Thursday, November 29, 2007

Today's the Day!

Sorry to keep wittering on about this. But I've never had a book published before, and even though I have been in the industry for far too long, I have never got over the excitement of seeing a book I've worked on make it into a bookshop, so to have one I've written selling in Tesco's from today, is just bloody unbelievable.

I've been hugely helped by a lot of people on the road to publication but I would like to say a special thanks to my wonderful agent, editor and everyone else at Avon, and also to the RNA, which in my (unbiased, clearly) view is the best professional writing organisation in the world.

I don't usually go hugely personal on the blog (apart from my splurge about my dad several months ago) - I guess like the majority of bloggers I like to build a little wall around the bits I am prepared to write about and those I'm not, but I hope you'll forgive me here if become a little indulgent.

When I first wrote Pastures New it was going to be set in a Surrey market town, similar to the one I live in - write what you know and all that. However my very brilliant editor felt that as Amy my heroine was giving up life in the city, she needed to go a bit further afield. I was at a loss to begin with as to where to send her, and then I had the brainwave of sending her out to Suffolk, as that is where my mother's family comes from.

I've talked a fair amount about my paternal grandmother, whose name I blog under, but I think it's time to mention my maternal one. Her family came from a little village in Suffolk called Bures, and many many years ago my mother took us there. My great great grandfather (I think - I'm sure MT will correct me if I've got it wrong) ran the water mill at Bures, a lovely little village that sits I think on the River Stour (may have got that wrong too) - if it's not Stour it will be a tributary thereof. My mother wanted to find the grave of her great Uncle Bob, whom she thought was buried in a graveyard which bears the charming name of Cuckoo Hill. I remember us scouring for ever to look for his grave and not finding it.

Having a) a scene in the book where my heroine encounters my hero sitting in a graveyard and b) liking the idea of a town like Bures (which is actually Bures/Bures St Mary) which straddles a river, and so half the town is in Essex and the other half in Sussex (my hero is a GP, so I was able to get in the odd topical comment about post code lotteries), I decided that I would base my town on Bures.

So last autumn I took a very enjoyable day trip out to Suffolk with my mother and we went back to Bures, so I could take some photos and get a feel for the place. We found the graveyard again, where stupidly I didn't take any pictures, but it is the basis of the graveyard Amy sits in in the book. We also looked for members of the Clark family (my grandmother's maiden name) but again couldn't find any.

Then we went to Stourbridge, so I could get some pictures of a high street, to form the basis of the high street in the book. And from the trip Nevermorewell (so called because the air so good, local tradition says you're never more well then when you're in Nevermorewell) was born.

The High Street in the book isn't exactly like this, it's more of a conglomeration of Stourbridge and my own town - but that's the fun of creating an imaginary landscape.

This though is a pub very much like the one I send another character Saffron too.

And these cottages in Bures, bear a passing resemblance to Amy's. One of them may or may not be Great Uncle Bob's which my mother remembers visiting in the thirties.

And the church at Nevermorewell probably owes a lot the one at Bures. I discovered here, from my mother that Suffolk churches are huge because of the wealth of the wool trade in mediaeval times - a snippet that trickled into the book as I've made Amy and Ben both interested in local history.

And finally, here's the river at Bures which I couldn't actually see from the graveyard, but Amy and Ben can see in Nevermorwell. I also added a huge country park next to it, where all my characters go out on a country walk. This isn't anywhere near Bures, but I think (again from memory) it's somewhere near Saffron Walden - my mother took us there a few years ago as it was the site of country walks which my grandparents took in their courting days.

The personal I find always has a way of sneaking into fiction. I have dozens of little things in Pastures New that have either happened to me or someone I know, and have popped up in an unexpected way when I came to write them.
I wrote a lot about my father earlier this year - when writing the character of Harry I had really been thinking about my father in law, who was a keen gardener. It was only when Mad Twin read it, and commented on the fact, I realised a lot of his philosophies were coming straight out of my father's mouth.

I used a rather dramatic incident from my childhood to form the basis of a secret that Ben is keeping.
Spouse losing his wedding ring in his parents' garden and it coming up on a leaf makes an appearance too.
As does the shillelagh...

