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!]

Who Loves Book Clubs?

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to a few book clubs in the last six months and the first thing I asked myself was…where have all these book clubs been hiding??  I think the answer is fairly obvious, they’ve been around forever, I’ve just been embarrassingly ignorant of them.  I could say I’ve been too busy writing to read but that’s no excuse so… shame on me!

OK there are the big ones that even I couldn’t miss and of course the Richard and Judy Book Club is up there with the biggest and I certainly owe an awful lot to them for selecting my first book for their Spring 2012 list.  But it’s the smaller book clubs that we should be shouting about.  The independent ones that have been brought to life because a community, a company or simply a group of friends decided meeting up regularly to talke about books they’ve read and to share their views over the odd glass of wine wasn’t such a bad idea.  It’s easy to skim through a book and then go onto the next without really stopping to think about what you’ve just read.  And of course by listening to other people, you get a different perspective, no two people will read the same book and be moved, intrigued, excited in the same way.

I’ve visited a few book clubs that are run by groups of friends, where everyone takes it in turns to host the evening.  I don’t think it’s just a good thing because it’s encouraging people to read and maybe broaden their horizons on what they read…it’s also a good excuse to set aside time on a regular basis to meet up and catch up…and talk about books of course.

I was also  invited along to Merseytravel who had encouraged their staff to join in the Six Book Challenge and it was great to see so many people being encouraged to read more and also as part of their scheme, to write too so maybe one year they’ll be reading a book from a homegrown author.

My latest foray into book clubs was at the Neighbourhood Cafe in Childwall, Liverpool.  It’s run by Lynne Collins and it has everything that a book club should have.  A warm and welcoming atmosphere, great food and hospitality and because it’s open to anyone, you get a real mix of people.  I went along to talk about Yesterday’s Sun and there were plenty of questions that really got me thinking and my mind was still buzzing when I got home, in fact I couldn’t sleep.  So now I know what I’ve been missing out on I’d love to go back there as a reader rather than a visiting author, I loved it!

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.