Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Coming Home For Christmas



So tomorrow is a very exciting day. The third and final part of my Hope Christmas trilogy is published. Thanks to very lovely people on the internet, it seems to be doing rather well in the Kindle chart, which is very pleasing and wonderful.

I thought I'd mark the moment by talking a little about where the inspirations for this series have come from. Of all the eight books I've written, these ones are closest to my heart, featuring an ongoing theme of motherhood, and what it means to be both a mother and daughter.

When I first started writing Last Christmas in 2008 (Yup, scarily, it has been that  long), I was a very frantic mother of four children ranging from 6 to 12. Plus I was taking on an increasing level of responsibility with my mother in law. To say my life was busy, is putting a bit mildly. So an obvious inspiration for the book, came very directly from my own experience. I had the idea of a character who wrote a blog like I do, but unlike mine, hers was totally fictional. Cat Tinsall (who ISN'T me, but I understand her very well) created an online persona called The Happy Housewife who dispensed helpful advice to stressed mums, while ironically her own domestic life was somewhat more chaotic then that. This being a Christmas book, I also drew heavily on many years of experience sitting through nativities for Marianne's thread of the story, which was putting on a nativity in Hope Christmas, my fictional town/village in Shropshire.

Hope Christmas is based on a real place: Church Stretton, a town you'll find off the A49 between Ludlow and Shrewsbury, nestling between the Long Mynd on one side, and Caer Caradoc, Ragleth and other hills on the other. My parents moved there in 1988, and I married there in 1989. Throughout  my adult life it has been my go to place for R&R, and when the children came along, it's a place they've grown up in which allowed  them more freedom then they could ever have here. All the walks I have sent Marianne on, are based on walks we've done, and particularly, in this the last book, I have included personal touches from our favourite walks.

Hopesay Manor, the home of Ralph and Michael Nicholas is based in part on Plowden Hall in Lydbury North. Although I stole the peacocks and the lawn from Walcott Manor.



I had only intended to write  one book about Hope Christmas, and I genuinely thought that when I got to the end, that was going to be it for Marianne and Gabriel and Cat and Noel. But I found myself drawn back to their stories, and I also wanted to tell Pippa's story. I know many people who have children with special needs, and I know how hard the struggle can be to get the required help and support a family needs to cope. (Never more so in these days of austerity measures). I wanted to tell such a story, and show that a special needs child can be a joy too. So I wrote about Pippa's struggles to get respite care for her daughter, Lucy, who has cerebral palsy. I loved writing Lucy, her character shone through, and she is a pivotal and vital part of her family.

Along with Pippa's story, I returned in A Merry Little Christmas to Cat's ongoing struggles as her mother, Louise develops further into alzheimers, and Marianne and Gabriel still have to contend with the ongoing problems created by Eve, Gabriel's ex wife, which also spills over into Coming Home for Christmas.

It was at this point in the writing, my personal life became rather embroiled in this series. As Last Christmas came out in 2009, we were having a really tough time with mil, who ended up in hospital for several months, including over the Christmas period. Real life was imitating life rather too well, as she was often very confused and it was a deeply distressing period. As it happened, Rosemarie didn't have alzheimer's, but her health declined steeply after that, and she ended up having carers four times a day. By the time I came to write A Merry Little Christmas three years ago, she had been diagnosed with leukaemia, and alot of that book was written sitting by her side, in hospital, while she dozed. Needless to say my delivery dates got shot to pieces when she  died just before Christmas 2011. With a massive amount of support and understanding, somehow that book got finished, and I dedicated it to Rosemarie's memory. Like my own mother, she was a great supporter of my writing, and I am only sorry she never got to see the last two books.

When I came to write Coming Home for Christmas, I rather thought things would be ok. And they were for the first draft, written this time last year. I got through the first draft pretty quickly for me. And I thoroughly enjoyed reintroducing Ralph and Luke back into the narrative. I also had alot of fun with the local protestors who are trying to stop Luke's company building a luxury spa in the woods. I channeled alot of my favourite film, Local Hero, into that storyline, and it was great fun to write, particularly the protest scenes.

