Monday, 27 February 2017

Cover reveal for The Cafe in Fir Tree Park!

Rainy days and Mondays always get you down?  Well, fear not!  I'm here to bring a sprinkling of sunshine to this drizzly February day by revealing the cover for my next novel The Cafe in Fir Tree Park
Books Covered (who've designed all my Harper Impulse covers) have hit the jackpot once again - I can't stop staring at the gorgeously vivid colours which grace the cover of my next release.  The vibrant blue sky perfectly compliments the uplifting romances within the novel (which is by and large a heart-felt story of family, love and friendship) whilst the silhouetted shadow of the café itself represents the secrets and fears held by the four main characters, Maggie, Pearl, Lacey and Fern.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the cover - is it what you expected? 

The Café in Fir Tree Park will be published by Harper Impulse (ebook May 26th 2017, paperback 10th August 2017) and is available to preorder now from Amazon and all good bookstores. 
Preorder from Amazon

Friday, 24 February 2017

Manchester, So Much to Answer For

I finished the copyedits for The Café in Fir Tree Park last week!  I can't deny the huge relief I felt when I pressed the 'send' button and pinged the final 297 pages of manuscript over to my editor at Harper Collins, and I'm hoping there won't be any more changes now.  Ebook publication day (May 26th) is drawing ever nearer.

I've taken a much-needed week away from drafting/edits and have come back to my laptop refreshed and ready to tackle my next projects (yes, multiple projects, because one book at a time is obviously not enough of a challenge).

Although quite different in style and content, both the novels I'm working on are set in Manchester. 

The first, a contemporary Christmas romcom, will be published by Harper Impulse this winter.  I've written around half of it already, and (at the moment) I'm really enjoying working on it.  I do love a festive book!  I've made trips to Manchester to reacquaint myself with the city in the hope that I'll be able to weave both landmarks and the city's unique vibe into the novel in much the same way as I did with Sheffield in The Singalong Society for Singletons.  Creating a sense of place is really important to me as a writer, so I'm going to try to cross the Pennines as many times as I possibly can in the name of research over the coming months.

The second project is proving more of a challenge, despite being the book I've wanted to write for a very long time.  It's a departure from my usual romcoms, more in the style of book group fiction or accessible literary fiction, so that in itself is impacting on the way I'm writing.  There's also the small matter of the fact it's not yet under contract anywhere, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't make a difference - I'm prioritising the first project as it's got a home and a deadline.

But the biggest challenge I'm facing with regard to the second project is that it's set between 1976 - 2000.  I'd never been to Manchester until 1997 (when I went to watch Sheffield United play at Old Trafford), and although I made a few visits to the city when two of my closest friends went to university there the following year, my first-hand experience of the city between these dates is limited to say the least.  I wasn't even born in 1976!  There are specific events that happened in Manchester in this period which are key to the plot, and I'm reading a ridiculous amount of non-fic about Manchester, the post-punk/indie/Britpop music scenes as well as watching YouTube documentaries about Thatcherite Britain to try to create something as authentic as possible, but nothing can compare to actually experiencing the change the city was going through at this time.  I really want to talk to people who lived through this, especially those who were heavily into the local music scene, so if you or anyone you know can help...

Epping Walk Bridge, the scene of Kevin Cummins' famous Joy Division photoshoot

The book opens at the Sex Pistol's now legendary Lesser Free Trade Hall gig, and I have so many questions about it that I'd love to ask someone who was there.  The trouble is, although thousands of people of a certain age claim to have been there, the reality is the audience that night was small and select.  Furthermore, of that small, select crowd (estimated by Dave Nolan who wrote 'I Swear I was There' to be around 35-40 people), a significant number went on become the musicians that shaped the cultural landscape in the years that followed.  Morrissey, Peter Hook, Mark E Smith... I imagine they're all a bit too busy being musical legends to talk to me about a gig forty years ago.

Next weekend I'm in Manchester again, and I'm looking forward to exploring possible settings and locations that I can mention in these books as well as hopefully finding new information that'll get the words flowing out of my fingertips.  Wish me luck!

