A month ago, I uploaded my story ’A Twist in the Tale’ for you all to have a look at. I hope that you enjoyed reading it. I promised that I would post another story at the beginning of each month. Sorry this one is a bit late, but my life tends to go on hold in the school holidays, whilst I entertain my children and fight them for time on the computer! This story is very special to me. Again an entry in the Gateshead short story competition, the theme was ’Reach for the Stars’. It evoked for me a scene from my memorable trip to Malawi, when my son and I were privileged to stay for two nights in a remote village on the shores of Lake Malawi. No electricity. No furniture. No English speakers. And for many inhabitants of the village, we were the first white people they had ever seen. It blew my mind! I couldn’t stop thinking about this particular lady and her two little children long after I had returned to the UK. I hope that you get a flavour of this visit from the story that I constructed around that brief encounter.
Well, as promised, all the returned surveys about ‘Secrets Such As These‘ were entered into a prize draw. Thanks to all who have completed the survey. All the feedback is extremely useful. We allowed the competition to run an extra week and randomly generated a winner today. And the winner is – Sandra Bambro. Well done, Sandra, your £20 Amazon voucher has been emailed to you today. I know you have almost finished your Christmas shopping, but maybe this will help with the final items! Please keep the surveys coming in. I need the feedback before I can move on to the next stage of finding an agent and getting my novel published!
To complete the survey online click here.
Watching Dr Who on Saturday with the family, I am suddenly bouncing up and down on the sofa in excitement. The Doctor has just torn the last page out of the novel he is reading, claiming that he does not like knowing how a story will end. This is just like my Freya who tears out the final page of books to collect happy endings. Freya, daughter of Joanna, who tears page 51 out of every book for entirely different reasons.
‘They stole my idea! How did they do that?……No, wait….everyone will think I stole their idea…that’s so not fair!’
Discussing this further with my writer friend Simon Morden (a sci fi writer who had obviously seen the episode of Dr Who) the next morning, he helpfully describes this weird coincidence as an idea that has currency at a certain time (kind of floating around in the collective imagination if you will). We all think we are the first. We all think our idea is original. And in this case, who cares? I am on the same page as the writers of Dr Who – how cool is that!
And then there was Sunday night – another precious moment. Ten of us sat round a table enjoying cheese and wine. And discussing my book. Answering questions about my novel. Unpicking the issues. Bringing individual interpretations to the storyline. Empathising with the characters. Life does not get any better than that, surely.
And so to share the experience with all of you, we will post one question every couple of days on Facebook. Starting from tomorrow. Do feel free to join in. The more the merrier, as they say.
I guess if you are visiting this website, it is because you have either read my book and enjoyed it or are wondering about giving it a go. Either way, I thought over the next three months, I would share with you three stories I have written and submitted to the Gateshead Council Short Story Competition over the years. This particular story is the first piece of fiction I had written as an adult. I had been writing Sunday School material, school assemblies and catalogue copy for some years, but yearned to take the plunge into fiction. So in 2008, I did.
Imagine my excitement when I received a phone call to say that I had been short listed for a prize. I was to appear at a prize giving event and read my story aloud. The problem was that the joy of my story is in the reading on the page, so the organisers had to make a special concession and print a copy out for every person in the room! (only I could make things so awkward!). I was awarded the Second Prize that evening and bought a solar fountain for my pond with the prize money. A great encouragement for my first ever attempt at a short story!
The theme was ‘A Twist in the Tale’. Looking back, I have no idea how I came up with this tale. It still makes me smile to read it. I hope you enjoy it too.
This is all new to me, you understand. OK, so I’ve aspired to be a writer since I was a teenager. I’ve been a ‘writer’ for the last decade, writing school assemblies, blogs and catalogue copy. I’ve tried my hand at a few short story competitions. But this is the first novel I have ever written. This is my debut novel. Completely unknown territory.
Several people who have read the book have asked for book group questions, which is a great idea. I would love to be a fly on the wall in book groups all over the country as they unpick the themes of my novel. This novel was written intentionally with many questions left unanswered. Many issues are raised with no black and white answers. Much is left to the reader’s own imagination and interpretation. Perfect for a book group discussion then.
