Isn’t that just so enticing? You just want to know more!
Proof copies are an incredibly exciting part of the writing process. This is when the hard work is done. You have a book in your hand. An actual book, with a cover and an acknowledgements section and a dedication…
Of course, this is not the final product. The reason why it’s called a proof copy is that it’s, well, for proofing. So I am going to have to read This Wild, Wild Country again (I’ve only read it about 367 times before) and highlight any remaining typos, mistakes or odd layout issues.
The proof copies play another important role. They will be sent to buyers and reviewers, who will then hopefully put in lots of preorders and line up reviews in time for the book launch on 4 August.
Is this the right moment to say it? This Wild, Wild Country is now available for preorder in your favourite book shop. Do it. You know you want to…
PS: This is not the final cover. Cover reveal coming soon… watch this space!
Voilà, The Long, Long Afternoon is out in French, as Un long, si long après-midi. I could not be prouder. Just look at it, right there on the table.
Launching in a different country is so exciting because it all feels a bit wild. My French is not that great, so I have to translate the reviews and guess at some of their meanings. I cannot follow the social media in the same way. Doing readings and signing books in France is adventurous. Will I understand? Can I get my points across? And how amazing is it that people care about my book, when there is so much incredible writing in France?
I wanted to give a few, quick book recommendations from French authors. There’s Leila Slimani’s Le pays des autres (The country of others), a haunting story of a French woman who moves to 1940s Morocco. For cozy mystery fans, there’s fellow L’Edition Martiniere author Frédéric Lenormand’s lovely series about Marie Antoinette’s hairdresser, Au Service Secret de Marie Antoinette (In Marie Antoinette’s secret service). And we need something for the true crime fans too. I highly recommend Sarah Maza’s Violette Noziere: A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris.
Maza, strictly speaking, is not French. But I, strictly speaking, am also writing in and about a place I wasn’t born and… je ne regrette rien!
This Wild, Wild Country is now with the typesetter, which means I will soon be holding the first printed proof in my hand. This will be a really special moment. What’s been words on a computer screen for 18 months and counting will finally be a physical thing to hold and flick through and put on a book shelf.
But the edits will not be done. First of all, the printed proof is just that – a proof copy. I will need to read it and re-read it to really make sure there are no mistakes remaining. There is other stuff to look out for: do the chapter titles look right? Is the spacing ok? Does the title fit the cover image, or is anything important being obscured?
Then there is what I call the book framework. I still have to write acknowledgements, an Author’s Note, some questions for reading groups and, most importantly, a dedication.
Meanwhile, the book will go through many hands at Bonnier, and through a sensitivity read. So there may be further edits coming at me down the line.
Like a painting, a book is never truly finished. But at some point, the editing has to stop. Still, I know I will howl with pain if This Wild, Wild Country goes to print and I open it in a book shop and find a typo.
Ah, well., we can always fix things for the paperback.
I just wanted to share a bit of interesting research for This Wild, Wild Country. Whenever I do historical research for a book, I save some images that struck a certain note within me. They can be about characters or historic detail, but sometimes it’s more vague things, like tone or mood, that draw me to them.
Here are two women from the 1960s:
Isn’t it incredible that both of these women lived in the same country, the same state, the same year? They couldn’t be any different.
And yet, they have things in common, too. Both wear their best. They use jewellery and hairstyles to express their personality. There’s a sense of pride and confidence in both images. Sure, you could say that our neatly made-up cat-eye glass lady is performing to social expectations. But I think her smile is genuine, her pride sincere.
Now, get both of them around the kitchen table for a chat about the state of the world. What will they agree on? What will they fight over? What are their immovable convictions, and what compromises are they willing to make?
I just got a bunch of final edits back for This Wild, Wild Country.
This is maybe the most exciting phase of book publishing. The book is so close to being finished. You can almost see it on the shelves already. It’s also starting to become the novel I’ve always wanted it to be. Does that sound weird? Maybe?
While I hate edits – after all, how can my perfect book baby have any flaws? – I also love them. There’s a saying that good books aren’t being written, they are being edited, and I 100% subscribe to that philosophy.
The thing is, writing a novel is a journey without a map. You know you’re going to get “somewhere”, but the “where exactly” is always a question. Sometimes, you have grand ideas that don’t work out. Sometimes, a sub-plot that sounded great in your mind is silly on paper. At other times, a fresh mystery emerges from the pages. But does it have a solution?
Editors are absolutely essential in teasing out the brilliant bits from the word jungle and helping you, the author, look square in the face of the bad ones. They also give you something else that’s crucial to writing success = a deadline!
This Wild, Wild Country is coming out in August and is already available for pre-order at Waterstones and Amazon. And I am procrastinating. Back to the edits!
Terrific news from my publisher last week. The cover design for This Wild, Wild Country is in the works.
I’m not going to give too much away just yet. But I can talk a little bit about the cover design for The Long, Long Afternoon. I get asked a lot about the cover. Who created it? Did you get a say in it? How is a book cover decided?