Outside Salford Lads' Club, which has influenced both my current projects in different ways!
The title of this blog post comes from Suffer Little Children by The Smiths.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Everybody's Talking About Jamie

It's no great secret that I love a musical, so I was thrilled to hear Sheffield Theatres were putting on a new original production.  Since the opening night I'd heard only good things about the show and last night I finally got to see what the fuss was about for myself.

A contemporary musical set in Sheffield, 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' is the story of sixteen-year-old Jamie New who wants a career as a drag queen (despite his psychometric careers testing inexplicably suggesting his future lies elsewhere).  More than anything, he wants to wear a dress to his leavers' prom. 

Inspired by real-life events, this coming-of-age musical about friendship, family and acceptance has a definite northern flavour which will appeal to anyone who enjoyed the dry wit of 'The Full Monty'.  That easy humour, along with a belting score written by Dan Gillespie Sells of The Feeling and Tom MacRae, makes for a fast-paced romp through Jamie's final days at school as he discovers how important it is to be true to himself and hold tight to those around him who'll watch his back.

I couldn't help thinking that even Hope, the one character in The Singalong Society for Singletons who grumbled about musical theatre, would have loved this show with its 'out and proud' stance and unashamed swearing, and more than anything, she (like me) would have found comfort in being part of an audience who had no time for bigotry of any kind.  By the time I leapt to my feet for the standing ovation I'd laughed, I'd cried and I'd felt.  Everything about the show was electric; the staging, the casting, the costume and make-up... it was just wonderful. 

I can't help but carry Jamie close to my heart, and I'm sure everyone who's seen 'Everybody's Talking About Jamie' will feel the same, because there's some of him in all of us.

This show needs a longer run.  It needs to tour.  And it's genuinely better than some of the productions I've seen both in the West End and on Broadway.  It runs until Saturday 25th February at Sheffield's famous Crucible Theatre, and I strongly urge anyone who can to go and see it.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Path I Chose Isn't Straight and Narrow, It Wanders Around Like A Drunken Fellow

I hadn't planned to blog today.  I'm not prepared for Christmas, we've got friends coming to stay tomorrow night and my writing?  Well, let's just say that December's been a quiet month on that front.  I'm suffering from a NaNoWriMo hangover and a crisis of confidence.  And the paperback of The Singalong Society for Singletons is released tomorrow.  I should probably be promoting that.  There are so many things that I could and should be doing right now that don't involve blogging, but I feel as though I need to write this post.

Last night I went to the cinema to watch Get Better, a documentary about musician Frank Turner.  I've been a fan of his for six years or so now after my friend Pip gave me his Love, Ire and Song album.  When she handed it to me she described it as 'folky punk'.  I didn't think 'folky punk' would be my kind of thing, but Frank's blunt yet poetic lyrics really spoke to me and I've seen him live three times since then.  The albums are brilliant, but these songs were written to be played live.  If you ever get the chance to see a Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls gig, go.

I always knew Frank's lyrics resonated, but Get Better totally shook me.  I should say now, this isn't a review of the film.  I'm sure you'll be able to find plenty of those around if that's what you're looking for.  This post is about how Get Better has made me consider my writing career, and more than that, my work ethic.

Self-made Pressure
In one scene Frank's talking to Billy Bragg about how much time he spends on the road (Frank is known for his near-constant touring, playing 200+ shows a year).  A lot was made early on in the film of how Frank found it difficult to cope with the realities of adulthood and how the constraints of touring are one of the ways he controls his life.  But what got to me most was how Frank explained that the incessant touring - this way of life that was impacting on his relationships with friends, family, potential partners - was his choice.  No one was telling him he should be touring this much.  Frank has made this work load for himself.

This made me think about the pressure I place on myself with regard to my writing career.  2016 has been busy.  This year I wrote almost all of The Singalong Society for Singletons (81,000 words, and that's not including the 9,000 or so words that were cut during some pretty brutal structural edits).  I wrote the whole of my freebie novella Three Men and a Maybe (17,000 words, again, not including the 1,500 words that were cut during the editing process).  I've completed a first draft of next year's summer novel, which is 75,000 words.  I'm 35,000 words into what I hope will be 2017's Christmas novel.  And I've written around 15,000 words on other projects that might never see the light of day. 

