Sunday, 21 December 2008

Happy Christmas

I just want to wish all my readers a happy festive season and to thank them for the support they have given me throughout 2008.

At this time of year things get hectic and it can be hard to keep focused. But I am dutifully combing through the copy-edited manuscript of the Sequel to The Russian Concubine - (to be called The Concubine's Secret in the UK and The Girl from Junchow in the US) - while I chop chestnuts with one hand and dangle chocolates on the tree with the other. Already plans are pouring in for 2009 - a new book cover being designed, a tour of the UK in February, a research schedule and, of course, a new book to write. As if I could forget that!

But times ahead are looking tough for 2009 in every part of the world, so I hope we can all find respite in the books that give us pleasure.

Happy reading and happy Christmas.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Romantic Novelists Association Party

Now that I have finished my latest book (the sequel to The Russian Concubine - in the bookstores summer/autumn 2009), it's time to get out and about. The other week I hopped on a train up to London and went to the RNA winter party. I had a great time, meeting up with other authors, editors and agents.

As a writer it's very easy to forget, when closeted in my study and immersed in my characters' lives, that the real world consists of more than just a keyboard on my desk and a cat curled up on my lap. There are other authors out there who wrestle with the same problems, utter the same moans and revel in the same ecstatic delight when it all goes right. In the glorious setting of the IMEC library, I was relieved to see in many eyes the slightly manic gleam of puppies let off the lead for the first time - the gleam I knew was bright in my own eyes. The RNA and its magazine does a great job of keeping authors in touch with what is going on in the publishing world.

Under a Blood Red Sky has made a great start. Already on The Times and WHSmith's bestseller lists which is exciting to see. I have spent time going round signing books and enjoying giving talks to readers about why I wrote the book and how I did my research. I'm doing another talk at the Palace Hotel in Paignton this week and in February 2009 my publisher is lining up a tour of events in Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Devon and Kent. Can't wait! A great way to start the new year.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Launch Party

Great launch party for Under a Blood Red Sky yesterday - many thanks to everybody who came to support me. Particular thanks to Catherine Duncan at Sphere who has done a fabulous job with the PR. I'm looking forward to getting out there now and meeting readers, hearing their responses and often their own personal stories of Russia in the 1930s. Today I was doing a radio interview at Palm Radio and as I left, the lovely young newsreader in the studio told me about her own grandparents who were White Russians too. The story seems to create a connection with people that I find deeply moving and that indicates what an extraordinarily diverse society we live in.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Publication Day

Today is Publication Day for Under a Blood Red Sky in the UK. It is set in Russia 1933 and is the story of a powerful friendship between two young women and how it shapes their lives.

I am very much looking forward to the launch party tonight at Torbay Bookshop in Paignton, Devon, and I will also be doing book-signings there on Saturday morning, 8th Nov at 10.30am and at Brixham Library on Nov 26th at 2pm. I want to thank Matthew and Sarah Clarke who own Torbay Bookshop for their enthusiastic and invaluable support - I am fortunate indeed in having such an active independent bookshop to rely on.

It is an exciting moment seeing Under a Blood Red Sky take its first steps into a life of its own. I love walking into shops and seeing its beautiful cover on the shelves calling to readers. But it's a strange experience in some ways because I am aware that people who read it will learn a lot about me. It's part of the process that all authors have to adapt to.

When I sit writing at my desk revealing the intimate thoughts and emotions of my characters, it inevitably reveals a certain amount about myself. Readers know me but I don't know them. That's one of the reasons why it's great to hear what they have to say - either here on my blog or by email and at signings. It makes a connection, rather than writing into a void.

But I am excited to know already that good reviews are coming in and that Reading Groups are selecting it as their pick for debate. I love to think of my characters, Sofia and Anna, being discussed in groups all over the world, prompting heated debate over their motivations and the moral choices they make. This is deeply satisfying to an author. So thanks to all my readers. Enjoy this one.

Sunday, 28 September 2008


Son's Burmese cats visiting.

Apologies for the long gap between this and my last post. I like to maintain the illusion of being an author in control, a writer whose life is calm and runs to a well-ordered schedule - with the word count flowing smoothly on to paper each day, talks and book signings effortlessly slotted in, deadlines hit with days or even weeks to spare.

Hah! Not quite. That's the trouble with illusions - they tend to shatter when you throw a brick at them. The brick, in this case, was a fast-approaching deadline, plus my son's wedding to the lovely Liz and a visit from a bunch of family and pets over in UK for the wedding. Total meltdown. Mixing metaphors, I know, but that's exactly how my brain felt. Mixed. Scrambled. Too much going on in there to even think about writing. Delays and distractions.