However, at the point when I came to do the rewrites, my beloved mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer out of the blue. I spent several weeks trekking up and down to Shropshire, trying and failing to find moments to tackle the rewrites on the train. Church Stretton has never looked more beautiful to me, then it did this Spring, and I wove as much of that as I could into the story, when I finally got my head together to write it.

Once again, my editor at Avon offered me stonking support - though she must have been tearing her hair out at moments when I sailed very close to the wind in deadline terms.

And here it is, as much a love letter to a place that has been in my heart and soul for 26 years,  as a homage to the two wonderful women I was privileged to have as my ma and ma in law.

I don't know yet whether there will be any more Hope Christmas books, but I think for the time being, I am done with Cat, Noel, Marianne, Gabriel, Pippa and Dan. Like them, my children are growing up, but while that is a change that sometimes makes me sad, I will enjoy their journey into adulthood. And who knows, maybe when I have grandchildren (not too soon I hope!), so will Cat, Marianne and Pippa.

In the meantime, I have a short enovella telling Mel's story coming out soon, and you never know, if I fancy it, a few more Hope Christmas characters may get to take centre stage for a change...

And I am also delighted to announce that these very lovely bookbloggers are hosting a blog tour of Coming Home For Christmas.

Thanks for coming with me on this journey, it's been a bit more epic then I imagined six years ago, but I hope you'll think it's been worth the ride.


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Slipping through my fingers...

Thirty years ago this weekend, I left home (not actually for the first time, as I had had a previous four month foray doing voluntary work), but this was the more permanent departure as I was off to uni. At the time I can remember being very ambivalent about the whole thing. I wasn't sure I was doing the right course, I was keen to leave home, but also anxious to stay, and my nerves weren't helped by my having the one and only proper row I ever had with my dad the night before. It was a long drive to Liverpool from North London, and when we got there (after I had spectacularly got us lost, causing much paternal melting down in the car), my parents didn't hang around long. I can still remember that feeling of dread, as I walked back down the corridor to see every door closed, and it suddenly dawned on me I KNEW NOBODY, and I didn't have the nerve to knock on anyone's door to say hi. As it happened, several of us did the same thing and kept popping our heads out of our rooms, till we managed to open doors simultaneously. This resulted in me going for an exploratory walk with four people whom I don't think I spoke to again for the next three years. When we got back to our rooms we stupidly didn't arrange to meet to go into dinner together, meaning I had to brave the dining hall alone. I can remember the horror of standing nervously clutching my food tray, in a room of 300 or so people ALL OF WHOM SEEMED TO HAVE MADE FRIENDS ALREADY, and wondering what to do. To my relief I walked past the table of the brother of a school friend, who kindly took pity on me and asked me to sit down with his group. I didn't speak to them much afterwards either, but I was grateful at the time. My time at Liverpool could have been horrendous if that start had been the way it continued, but fortunately for me, I somehow managed to meet the girl who not only became one of my best friends and flatmates, but was the means of introducing me to my husband. And thereafter (despite a very homesick first term) it was all plain sailing.

I mention this as tomorrow it's no 1's turn. I am quite baffled as to a) how it can possibly be thirty years since I set off on my own adventure when I am still only in my twenties and b) how my baby can possibly be old enough to leave me. Mixed up with that of course is all those maternal feelings of sadness at losing her - she's great company and since the summer, has been around all the time. Suddenly not to have her to drink tea or watch Game of Thrones with on my days off is going to be very strange. But at the same time I am so thrilled for her too. She's worked so hard, and done so well, and Cambridge quite frankly are lucky to get her. She's excited about going, just as I was, and it's churlish for selfish maternal reasons to want to keep her by my side.

