Archive blogs May 2013 – Nov 2014

The trouble with cutting and pasting archive blogs is that none of the links work and the pictures disappear. It’s rather like picking up an ancient copy of Country Life in a waiting room to find all the best property ads and competitions ripped out, and a moustache drawn on The Hon Binkey Briggs-Slater’s photograph as she poses prettily in front of daddy’s stately pile with a Vizla. You are spared my pretty posing – and moustache – thank goodness. But for what they’re worth, here are some more old blogs….

May 2013

Posted on 21/05/2013

Since my last news blog, I’ve worn another set of letters off my keyboard, which must mean the first draft of next year’s novel is almost done, hooray. My brilliant master-plan to deliver the manuscript by the second May Bank Holiday isn’t quite timing out, alas, and this website update is being written during a quick coffee break between tidying up my typos after another night shift spent wrapped up my fictional world.  I do wish I’d learned to touch type – it’s one of the more prosaic bits of advice I always give aspiring authors – because even after 13 novels and many hundreds of thousands of words, I still have head-scratching moments when I stare at my fingertips wondering where on earth B is. Right now, the ERT keys are indistinguishable from one another. Given that I put so much of my heart into my books, H and A should romantically be the next to go, so if my characters exclaim  ‘aha!’ in surprised tones a lot in the final chapters, or roll around laughing non-stop, you’ll know why.  However I’ll save more details about that book until I’ve delivered the draft, because – as Valerie Singleton would say nervously to camera while shaking sticky-backed plastic cut-offs from her bell bottoms – here’s one I prepared earlier:

The Summer Wedding will be out on 6th June – a gorgeous buffet of bubbly women, dashing heroes, high spirited-horses and hot air balloons.  I hope it’s a real summer treat that finally brings out the sun and lends readers a big smile. I really enjoyed writing the characters in it; they’re such a warm-hearted bunch and were a lot of fun to create, with strong friendships and great loyalty.  As well as finding out more about the book here, you can read a sample chapter…and even watch me postulating excitedly about it on video here. (ED: No idea where that went, but jolly relieved it did – I think I waffled at length beside a flower arrangement in my publisher’s office after a boozy lunch)

I’ll be doing a few interviews, features and events to promote the book in coming weeks, and will try to keep readers updated via the twittering, wall-posting world of social media, links to which are here. Last week, I briefly abandoned the battered keyboard for a joyful afternoon at a fund-raising Ladies Lunch for Katharine House Hospice in Stafford, where I was lucky enough to have been invited to speak to a gloriously receptive audience of generous, jolly women. I also found a huge display of The Summer Wedding in the foyer courtesy of Stafford Waterstones, who had been given special dispensation to sell early copies at the event. It was the first time I’d seen my new book piled high, and it’s a moment that never fails to make one stop in one’s tracks and feel absolutely awe-struck that a clever creative team can take me from these all-night writing shifts in which I laugh, cackle and cry as I type frenziedly, through the many edits and design decisions to the finished, bound book ready to unfold its world in somebody else’s hands.  I wish I could report that I said something wise and profound (or even ‘aha!’ in best Alan Partridge fashion), but I’m afraid I just smiled like a loon and spluttered ‘I wrote that’, which must have come as a relief to the charity committee at least.

I hope The Summer Wedding brings a lot of joy and entertainment this summer.

July 2013

Posted on 09/07/2013

Phew! The first draft of my next novel, The Country Escape, is finished just in time for the school holidays. The second draft is due to be delivered just before the start of next term, alas, so come the Walker family holiday I’ll be the one buried up to her neck in sand on the beach with a red pen in one hand and a manuscript in the other. Thankfully the girls are accustomed to Mummy hawking three hundred pages of pen-marked A4 around everywhere in the same way their beloved battered rabbit and chewed blanket are brought wherever we go. They think my comforter is printed loose leaf, and they’re probably right. I’m much happier when I have something physical to work with and I relish the editing stage where characters really come to life, plot twists are tightened and the end – inevitably written with drooping eyes at 3am in the first draft – is lovingly re-crafted with tears and laughter galore.

