes but I couldn’t stop grinning even when passersby looked at me with mild curiosity.  Next I phoned my agent Luigi Bonomi, who already knew of course, but the excitement was contagious.  And after that?  Well…nothing.  I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone else!!  It was top secret and there was a veiled threat that if the news leaked out then I could be taken off the Richard and Judy list.

So what did I do?  I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of champagne and then rushed home to my daughter who was the only other person I was allowed to tell. And what was the response of my sixteen year old daughter?  ‘Who are Richard and Judy?’  Sorry Richard.  Sorry Judy.

I cannot even begin to explain how frustrating it was not being able to tell people.  I suppose the only good thing was that at this point my writing career had barely started and I didn’t have this blog; I wasn’t on twitter; and I didn’t have an author page on Facebook so the only real temptations were with family and friends.  The list was going to be announced on 5th January 2012 and I have to say I was pretty good at keeping the secret although by Christmas I was whispering the news to my family, swearing them to secrecy.  Not that they did.  When I told my brother Jon he grinned sheepishly, my mum had already told him.

The first time I saw my book on sale was in WH Smiths on the Richard and Judy stand.  It was the day before publication so I hadn’t expected to see it.  I was on my own and I stood there transfixed.  My hand trembled as I picked it up, still not quite believing my book had been published and then quietly I put it back on the shelf.  How I stopped myself from grabbing the nearest unsuspecting customer and pointing at it I’ll never know.

But the highlight of the whole experience had to be being interviewed by Richard and Judy for their website.  They were filming a series of interviews with some of the authors on the Spring list and we all gathered in what had been set up as the green room before being ushered in to be interviewed.  Jojo Moyes was there and said not to worry about the interview as she’d heard how experienced interviewers like Richard and Judy didn’t let their interviewees fail, they would look after us and they did.  Not that I can tell you much about the end result. I still haven’t watched the interview…but click here it is if you want to take a peak.

OK, so now I’ve just realised how every other sentence has Richard and Judy in it, including this one!  Needless to say that even now, eighteen months later I’m still absolutely thrilled that my debut novel had such an amazing kick start.  Thank you Richard and Judy…and by the way, have you heard that my next book Another Way to Fall is out soon? [VERY SOON – WATCH THIS SPACE!]

Today I am mostly being…Amanda Brooke

At 9.48am, I board the London train at Lime Street Station, Liverpool.  I had to drive through torrential rain to get here but the sun is out now and I’m scanning the skies.  No rainbows.  Normally at this time of day I’d be at my desk at work but as the train pulls out of the station, I’m leaving my normal life behind me, for a while at least.  Today I’m not in the office where I’ve worked for the same employer for the last twenty seven years, I’m an author off to meet my agent and my editor for lunch in Chelsea.   I signed the first book deal almost eighteen months ago and my first book was published six months ago but being an author is still new to me and I’m having one of those moments where I have to pinch myself.  I suppose it’s a good thing that I write under a different name, it gives me a clear separation between my normal life and my ‘alter ego’.  So yes, today I am mostly being Amanda Brooke.

With two lives to lead, it’s busy fitting everything in so even on a two hour train journey I need to make the most of my time and so I set to work writing this blog.  Just as I reach London the sun is shining when my friend Karen texts me to say there’s a rainbow over Liverpool.  Rainbows have a strong significance in my life.  I searched for rainbows after my son died, convinced it would be a sign from him to let me know that he was alright.  The first arrived one week after I lost him, to the exact minute in fact, just as I was struggling to work out how I was ever going survive without him.  The next rainbow arrived the following day at his funeral just as I was sitting in the funeral car telling my sister about the one I’d seen the day before and there have been a fair few since then.  So if nothing else, the rainbow in Liverpool reminds me that this journey I’m on started with Nathan and he’s never far from my mind.

A quick race across London and I arrive on time for lunch with Luigi and Sarah.  I am most definitely Amanda Brooke now and the food is good and the company even better.  The news is that Another Way to Fall is going into production so it won’t be long before it stops looking like a Word document and more like a book.  Of course that also means that the time for playing around with it is over, there will only be minor changes from now on.  Sarah tells me she hasn’t shared it widely yet but those who have read the manuscript have cried but that doesn’t surprise me.  I read through it from start to finish after the copyedit and it made me cry too.  She also tells me that they’re planning to publish in February which is the same month that Yesterday’s Sun is being published in the US so it’s going to be a busy month!  There are no firm decisions on the front cover for Another Way to Fall yet but I can’t wait to see it as a proper book.

We talk a little about book three which I’ve now handed over to both Luigi and Sarah.  Its working title is The Bench but no-one is under any illusions that it will stay that way – I need to think up a proper title for it.  I might muse over that little problem on the way home on the train.  Of course the worst and best news is that Sarah is pregnant (very pregnant!)  so after a year and a half of holding my hand, she’s leaving me.  But of course I’m thrilled for her and she assures me and Luigi that I’m in safe hands with her chosen replacement Kim who is coming over to HarperCollins to cover her maternity leave.  There’ll be a lot of work to do while she’s away and Sarah and Luigi have plenty of ideas of how to promote the new book and me, ‘the author.’  I’m glad I’ve spent the wet and miserable summer writing, it should give me enough free time to put more effort into all the other work that comes with being an author in the coming months.

Lunch is long but over too soon and I’ve got the rest of the afternoon to myself.  Slowly but surely, I stop being Amanda Brooke.  I’m in Oxford Street shopping, calling in at Forever 21 which is a must when I’m in London with my daughter but today it’s only window shopping.  Eventually, I find myself on the train home.  It’s late and I won’t get home until ten so am in no mood for the two businessmen sitting opposite me who are having a very loud conversation that they really should be having in private.  I suspect their ruthless character assassinations of their colleagues are annoying the whole carriage.  I can’t concentrate on anything else, especially not titles for The Bench but perhaps one day I will exact my revenge…I wonder if I can use these two obnoxious characters in a future project.  I smile, I haven’t stopped being Amanda Brooke quite yet.