Because the thing about motherhood, which struck me very early into my experience of it, is that from the very beginning we are letting our children go. For that first nine months  it's just us and the baby, before we have to share our precious bundle with anyone. And when they're born, though they might start off by our side, it is really not too long before they've moved from the bed, to a moses basket, from the moses basket to a cot, from there to a separate bedroom. Every part of their growing up means they leave us a little more: they go to nursery for a few hours, to school for a whole day, to secondary school where they take themselves. And inevitably comes the day they leave us for good. I remember my mother saying very clearly to me at the same period in my life: You need to spread your wings. She and my father were exceptionally good at letting us go and as a consequence I never looked back. But I always came back, because though I'd left, the older I got, the more I cherished what I'd left behind.

So I know that though my job is nearly done, it's not completely over. It's a new beginning, and chapter in our lives. Aside from the fact I shall probably be kicking her out of the door again in her twenties, it's time for me to let go and for us both to go on another new and very different adventure.

And I really can't wait to see where it takes us.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

And I would walk 500 miles...

A very very important thing is happening to our country this week. Or if you like to our kingdom. Though it feels old fashioned to call it that. So maybe better to say the islands we live on.

Whatever side of the Yes/No Scottish debate you're on, and whether you're north or south of the border, after Thursday I suspect nothing will ever be the same, even if the status quo remains unchanged.

As it happens I have shamefully never been to Scotland, though my maiden name of Moffatt is Scottish through and through,  but such a long way back I have no family there, to my knowledge. A bunch of them went out to Ireland in the 19th century and settled there for a bit, before finding there way here. Therefore like the majority of the people in the British Isles, though I consider myself English, I also boast Irish/Scottish and probably some Welsh heritage. I think it's what makes us so great that we all come from such a ragbag of different ethnicities. Throughout our long history new peoples have come and conquered and usually moved west, and so most of us can claim a reasonable diversity of culture.

Which is why, though none of us in England have a say in the matter (though quite why ex pats can't vote I don't know, they can in normal elections, so why not in this, extraordinary one?),we all feel inextricably linked to what is going on up in Scotland. Until relatively recently, though I feel very strongly that actually the union is better together (sorry crap phrase, the No campaign has been woefully inadequate),I don't feel it was my place to voice those feelings, as it was up to the Scots to decide. Except, if they decide yes, it will impact on all of us south of the border, and nothing will ever be the same again. I really really don't want to think of a nation that I consider kin to become foreigners overnight.

Now I don't want to get into the politics of this, because it is by all accounts quite rough and ready on both sides (one aspect of the campaign that I have found deeply depressing is how far both Yes and No campaigners will go to bribe the electorate to vote their way), but what I do want to do is send Scotland a love letter. And say this...

We don't always see eye to eye, but we've been united as a kingdom since 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England. That's a very very long time. Ok, it took us till 1707 to become politically united, but that still means we've had a joint parliament for over three hundred years. Three hundred years in which we've really benefitted from having you on side.

In literature you've given us Robbie Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. We would have neither the television,( John Logie Baird)or penicillin (Alexander Fleming) without you. Scotsmen and women have gone out in the world and made their name in engineering, politics, business. For a small country you've always punched well above your weight.

More recently in sporting events Andy Murray has made up for years of personal disappointment by winning Wimbledon, both as a Scot and a Briton (unlike our dumb media, to me  he's Scottish/British whether he wins or loses), and Chris Hoy is just inspirational. I'd have been sad to lose him from the British team in the Olympics in 2012.

On top of all that my favourite TV show has had not one but two Scottish actors playing the Doctor, but also it's head writer shares my surname. I like to think we must be somehow related in the distant past.

There is something about Scotland and the Scottish that is part of our national identity, and we will all be the poorer if you go.

Scotland the Brave, it's your decision, but I'd walk 500 miles to stay by your side and really really hope on Thursday you say no.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Well, THAT didn't go according to plan...

Oh dear. I have now been back at work for over five months, and haven't blogged at all.

There are a lot of reasons for this.

Firstly the complications I referred to in my life in April were that my beloved mother was dying. She was diagnosed with terminal brain tumours in February, and though we thought she might get to the summer, she went downhill very fast, and died at the beginning of May. Subsequently, my first few weeks at work involved trekking back and forth to Shropshire on my days off, pretty much abandoning my family for weeks (although actually they all seemed to cope pretty well without me). Then we went straight into exams. I'm very very proud of my daughters who both did extremely well in incredibly difficult circumstances.