Meanwhile, it’s very exciting to know that The Summer Wedding is being tucked into suitcases and handbags, propped on bedside tables and sun-loungers and devoured on e-readers and iPads. I’m incredibly grateful to everybody who has taken the time to send a message or tweet to let me know how much you’ve enjoyed it, and a big thank you to all those kind enough to review the book on Amazon and Goodreads for other readers to see. It’s wonderful to learn that the characters are already such favourites, particularly Laney and Simon, the ‘Taylor and Burton of the small screen’ who were huge fun to write. Hearing readers’ reactions kept me tremendously bucked up as I put in lots of late night writing shifts on the new book, and I hope The Summer Wedding continues to entertain throughout this summer and beyond.

As well as editing The Country Escape, I have a Christmas short story collection to put together which I started work on this week, although it’s hard to imagine reindeers pulling sleds full of gifts when the sun is blazing outside and the dog’s panting beside me. I might test the family’s powers of observation by getting out a few tinsel garlands to drape around my office before revving up the Carols from Kings CD to get in the mood. For those of you enjoying the heat without the need for novelty light up Christmas tree earrings, I wish you all a very merry summer indeed.

November 2013

Posted on 27/11/2013

‘I must write shorter books!’

It’s a wail that could be heard coming from my study in the early hours more than once when I was editing The Country Escape, due out next summer and consequently due in to the publisher earlier this month, a task that involved lots of all-night marathons. I’m now very familiar with the local fox population’s barks, the badgers crunching the fallen walnuts outside my window, and the owls’ cries that seem to echo my own: ‘Write shorter books!’

As family and friends point out, I’m not paid by the page and writing shorter books might mean they get to see me occasionally. Having now written fourteen big romps you’d think I’d have learned to listen to advice, but I’m terribly addicted to chunky, all-encompassing reads and so changing my ways is taking a lot of self-discipline. I’m happy to report that I am gradually getting there. When I cut the the first fifty pages of The Country Escape manuscript, it quickly became scrap paper for my daughters to draw on.

‘Why are you looking at the back of my dinosaur angel picture, Mummy?’

‘This comedy Wassail ceremony is really rather good – perhaps I’ll put it back in.’

‘No! I want to add glitter glue and butterfly stickers and give it to Grandpa.’

Bowing to family pressure, I’ve left the morris men and mulled cider in the drawer with the Crayolla pens, and I’m sure The Country Escape is a much better book for that. Grandpa certainly seemed to think so judging from his shocked expression when he read the Herefordshire orchard orgy extract on the back of his handmade birthday card.

My addiction to huge bricks of total escapism is deeply entrenched, alas, and it’s what I love to read as well as write, relishing the weight of pages gradually moving from right to left hand as I stay suspended in the world of disbelief for as long as possible. I’m just the same when I watch films and television – an hour’s drama is never enough. Give me a box set of Downton Abbey and I’ll want to binge-watch the lot in one sitting, no matter how early I have to get up the next day. In the interests of research, however, I have started to read shorter books, although admittedly most of these are read out loud a chapter at a time at 7pm to two sleepy children, and I find myself muttering under my breath about the lack of an emotional narrative arc in Pixie Hollow. But others have been a revelation, and I’m increasingly excited by the brevity challenge.