I don't know if it works like that for other writers, but that's the way it works for me.

And it gave me great pleasure to create Nevermorewell and think of my mother's family when I was doing it. I come from a very large extended family, and as I've got older, and my children occupy me more, it is one of the sadnesses of my life that there is never enough time to go and visit, as they are in the main too far away to hop over to see them while the kids are at school, and there always seems to be so little time during the holidays.
I have several wonderful aunts, the oldest of whom loomed large in my childhood as the aunt who tried and failed to teach me to knit. She was also the most elegant person I have ever known and to me as a child always seemed so bright and sprightly and full of life.
She's now in her eighties and getting very frail. I haven't been able to see her for far too long.
A couple of weeks ago I did nearly get to see her, but unfortunately the timings didn't work out. But this week she's staying with my mother, to whom I've just sent a copy of the book. I had a phone call last night to say my aunt, for whom life is pretty difficult now, had been reading bits of it out to my mother all evening and getting so much pleasure out of it that she took it to bed with her.
An unexpectedly moving bonus, I think.


Mad Twin said...

Oh Well done Old Girl.

So exciting to get it brought home by husband from Tesco's (though you might blanche a little to know quite how cheap they are selling it!)

Also to get wonderful Aunt reading it - brilliant.

I am not sure of the water mill story haven't heard that one before, so you must be right after your trip with Mother. However I think the country park we went walking in is called South Weald, which is where Mother and her nursing pals used to go. I think the one our grandparents walked in is called Thorndon (formely Lord Peter's estate)- because I used to go there sometimes when I was an Essex girl......

Yours pedantically awed


Jane Henry said...

S'allright I know how cheap Tescos are knocking it out for - its about volume not dosh (thankfully I'm not a milk producer...)

Watermill story is a tad confusing because Ofer/Ofah (spelling seems to change) our great grandfather worked on the mill at Barking when the mill at Bures was mechanised - but I think it may have been HIS dad, also an Ofer who ran the Bures one. Or maybe Ofer 2 did both... Not sure. Must check! (When we write the family history..)

and yes you're right it was S Weald but I thought the grandparents had walked there too...

Shauna said...

witter away to your hearts content, this is exciting stuff! congratulations to you :) i can't to get my hands on it!

shauna from bwbd

Roads said...

Hey, I like that cover, very much.

It looks like Kathleen Caddick.

Political Umpire said...

Wow you have been busy. All I've been doing is baiting a demented proto-fascist on the blogosphere ... But I did adopt one of your quotes with unironic pride and one of the fascist's with ironic pride for my list of quotes, hope that's ok :-)

Jane Henry said...

Hi Shauna. Thanks so much. One day I'll get to meet all you bwbders in the flesh I promise!

Roads. Nice to hear from you again. Don't know who the artist is as the copyright is Bridgeman Art Gallery. It is lovely though. Only trouble is there isn't actually any snow as such in the book - there's winter and Christmas and frost, but no snow. Long story but cover got changed too late for me to put a snowy scene in!

PU keep baiting the protofascist. He deserves it. And am flattered by your adoption of a quote from me!!

Am sorting out an online launch party - watch this space!

Leigh said...

I'm sure it's exciting to have a book published, but a good second best is finding one by someone you (sort of) know on the shelves!!!

Got my copy (the last one in my local Tesco's superstore), and have started to read!

Nic said...

Picked up my copy with the Sunday Papers from Tesco (sorry, but there's no bookshop in Northwich - WHSmith does NOT count). I alos persuaded a lady to buy it. She likes to buy two books a week and didn't recognise it. "Oh no," I said, "it only came out this week.I've been dying to get my hands on a copy, you should really get it!".

She did.

Thought I'd just read a few pages with my lunch... Have now had to forcably put it out of sight, having got the the end of "Foreve Autumn", because I really DO need to get my planning done.

I'm really enjoying it, well done!

Jane Henry said...

Leigh and Nic. Thanks so much for buying my book! Now THAT is dead exciting!!!

Leigh, hope it's not too long before I can return the favour.

Nic, lovely to hear from you again, and am thrilled you like the book.