So it's been a funny old time. And I also had to do the rewrites on my new book, Coming Home for Christmas, the last in my Hope Christmas stories. This was particularly poignant for me, as I had written the whole series with motherhood very much in mind, and the first two books were affected  by my lovely mother in law being ill and subsequently dying, and this time it was my mother's turn. Hope Christmas is based on the town of Church Stretton where she lived, so this last book I have invested with love, and put in tiny little details about places we walked as a family as my tribute to her.

I will be writing about my mum at some time, but still assimilating my thoughts, and need to check that my family don't mind.


But in the meantime, here's the cover of the new book. I hope as life starts to calm down a little, I'll be able to blog again sooner.


And if you're interested, the book is out on November 6th.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A Very Big Change

I haven't blogged for a while, because quite frankly there is an awful lot going on in my life at the moment, but I wanted to write today, because the times they are a changing for Maniac Mum... For a while now I don't think this blog fits my life anymore. My children are getting older and are active online. They certainly neither want or need me to blog about their doings in the way I once did. And since no 4 went to secondary school in September, I have found myself rather at a loose end (well not completely, I have written two books since then!), in the sense that I have very little structure or purpose to my day anymore. For fourteen years I had to get out of the house in the mornings to do the school run, and now, I don't really have to leave the house AT ALL if I don't want to. Which might sound idyllic, but really it's not.

So I decided in the autumn I needed a part time job. Part time jobs not being very readily available usually in publishing (which is all I really know apart from writing), I scrabbled around trying to see if I could get into teaching on a creative writing course as a regular gig. Needless to say, I failed dismally in that regard, (one university I applied to a) told me I couldn't teach for them because I don't have an MA, b) offered me the chance to take their MA (the course I was suggesting I teach on!) and c) I realised they wouldn't let me on their MA anyway because I don't have a 2.1) so I signed on with a job agency. To my amazement a part time job came up immediately. I didn't get that one, but after a bit of faffing about, I did get the next part time job that came up.

I have to admit to freaking out totally when I was offered the job. My life is pretty complicated right now, and I have two children about to sit vital exams, and I feel I am deserting them a little in their hour of need. Plus I haven't been out to work in an office for SIXTEEN years. I'm not sure I know how to talk to people anymore.

And of course, there's my writing. I will now only have two days a week to fit that in. Getting a job right now might be completely insane.

But on the other hand, I have always squeezed the writing in around family life anyway. I don't write every day, and I am totally undisciplined about it. Going back to a nine to five job, I hope will inject some much needed order into my working life.

Plus, I am a gregarious person by nature and since losing the school run, I have been going slowly demented as I have so few people to talk to in the day (apart from the lovely people on Twitter and Facebook, who do keep my sane). I am looking forward to engaging with real people in real time again.

And then of course, for the writer, this is an absolute gift. When I left work in 1998, we didn't even have email. No, really, we didn't. They were talking about getting it. In my first year of freelance I corresponded entirely by fax and snail mail. Unthinkable now. I've just had to sign a long declaration of Dos and Don'ts about use of the internet in office time, which made my head spin.

Everything is so different now in the workplace, and I think that will be quite fascinating to discover. So I'm  going to start blogging about that, as and when I can fit it in, and I might just find myself writing a going back to work as a middle aged mum kind of story.

Whatever happens next, it's a new chapter, a big change and with some trepidation, I am looking forward to it immensely.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Ooh er, it's ages since I've blogged and it's also ages since I've done something like this. But my lovely twin Virgina Moffatt (http://giniamoffatt.blogspot.co.uk/) has tagged me for this, so here goes...

What am I working on?