My agent and editor have both been gently steering me to write shorter books for some time, and not only because I’m becoming an ever-more workaholic recluse in order to keep up the output. As they wisely point out, fiction trends have changed a lot since I first clicked my knuckles over a keyboard and eagerly introduced ten characters in the opening chapter of French Relations.  In those days, the bonk-buster ruled women’s fiction – minimum 600 pages, lots of characters leaping in and out of bed, rearing manhoods compulsory, goldfish optional. I absolutely loved reading them, but longed for them to be funnier and more down-to-earth, hence I wrote my own. In the two decades that have followed, however, the glow of television, computer and mobile phone screens has started to out-shine the humble page in many households, and long books have fallen increasingly out of fashion. Readers no longer have the page-turning time or concentration we once did. There’s a legion of other demands on our downtime, hundreds more television channels and instant playback, the Internet on virtually every screen in the house, social networking transforming solitary time. On top of this, there are a lot more books being published.  With BOGOFs in bookshops and 99p e-book deals online, the 700 page single read is no longer the bargain it once was, and reading it on a smartphone can give even the most compulsive texter RSI of the thumb. Retailers understandably express concern that thick books take up valuable shelf space and require continual restocking : ‘Your novels are three units wide, Fiona,’ I was told by one bookseller friend who went on to suggest, ‘if I published you I’d divide them up into trilogies and triple the turnover.’ Much as I admire his tenacity – had Fifty Shades of Grey been published a decade ago, it would almost certainly have been one huge bonk-buster, not three – I have an old-fashioned compulsion to give my books a beginning, middle and end rather than Part One, Two and Three. My task is simply to put the three much closer together. Now I’ve started to plot out my fifteenth novel, I’ve changed my screensaver to Less Is More.

‘Is that your new title, Mummy?’ asked my oldest last week.

‘No, darling. It’s Mummy’s new mantra.’

Apparently speculation is now rife at the school as to which of the Year Two mums will feature in ‘Mummy’s New Mantra’ and just how steamy it will be. I can’t reveal anything about that book just yet, except to guarantee that it will be shorter than my previous ones.

Meanwhile, The Country Escape is being professionally pruned and tweaked as I type, and it will be published in June 2014. I’ll write more about it in my next blog, and a gorgeous new cover look will be revealed on this site soon too. Also available from December 6th is an e-book collection of short stories, Season’s Greetings and Other Stories. Another collection will be coming out next March.

I wish you a wonderful build up to Christmas, and a big thank you to everybody who sends messages via this site and via Facebook and Twitter. It’s always a terrific shot in the arm and I’m enormously grateful.

January 2014

Posted on 15/01/2014

I’m not a very accomplished Facebook user – in fact I’ve not dared go back there since five-year-old Winnie decided to ‘share’ multiple snapshots of her Christmas Pet Spa app on my wall when she was playing it on the family tablet a couple of weeks ago. The sight of a fluffy white seal pup in a sparkly pink Alice band captioned ‘My Sweet Cutie Pie’ came as a shock to old friends who clearly thought my new year’s resolution was to take up laudanum, although it nevertheless received more ‘likes’ in the few hours it was up there than most links I share.

It’s therefore with some trepidation that I prepare for my first Facebook ‘chat’ tomorrow, and this is a rather last minute call to anybody interested in taking part to join me there…. So for anyone who has always wanted to write a book – especially if you’re trying to do it whilst caring for small children – I’ll be taking part in an hour’s live Facebook Q&As as a part of Mother & Baby Magazine’s Working Mum’s Club on Thursday 16th January at 1pm.  Simply follow the link to https://www.facebook.com/motherandbaby and I’ll answer any questions on the subject you’d like to put to me. If you’ve missed it by the time you read this then it should remain online for you to check out later, no doubt containing embarrassing spelling errors and typos on my part.