That's a lot of words, even without the guest posts I've written as promo for releases for five Meet Cute shorts, One Night in Los Angeles, Singalong and Three Men and a Maybe.  It's more than double the amount I wrote in 2015, which in turn was double what I wrote in 2014.

I've felt myself on the brink of burn-out a few times recently.  I've cried over things that didn't warrant tears and taken negative comments to heart.  I've felt as though I'm a fraud, or a failure, or not worthy of being a published writer.  There have also been some moments of immense pride, don't get me wrong, but as with any job there are good days and bad days.

Through watching Get Better I realised that most of the pressure I feel comes from within me.  I'm the one who feels I should be producing two full-length novels a year, because some of the most successful authors in my genre are.  I'm the one who refuses to send a standard 'press pack' to the bloggers who are kind enough to host me, because I don't subscribe to blitzing readers with the same bog-standard information.  I'm the one looking at the reviews my books get on Goodreads.  These choices and habits are mine, all mine, and I need to either own them or change them.  I don't know if I'll be able to keep up this workload (my gut feeling is that I won't without driving myself completely doolally), but it's what I pride myself on as an author.  I didn't work this hard to come this far and then sit back. 

Commercialism vs Creativity
In the film Frank spoke about the differences between creating the album he wanted to and an album that is highly commercial, stating how it was important to him not to sell-out just to widen his audience. 

I've been fortunate - I've written the stories I've wanted to and they've made their way out into the world.  The titles on the covers of my books are those I've suggested myself (other than The Boy under the Mistletoe, which was suggested by Harper Impulse's Charlotte Ledger) and any advice from publishers is taken on board, weighed up, and then either acted on or I offer an alternative that I'm happier with.  I suppose, like Frank, I'm very aware of the fact that although there are a team of people working on my books, it's ultimately my name on the masthead.  It's incredibly important to me that I write what I want to write.  I'm wary of following trends too closely, partly because at some point trends inevitably change, and also because I'm sure that if I lack passion for a project, it'll show in my writing.  There are projects I've put on the backburner that I'd love to work on again, but I know they're going to stay in the background for the foreseeable future as they're less marketable than some of my other ideas.  I'm not giving up on them, though.  Charlie and Ed will be out there one day, I promise you.

There were other things that struck me as I watched Get Better - the dissatisfaction Frank felt over the delayed release of his album, how because art is subjective the artist is expected to have a thick skin for criticism, the danger of living in a bubble surrounded only by those who move in the same circles.  The strange concept of time; how something you can put months or years of work into is judged as worthy or not in the time it takes to devour.  These are all subjects I've spoken about with fellow authors.

Get Better is a fantastically insightful film into the life of a creative, ambitious man.  I'm sure anyone involved in the arts would find it interesting and relatable.

The title of this blog post comes from Frank Turner's If Ever I Stray.  But you should also listen to Get Better

"I got no new tricks, yeah, I'm up on bricks but me I'm a machine and I was built to last."


Friday, 9 December 2016

Three Men and a Maybe - my Christmas present to you!

I'm delighted to share that my new novella is now available to download - and what's more, it's free

Harper Impulse have published Three Men and a Maybe just in time for the festive season (the story itself is set on New Year's Eve), and I like to think of it as my Christmas present to you, the readers who've been so incredibly supportive throughout 2016.

I'd love to hear what you think of Cerys, Ricky, Huw, Angelo and the rest of the gang, so please do let me know!

The Blurb
It’s the age-old saying. You wait all day for a bus, and then three come along at once. But proposals? That’s just ridiculous. And yet, on New Year’s Eve, as the countdown finishes and the whole pub erupts in celebrations, Cerys finds herself staring at her ex-fiancé, Ricky. Who just so happens to be kneeling on the floor, ring in hand, asking her to marry him. Again.