At the moment I have two projects on the go. The first is the third and final book in my Hope Christmas trilogy. It picks up the story a year after the end of A Merry Little Christmas, and we find out what's happening to Cat, Marianne and Pippa, who become embroiled in a campaign to stop a new hotel complex being built on the farmland near Pippa and Marianne's homes. I have taken a lot of inspiration from my favourite film, Local Hero, and have finished the first draft, so am currently waiting on the edits. As usual for my first drafts, the story is there, but I need to do a lot of infilling and pulling strands together to make it suitable for public consumption. That's what editors are for, thankfully.

The second book I'm working on is completely different - a teen fantasy about dragons, which was suggested to me by my late lovely agent, Dot. So it will mean the world to me if it gets to see the light of day. Also I'm having a blast writing it, and it's planned as a trilogy, so I really want to write the next two books. The first draft is nearly complete, so fingers crossed...


How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Oh blimey. I'm not really sure. Though I would class myself as a romantic novelist, I think my adult stuff tends to have as much about family life/relationships in it as the romance element.. So maybe it differs from the norm that way. I also find it impossible to write fluffy light stuff (and really wish I could), so it probably tackles a few more serious issues then some books in the genre, but then all my favourite writers (Marian Keyes, Kate Harrison, Jo Jo Moyes, Rowan Coleman ) tend to do that too, so maybe I'm not that different, though clearly not in their league!

With the fantasy, I have tried to write the fantasy story I would like to read. I have always loved the genre and have really enjoyed the freedom of letting my imagination rip. I'd like to think it owes something to alot of my favourite fantasy writers (Tamora Pierce in particular) but that it has my own stamp on it.

Why do I write what I do?

For fun mainly. I love making stories up, and enjoy reading both the genres I am currently writing in. Particularly when real life is tough, I enjoy throwing myself into my imagined worlds. In fact, there is always a story going on in my head pretty much,and would be even if I wasn't published. Which is the way I like it.


How does your writing process work?

Oh I am hopelessly disorganised. I spend weeks and weeks faffing about before I actually get down to writing anything. But usually there is something bubbling away in the back of my brain, which means when I do start writing I have something to say. I do try and work out a loose structural plan, which I follow roughly, but not exactly.  Ifind that easier then just launching into the story. Though with my dragons book I wrote the whole thing using a programme called Write or Die, when you give yourself a word target to a complete in a deadline. It is immensely good for a procrastinator like me, but quite scary too, because the computer screen starts going red if you fall behind. On the highest setting (which I was far too chicken to use) it actually starts eating your words, but that seemed a tad too masochistic for me!

Generally though, I write my first drafts out by hand, as I find it easier filling a notebook then looking at a blank screen. I then type it up, making revisions as I go, print it off, read through it, make further revisions, and then reread and revise a final time before sending it into my editor. So in fact, my first draft is really my fourth! And that's the point  when I dare show it to people. NO ONE but no one sees my first scribbles! My editor will then send it back with the first round of edits, which tend to be the structural things, and making the plot work better. I usually go through the book at least twice before sending it back, and then I get line edits, which are about adding in detail, avoiding repetition, making sure the words flow etc.  Finally I see copyedits, which are insuring my facts are right, that the spelling, grammar etc are correct and things are consistent. The very last stage for me (but not my publisher) is checking page proofs, which in theory should be perfect, but which in practise tend not to be). I find it immensely easy to miss stuff at page proofs, hence my two biggest booboos:in Last Christmas, Cat makes meringues with egg yolks not whites and in A Merry Little Christmas, I gave Lucy cystic fibrosis instead of cerebral palsy. And yes, people did write to let  me know....


Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dot Lumley, agent and friend

This is a very very long overdue blog, partly because I have been thinking about the best way to write it, and haven't known where to begin...

The beginning I suppose would be good.

Dot Lumley was my agent for 13 years, and we always got along so well, I couldn't imagine not being with her. Sadly she became ill last year, and in January this year, she told me the unwelcome news that she was terminally ill. She faced her illness with fortitude, bravery, calm and humour, but unfortunately in October she lost her battle, and I lost my wonderful agent and friend.