On which subject, I have just spent the past week working through the line-edited manuscript of next summer’s novel The Country Escape and dived beneath the desk more than once to see a goofy bit of Walker phonetic spelling corrected in the margin (‘Yo Sammity Sam’ had a polite note ‘did you mean Yosemite Sam?’….ditto ‘Kahoonas’….and my failed attempt at a sausage dog pun doesn’t bear repetition). Despite that, I’m really proud of this one, which I think is incredibly good fun with characters that I hope readers will fall in love with as much as I have. Set in and around a Herefordshire estate, it features an animal sanctuary which comes under threat when the neighbouring stately pile is sold to a hunting-mad billionaire, and having re-read it, I’m rather embarrassed to admit that I found myself giggling quite a lot at my own jokes (when I wasn’t hiding under the desk at the sight of my typos). I can also happily report that my mantra to write shorter books has yet to be chanted because The Country Escape remains a big, action-packed romp through one of the loveliest corners of Britain, and I’m thrilled that the editor agreed that it’s fast and furious fun as it is without needing to be cut back. It will be published on 5th June. The cover is still being finalised – more news as soon as it’s done; we have a wonderful illustrator on board who has created some of my favourite jackets, so I can’t wait to share the end result.

Whether you find me on here, typing badly on Facebook chats, tweeting as rarely as a Golden Oriole or hanging furtively around the end of the fiction author alphabet in Waterstones, I’m always grateful for your enthusiasm and interest in my books and look forward to adding more news to this page soon.

August 2014

Posted on 11/08/2014

Life has recently imitated art in the Walker household. Normally, you can find me spouting happily away on here every couple of months, especially when I’ve just delivered a manuscript or I have a new book out, so I must apologise for being usually quiet this summer.  My latest novel The Country Escape is now out, and I’ve been dying to share the news, but just as it hit the shops, the plot came back to haunt me…

The heroine of The Country Escape, Kat Mason, is an intrepid soul who lives in a remote farmhouse on an old country estate, where she has no internet or mobile signal, and the phone line is pretty unreliable too.

This summer, we moved to the Smallest Farmhouse in Warwickshire which we’re renting while we take on a project to do up as our forever home. The SFW has no near neighbours, and – despite promises from well-known phone providers both mobile and landline that we would be connected upon arrival – we’ve spent our first month here totally incommunicado.  Until this week, the only way for me to send a text or check email on my clever bat-phone has been to wade through the nettles and thistles to the furthest corner of the orchard. Actually making a phone call involved climbing a tree there, where I was cut off on average once every two minutes (such fun whilst on hold to a call centre for the twentieth time that day). Surfing the internet was a non-starter, although I did manage to DM a Facebook friend by clambering perilously high up a knobbly cider apple tree when the wind was blowing in the right direction. The children – who have kept an eye on my antics from the trampoline which enabled them to bounce high enough to see me over the SFIW’s overgrown garden – thought mummy’s wobbly attempts at scaling branches in order to shout and weep at polite foreign customer services personnel hilarious compared to their deft leaps from bough to bough. I’m only grateful the sun shone most of the time. The day a huge thunderstorm suddenly broke while I was stuck on hold up my usual tree was not one I care to repeat.

In many ways it’s been utter bliss to be cut off from the world. The Country Escape is the first book release in years that I couldn’t obsessively check on Amazon for reader reviews as soon as it came out, nor suffer the self-conscious agony of spreading the word in a  painfully embarrassed British way on Twitter and Facebook. For a writer, such peace of mind is sheer inspiration. In between bouts of irritable tree-climbing, I’ve loved the lack of interruption, dreaming up new plots while unpacking endless boxes, wondering what possessed me to put my printer and reference books in storage whilst the laminator and industrial shredder made it into my tiny writing corner. Like Kat Mason in her quiet Herefordshire retreat far from constantly streamed newsfeeds, I’ve valued the simplicity of our first weeks here, although they day we finally got a phone line, I greeted the Ocado homepage with tears of joy.

Now, a month after our arrival, the SFW is finally connected to outside world (in one room at least, the walls being too thick for Wifi to travel to the smart phones or tablets beyond that). The first thing I received when I logged online was the copy-edited manuscript of my next book, followed by over seven hundred emails and – by far the most welcome sight – some really generous messages from readers who have taken the time to make contact to say how much they loved The Country Escape.  A huge thank you to all who contact me here; I’ll climb trees the world over to reply and let you know what a difference you make. In a year of non-stop curve balls – many the sort which would attract a margin note from my editor of ‘this wouldn’t happen in reality’ – knowing that my work gives so much pleasure has lifted my spirits no end. The Country Escape is a very joyful book filled with characters I’m immensely fond of, from daredevil Kat and the eccentric locals she befriends to one of my favourite ever bad-boy heroes, not to mention the legion of animals that were such fun to write. I hope you really enjoy it.