So I have just tried my hand at writing a set of book group questions. Not as easy as it might seem. This is not intended to be a comprehension exercise, after all, nor is it intended to pry into the secret lives of the readers. I hope I have come up with some questions that provoke stimulating and fascinating discussion. We will see.
In fact, on Sunday evening, we will see. Some of the local readers have been invited to a book group style discussion around my kitchen table. There will be cheese, wine and lots of chat, I hope. I suppose it is a bit weird to have the author in the room at such an event, but I am excited to see individual interpretations of the novel and promise not to impose a sense that there is a right answer to every question. There genuinely is not.
And then starting next week, I will introduce a new question every couple of days on the Facebook page for any of you to contribute your opinion to. We will see which questions generate the most discussion and which are the most difficult to answer. This will be a collaborative process. So please collaborate! Please join in. Please do not be afraid. The more diverse the range of opinions, the better.
I’ll let you know on Monday how the first ever ’Secrets Such As These’ book group goes. I am so excited!
PS: Feel free to come if you live nearby – see you here at 7:30 on Sunday night!
Having launched ‘Secrets Such As These’ on the 1st September, the novel is now being introduced to a second wave of readers. The first wave embraced the novel and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. But then, these were my friends and family. Maybe they were just being nice. Maybe they were afraid of offending me. Maybe the appeal of the novel was in the fact that they actually knew me. Most couldn’t believe that I could have written ‘something as good as this’ – their words not mine – which is one of those ambiguous compliments that I have forced myself not to over-analyse. Some read the whole book in one sitting – one until three thirty in the morning! Some who would not describe themselves as regular readers have been surprised at how they have been drawn into the plot and cannot wait to read on. Thank you to all of you for your encouragement and constructive criticism.
But now those initial readers are recommending the book to a friend or colleague. People I have never met are now reading my novel. People all over the country are completing my survey. These are the people who will definitely not be afraid to say what they really think. These are the people with nothing to lose. I can’t wait to read what they have to say.
And then these readers will hopefully recommend it to their colleagues and friends..and so on…and so on. This is so exciting. My novel gains in value every time anyone enjoys reading it, finds it compelling and is stimulated by the issues raised. I love hearing from you all. Thank you for your feedback. Keep the surveys coming in.
And PS: don’t forget the deadline for the prize draw is this Sunday, September 30th.
So it’s five days since my book launch and all that remains are the tiny shiny coloured champagnes glasses that I am still hoovering up every single day. The purple nail varnish that I did not have time to apply until two days after the event is now chipped and I thrust my hands into my pockets in shame every time I leave the house. I am Amy – see page 7, Secrets Such As These.
It was such a great night, surrounded by family and friends from all different parts of my life. Everyone pleased to see each other after a summer apart. Everyone impressed with my new dress. Everyone proud of me and my novel. It passed in a blur, actually, only in part due to the summer punch! I was so happy – this was my celebration for finishing the book back in July, for all the hard work involved in getting it printed, for the long list of jobs completed in getting the studio finished….
…so thanks to everyone who came for making it such a good evening. Now people are reading my book, enjoying my book, giving me feedback on my book! It’s insane! As was the whole signing thing – wonder if I will ever get used to that or whether everyone who signs their books feels as awkward as I did and just hides it well…….
….and I couldn’t wait any longer!
I’m desperate to tell you all that I have planned for the big event. A few treats and a few surprises, that’s for sure. Each of my children has a unique role to play. Everything is planned as usual to the smallest detail in my head – and there it will have to remain for now.
I’m currently sitting looking out of the window at a damp, cold evening, hoping for a miracle tomorrow – and wondering how to wrap up warm and retain the sophisticated chic look I am aiming for. Me? Sophisticated chic? I know, the summer has transformed me into a new being!
And the party itself is only the icing on the cake actually – the thought that tomorrow evening, numerous copies of my novel will be out there, being read and evaluated….wow! how exciting and how terrifying! Fortunately I have spent the summer developing a thick skin. I have been imagining some of the feedback I may receive and working out how to respond. I want to be able to take criticism graciously and in good humour. I know – that will be a first. See, the summer really has worked its magic.
So bring it on. This is another stage in this great adventure and I’m loving it.
Hope you do too,