And if that weren’t enough, hot barman Angelo, and longtime friend Huw also decide to pop the question. At the exact same time.

Three men, two real contenders, but just one choice. What on earth will she do?

Three Men and a Maybe is available now. Click here to order for free.

Friday, 28 October 2016

The Singalong Society for Singletons - The Rocky Horror Show

Despite the best of intentions I've not managed to keep up my weekly musical blog posts.  I'm sorry!  Life's become rather busy lately - the day job has been hectic and I've also had deadlines for editing and proofreading the novella I wrote over the summer (more news on that very soon.  I had a sneaky peek at the cover art for it this week and am totally in love.  It's the perfect sibling for the cover of 'Singalong').  The first draft of next summer's novel is also due with my editor at the start of December so I've been fervently tapping away on my laptop to try and get it ready to send.

However, I'd have loved to have found time to write about Grease as it's one of my very favourite films and also Chicago, which my husband and I saw on Broadway during our honeymoon in 2005.  I wish I'd had chance to write about how West Side Story makes my heart hurt, and how when I watched South Pacific for the very first time during the research period I was reminded of how I'd sung along to the Captain Sensible version of 'Happy Talk' as a tot.

Me selling popcorn at Grease Open Air Cinema
But although I've been incredibly lax on the blogging front, there was no way I was going to let today pass without writing a few words.  Friday 28th October is a pivotal date in The Singalong Society for Singletons - the day the group venture away from Cardigan Close and head to Sheffield's Crucible Theatre to watch a low budget production of The Rocky Horror Show

And the bride danced the Time Warp (with my sister-in-law Jill)
Although I'd planned to base as much of the book as possible in Mon and Issy's living room (taking inspiration from TV shows such as The Royle Family and Friends which are based predominantly in one living space) it was refreshing to write about parts of my adopted city through the eyes of Mon and the gang.  It was an absolute pleasure sharing the beauty of the Winter Gardens and Tudor Square with my readers, and of course the world famous theatre, too.

Part of the attraction of Rocky Horror is the costumes and this is a week where the Singalong Society go to town in every sense.  I loved imagining them all dolled up, mixing with the children dressed in Hallowe'en attire at the temporary funfair in the town centre.  Liam in a corset and heels just worked and it was when I started writing this scene that I fell in love with him as a character.  It gave him a depth to go with his cheeky, cocky charm, and me as a writer the opportunity to think about what he might be hiding behind his confident façade.

The Rocky Horror chapter is the one readers most want to talk to me about, and I hope I managed to successfully capture the spirit of the show...even though I've never seen it live myself!

The Singalong Society for Singletons is out now in ebook format from all major retailers and available to preorder in paperback prior to release on December 15th. 

Amazon UK  Kobo

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Singalong Society for Singletons - The Sound of Music

The third meeting of The Singalong Society for Singletons has the group gathering to watch one of my very favourite films.  The Sound of Music is a musical my mum and I watched together on the small screen many, many times throughout my childhood and teens.  She first saw it at the cinema with my dad, and as well as the film we also had the soundtrack (on vinyl, naturally) and the sheet music - these were songs I knew inside out from a young age.  It's probably why I still hold them close to my heart.

Julie Andrews is absolutely spectacular as keen-but-hopeless nun Maria and I never fail to be moved by the blossoming romance between Maria and Captain von Trapp.  Add to that the humour, the heartbreak and the beautiful score, and it's plain to see why The Sound of Music has lasted the test of time.

Treating my mum for her 70th birthday

Whilst the film remains ever-popular, I've also been fortunate enough to see the stage show during its tour of the UK.  I bought tickets to see the production at Birmingham Hippodrome for my mum's 70th birthday and we were blown away by the emotional performances which had us leaving the theatre in tears.

And I apologise in advance if you end up with The Lonely Goatherd as an earworm after reading the chapter based on The Sound of Music, but it had to be included - that's one of my favourite scenes!
The Singalong Society for Singletons is available to preorder now in ebook and paperback format.