Why have I got three and a half books spinning around in my head?

I had thought, rather naively I admit, that writing novels would be a fairly linear process…you write one book, finish that and then onto the next. And if it wasn’t for that wonderful first book deal which is a writer’s dream, I might still be under that illusion.

So here’s how it really happens or at least this is how it happens for me…

My first book, Yesterday’s Sun went through a fair few rewrites but by the summer of 2011while the manuscript was going through the finer detail of copyediting and proof-reads, I knew I had to make a start on the second book. I already had a synopsis which had been agreed with my editor Sarah Ritherdon and my agent Luigi Bonomi so I set to work. Yesterday’s Sun was put to the back of my mind and Another Way to Fall began to take shape.

Early in 2012, Yesterday’s Sun was published so even though I was busily working on my first rewrite of Another Way to Fall, I was now being asked lots and lots about Yesterday’s Sun as part of its promotion. It was an amazing time but eventually things quietened down and by late spring Yesterday’s Sun was on the shelf and Another Way to Fall had gone through a second rewrite which my editor Sarah loved…so I was ready to start on Book 3 which has the working title The Bench.

Just when I thought I only had one book to concentrate on, I heard from Harper in the US who are going to publish an edited version of Yesterday’s Sun for an American audience, so there was more copyediting to go through. Fortunately not much but enough to distract me temporarily from The Bench.

It’s now August and at last the very first draft of The Bench is finished and I can breathe a sigh of relief. Writing isn’t my day job – I work fulltime in local government – so for the first time in a long time I was looking forward to having a weekend or two of pure leisure. What did I used to do with all of that free time? At the back of my mind I know I need to go right back to the beginning of The Bench soon as I’ve only finished a very rough draft but at least I have a complete story and I can mull over some ideas in the meantime. I might even have time to think up some ideas for future books….

I’m still planning what to do when what happens? My weekends (plural) turn into one singular Saturday where I treat myself to a trip to my mum’s caravan in North Wales but I’m already thinking about the emails I’ve just received. Yesterday’s Sun has thrown up a few queries during the proof read in the US that need addressing, Another Way to Fall is back from the copyeditor and I’ve got three weeks to turn it around and The Bench is still demanding my attention.

My head is spinning but I’m really not complaining, I’m loving it. I know how very fortunate I am to be in this position and that’s not something I’ve been able to say in a very long time. I have the publication of Another Way to Fall to look forward to early in 2013, not to mention the publication of Yesterday’s Sun in the US in February by which time The Bench should be coming together and I will need to start thinking about Book 4.

I’ve just remembered what I used to do in my free time…in 2010 I ran the London Marathon and the months of training left no room for anything else…yes I think I prefer the writing!

So How Did I Get Published?

I suppose it all began with that first spark of an idea, the one that led me to developing the storyline for Yesterday’s Sun and oh how I wish I could remember it in perfect detail! All I have is a vague recollection that I had been walking through Liverpool city centre when I started thinking about time travel…as you do…and to be honest, I spend lots of time toying with ideas for my writing and most are completely forgettable but this one persisted. I couldn’t help thinking about what it would be like for me to go back in time and change events so that my son would have survived his battle against cancer or even just to have the chance to hold him again. Yesterday’s Sun allowed my heroine to do the one thing that I couldn’t and the more the ideas began to form in my mind, the more I became determined to get to that scene where Holly could scream at the world: ‘Take me, not my child!’

I started writing Yesterday’s Sun in May 2010 and by November I was ready to face the daunting task of convincing someone to publish my book. I knew I had to find an agent first as publishers rarely take on authors directly so I looked in the Artists and Writers Yearbook and picked three that represented my particular genre and followed their submission guidelines. I didn’t hold out much hope, I don’t think anyone does if you look at the odds of being able to convince an agent to take you on, so while I waited for responses, I was already listing the other agents I’d try next. I was stunned, amazed and beyond excited when Luigi Bonomi took an interest in the manuscript but he suggested some pretty major changes before he’d commit. I would have been mad to ignore the advice of a highly regarded literary agent so Christmas was cancelled and I set about the rewrite. By February 2011 I had another version ready and this time Luigi loved it. My manuscript was ready to be sent to the publishers and essentially my work was over. It was all down to Luigi now and for the most part all I had to do was wait for that call. I might not clearly remember the moment I had the idea for Yesterday’s Sun but I do remember that call from Luigi telling me I had a two book deal with HarperCollins. I was crying when I phoned my daughter to tell her and she actually thought I’d had some bad news.

I now had not only an agent but an absolutely lovely editor, Sarah Ritherdon but of course that meant that more rewrites were in store and it was probably autumn by the time the editing was complete. The original publication date was April 2012 but then I had another one of those never to be forgotten phone calls. I was walking down Matthew Street in Liverpool when Sarah phoned to say that Yesterday’s Sun had been selected for the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club and I had to sit down on a doorstep to take it all in. It wasn’t all good news though…I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone until the official launch in January 2012 and it was still only October but who was I to complain?!!

The week that Yesterday’s Sun was published was surreal. I went down to London the day before to be interviewed by Richard and Judy and the next day…publication day…I was back in the office doing my day job. OK I was surrounded by flowers, balloons and banners from my work mates but it was still back to normality, doing the job I’ve done for the last twenty five years and trying to adjust to my new double life.