As soon as I post this, I’m going to sit down to look at that newly edited manuscript. The novel in question, entitled The Woman Who Fell In Love For a Week, will come out next year. Speaking as a woman who has almost fallen out of a tree every day for a month, I can’t wait to escape back into it. If life is going to imitate art again, this plot is definitely where I now want to be. I’ll explain why in my next blog. For now, thank you for visiting this page and all my very best wishes from the Smallest Farmhouse in Warwickshire, now firmly back on the superhighway.

 

November 2014

Posted on 01/12/2014

The Smallest Farmhouse in Warwickshire has incredibly steamy windows. Whilst I’d love to claim this as a side effect of all my passionate romp-writing, I think it has more to do with cranking up the central heating in an old, damp house. Dora and Winnie are the ones doing most of the steamy writing as they pull on school coats and hats in the unheated glass porch each morning and leave loving messages and smiley faces behind. Meanwhile, I’m largely ‘plotting’. Having now edited, cross-checked and signed off the final page proofs of next year’s book, I’m hard on the case of the one that follows, with the working title Make or Break. I’ve got the central characters, a gorgeous setting and a story outline; my editor and agent both love it; I’ve filled one huge notepad with ideas and research, and I’m dying to just sit down and crack on, but plotting is an addictive displacement.  I remember hearing an author once describe a book idea as a cathedral that immediately becomes a garden shed once you start to write it. I’m currently on the steps of the cathedral, looking up, trying to memorise every intricate detail before I step into the shed and start hammering.

There’s going to be an awful lot of hammering in store in coming weeks, both at the keyboard and at our Forever House which lies a few fields away from the SFW and is awaiting its renovation work. The previous owners – who infused the house with so much cheer and had such legendary parties that they must feature in a book – have given me a terrific excuse to pay a daily visit in the form of Ted, a talkative hand-reared guinea fowl, who roosts in a tree by the stream that runs around the garden. With his comedy walk and insatiable appetite, Ted is an unlikely muse, but he’s become something of an inspiration as I wander around the empty house and its overgrown boundaries every day, plotting non-stop. Animals have always been central to my books, and one of the things that’s made me hesitate at the start of this new one has been the lack of fur and feather in my carefully crafted outline. Now I’m excitedly plotting a few in, and the cathedral is resounding with the squawks, barks and gobbles of an open audition. I can only take one or two into the shed with me, so I have to choose carefully. When I wrote Snap Happy many years ago, I challenged myself to depart from my usual dogs and horses and the book featured a pet turtle and a parrot. Fiction’s first romantic guinea fowl could be another benchmark.

There was no such dilemma with The Woman Who Falls in Love for a Week, which comes out next year. One of the central characters, a German pointer named Gunter, was my constant fictional companion from the very start, an inadvertent Cupid and incredibly disobedient best friend who is left in the care of house-sitter Jenny while his owners are away on holiday. The novel takes Jenny out of her everyday world as a hard-working single mother to the sumptuously cluttered village home of the Lewis family, hers to look after during a summer heat-wave, along with the skeletons in its bespoke cupboards, neighbours skinny-dipping in its turquoise pool, and a gardener intent on pulling more than just weeds. As the title suggests, it’s a week that changes Jenny’s attitude to life completely. Writing it was extraordinary; it was one of those rare books that just flew along and made total sense from the start.

Now, as I settle down to do it all again and move from cathedral to shed, I’m determined to keep the windows of the SWF steamed up for the foreseeable future. To cheer me on, I just have to look across at them and see ‘Good luk riting yor buk Mummy!’ disappearing into mist.

 

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