Getting the cover right is crucial, both for the author and the publisher. The author wants a representation of their vision for the book. Once the cover is revealed, the book finally becomes real.
The publisher, of course, has another motive: sales. A cover needs to pop, it needs to stand out from the crowd of books on a book shelf. It needs to appeal – but not necessarily to everyone. A good book cover entices the kinds of readers who will love the book, not all readers everywhere.
Author and publisher will work together on a design that both are happy with. While the publisher has the final say (after all, they’ve got the publishing rights), they won’t want an author to be upset about the cover. It is normal for covers to go through several versions – even the text placement needs to be carefully thought out.
Above is the first concept proposal for The Long, Long Afternoon’s hardback cover that I got to see. Alot of the elements are already there. The broken plate, the curtains, the flowers. But I was still able to make changes and comments. I ran the cover past my family, and my sister suggested adding the stain on the cupboard that could be food… or blood!
The final cover really stands out from other crime novels. It is bright, sunny and charming… but the broken items, the burnt turkey and the knife prominently sticking from the chopping board give it an air of unease. The kitchen looks lived in, but abandoned. The food has been lovingly prepared, then left to rot. The geraniums are peering in, ready drop their blood-red petals all over the scrubbed sink.
I’ll tell you a secret. Can you see the shadow of a man in the light streaming onto the floor? He’s hard to spot, but he’s there…
Do you ever write flash fiction? I highly recommend it. It’s a great tool to hone your writing and pare it down to the essentials. There are lots of fun forums and competitions for flash fiction, including on the amazing writing forum that is Legendfire.com.
But how does it work?
The rules vary, but usually you have to write a full story in less than 100 words. Sometimes, there are prompts or words that must be included.
The trick? Every story needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. And this is where many flash fiction writers fall flat. I’ve read so much flash fiction that is basically just a scene, not a complete story in itself.
I came first in a fiction writing contest with the following flash fiction story. Let’s take a look:
Prompts: Diamond/Fountain/Red Word Count: 99 Title:Heera Mandi
Madame Bhatti peers from the balcony. She tugs at her red sari. The phone still hasn’t rung, no visitor has knocked on her door. A man hurries past the crumbled fountain. “Sir,” she calls. “Would you come up?” The man smiles, shrugs, walks on. Madame Bhatti sighs. Diamond Market is quiet these days; the only sound the distant roar of cars. She closes her eyes and remembers. The smell of spices, the silk pillows. Women laughing, and the twangs of the sita. Her singing, glorious, enticing. Fit to attract a prince. The prince came. But he did not stay.
Let’s dive in
The story has a clear opening: the first paragraph. It introduces our main character, gives us a glimpse of their personality (she fixes her sari), then immediately presents the story conflict (she is worried because no one has called today).
We then get the main meat of the story. She calls to a man, who ignores her. Then she remembers her glory days. There are few descriptions here, but the ones that I used evoke a sense of place. Crumbling, quiet, distant. All these attributes help the reader feel engrossed in the story.
The prince came. But he did not stay.
The final sentence is the cracker that makes this story work. It sums up Madame Bhatti’s whole life story. It also provides a resolution: the good times were fleeting, and they will never come back.
When writing flash fiction, you really want to focus on the ending. You need to deliver an emotional kick, as well as wrap the action up. A story is only a story if it is concluded properly.
Open the story with a proper opening
Keep the action brief, the descriptions to a minimum
When you do use descriptions, make sure they evoke a sense of time and place
Make sure youre story has a distinct beginning, middle and end
Deliver a kicker ending line
Make every word count. If a word does not contribute to your story, kill it
In September, I was lucky to be featured in the incredible Writing Magazine, a resource I subscribed to for years. See the article here.
We can look at things a little differently, we can open the shutters, let daylight in and ask the secretive dame what she really thinks. Her answers, dear reader, may surprise you.
Writing Magazine, 3 September 2021
Writing Magazine is a great read for everyone who is into creative writing – be it novels, poetry or short fiction. They even have interesting sections on memoirs and non-fiction. I highly recommend it.
My article looked at women in the Noir genre, and how some of Noir’s tropes are changing in the 21st century. I’m not sure I’ve actually “reinvented” Noir, but I do like to think that I’ve given it a bit of a kick up the a**e in The Long, Long Afternoon.
The Long, Long Afternoon is a very noir book, even though it is set in sunny California and features starched curtains and prim aprons instead of neon-lit blinds and chain-smoking low-lives (although there is some smoking, and a couple of shady characters, too. Noir is not necessarily about a time and place, it is about atmosphere. Noir creates a sense of unease, a feeling of being rejected by one’s peers. It is for mavericks, for people who cross social and cultural boundaries.
I wish there was more Noir in fiction, especially in historical fiction. Noir allows us authors to introduce a modern perspective to historical events or settings. It’s a modern genre, but it applies to all ages – after all, there have always been people who felt uneasy about the way things were going, and became mavericks of their time.