I first heard of Dot, when I was looking for an agent. I had had more rejections then hot dinners, from people who loved my writing, but didn't love it enough to take it on, and a very good publishing friend suggested Dot. I was pretty much on the verge of giving up (I had ambitiously, and foolishly decided that two years was the longest I should attempt this writing lark, not realising quite what a long haul it was going to be), and I tentatively sent off three chapters and a synopsis of the first manuscript I had written. I should say the first ms I wrote was pretty rubbish. It was a real, How Not To Do It kind of experience. I started to write it when I went freelance in 1998, and wrote in between editing projects. I had no focus, and my personal life was in some array, so the first draft was VERY gloomy. Thanks to some huge amounts of help from Hilary Johnson, I was able to knock it into an okish shape after nearly two years, but though I had lots of people telling me I could write, like I say, none of them loved what I was writing.

Then along came Dot.

I got a fax (yes it was that long ago!), to say she loved White Wedding, and would I like to be represented by her. Would I? Would I, hell! (I still have that fax...)

The only slight drawback was that I was very heavily pregnant. In fact, no 3 was due the following week. So I wrote a delighted email back, and said if she could bear with me, I would be back in the writing saddle the following year. As it turned out, Dot had to bear with me for rather a long time. She sent White Wedding out to lots of different people, and got a lot more thanks, but no thanks rejections. In the meantime I had a go at a few other things, but lacking time, didn't finish anything. Then, I fell pregnant again. So there was a hiatus of a whole year, when I didn't write a thing (though I did manage to work out the plot of what was to be my first published novel, Pastures New), and Dot patiently stuck with me, giving me encouragement, telling me it would all come good in the end.

After nearly four years without a deal, I decided the time must come for me to tackle another full length novel, so I sat down and wrote my second book, called Coming Full Circle about young mums and their family dilemmas - a kind of prototype for the sort of book I write now, I guess. This one got a bite. Someone was interested, and I went and had a very enjoyable lunch, sadly no contract, but the request to cut all but a third of the book and rewrite. Which I did, and Dot rang me and said, "Fingers crossed, I think we're 90% there!" I was as you can imagine, rather excited. But Dot, being steady, kept me on an even keel, which is just as well, as book no 2 fell on the final hurdle.

At this point, I really felt like giving up. There were many good friends in the RNA who kept me going, and encouraged me, but without Dot's faith in me, I don't think it would have been enough. She always thought I could do it, and finally after six years, her persistence and patience paid off and I had my book deal.

During all that time, we'd only met a couple of times - the first time bonding over a shared love of Carrie (which I'd read as a teenager) and which she'd pulled out of the US box at the publisher's she was working at in the 70s, fantasy and genre fiction in general. She got me as a writer, and understood what I was trying to do. She gave me space to do my own thing, and generally had faith in me that I would eventually get it right.

As the years went on, we would meet regularly - usually at the London Book Fair, often at publishing parties, and once a year or so in London for lunch. Our meetings were always full of publishing chat, wine, and generally way too short. Until last year, I foolishly imagined those meetings would carry on indefinitely. It was with great sadness I attended LBF this year, and didn't get to meet Dot, as she was too ill,  but I'm pleased she made it to the Harper Collins Summer Party, where we were able to sit and chew the fat, and I got the chance to tell her how grateful I was for the faith she'd always had in me.

Publishing can be a fickle business, but Dot was one of those people to whom loyalty is paramount, and it is tantamount of the high regard that she was held in, that none of her thirty authors left her when they found out she was ill. Not only that, but I have so many friends throughout the publishing world who've told me of her kindness and encouragement, even when she didn't take them on.

Dot passed away in early October, and I went to her funeral in Torquay. She had a low key non religious ceremony, as befitted her nature, and is buried in a green cemetery in a wood overlooking Torquay. A lovely peaceful spot, which seemed entirely in keeping with her life and beliefs.

Life moves on, and I am in the process of doing so too, but I will always miss Dot, and be grateful that she had faith in me, before anyone else did.

I simply couldn't have done it without her, and I shall miss her wise counsel very much.

.
 Dot Lumley
16th September 1949-5th October 2013