But at last here I am, emerged like a butterfly, fluttering my gaudy writing wings once more and hoping to dazzle my publishers so that they won't even notice what the date is.

The book I'm working on at the moment is the sequel to The Russian Concubine and is due out in the stores in June 2009. It has been enormous fun being back with Lydia again, exploring where she'll take me this time. Watching her grow up and struggle to discover what it is that she wants her life to become. The end is very much in sight and I know I shall miss her when she's gone. It's like losing a beloved friend. Though, I admit, she can be so darn wilful when she chooses! Always shooting off in directions I hadn't planned and leaving me to pick up the pieces.

As soon as I hand over the manuscript, I shall be delighted to leap into the launch of my new book Under a Blood Red Sky, published by Littlebrown/Sphere on November 6th 2008 in UK and Australia. (It was published by Berkley in June 2008 in the USA under the title The Red Scarf - yes, I know it's confusing. Talk to my publishers about it, not me!)

So an exciting time coming up. After all the recent self seclusion, I shall enjoy going round talking to readers about Under a Blood Red Sky, finding out their reactions and listening in on their discussions. I'll keep you posted about some signings and talks. But it's always great to read your responses here too.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Cover success

I was delighted to learn recently that The Russian Concubine's cover won the Historical best award for 2007 in Cover Cafe's bookcover competition ( Many thanks to everyone who voted for it and also a big thank you to the art department at Berkley Publishing for designing it.

I think both US and UK covers for my new book The Red Scarf/Under a Blood Red Sky are great pieces of artwork that will jump off the shelves right into readers' hands. I have enlarged versions of them pinned on my study wall and am still baffled how two such different designs can both convey the atmosphere of the book so unerringly.

It is interesting to consider how important a cover is in attracting buyers. What draws the eye of one person might have quite the opposite effect on another, so publishers spend a huge amount of time, effort and talent on creating the perfect cover for each of their titles. Just take a look at a display table next time you're in a bookstore and notice which ones catch your eye. Take a moment to wonder why. Some covers just work, some don't. But it's a fine line to walk. So I count myself very fortunate indeed to have such talented teams creating covers for mine.

Thank you Berkley and Sphere - and foreign publishers for all the excellent cover designs for my books abroad, especially those in the Netherlands (thank you, Unieboek) which are truly beautiful.

Monday, 30 June 2008

First Week

It is great to know that The Red Scarf is receiving good reader-response in its first week on sale. To hear from one reader that it leapt out at her in Toronto airport and from another that she is starting a book club with it keeps my nerves from jangling.

The Red Scarf is a complicated and convoluted tale of love and loyalty set against the backdrop of 1933 Russia. It's a vivid and intense moment in history that is unfamiliar to most readers. I want people out there to get involved, to be discussing the book's ideas, to be gripped by the story, arguing over the rights and wrongs of the moral questions posed within it. And, above all, to fall in love with the characters. But isn't that what every author wants?

My intention in writing The Red Scarf was to lead my readers into a different, difficult and demanding world to see how ordinary people react under pressure. And I would like to think some of the images will linger in a reader's mind, prompting further thought, further questions. I hope so.

But the strange thing is that here I am, watching over this book's first steps, worrying and fretting over it, when at the same time I am deeply engrossed in writing the next one, a sequel to The Russian Concubine. All authors suffer this. A kind of mental tug-of-war. Pulled in two directions. One book on the bookstore shelves demanding attention with interviews and the whole PR circus, while another totally different story is clamouring for space and thought-time in one's head. Is this what it's like having twins?

But hey, who ever said novel-writing was a walk in the park? I'm fascinated by the process that builds a story in a person's head and love to know what effect it has on others. That's why it's so satisfying to receive feedback from readers. So keep it coming.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Publication Day USA

Today is the Big Day!

The publication of The Red Scarf in the USA. This is an exciting moment and I am holding my breath while I await initial feedback on responses from booksellers and bookbuyers. It's a story I fell in love with as I wrote it and I hope readers will too.

Saturday, 24 May 2008


Bliss! This week I received an advance copy of my latest book The Red Scarf from my American publisher, Berkley, and it looks gorgeous in its striking cover.

It's an emotional moment - like the birth of a child. But a nerve-wracking one also, because next month (24 June) it will be going on sale in the bookstores and it's like watching your beloved offspring walking into school for the first time. Will it go well? Will people be friendly? Or turn a cold shoulder?

All that writers can do at this stage is to believe in what they've written and trust that others will do the same. Initial reactions have been good and some top flight media in the US are lining up to review it, so I am optimistic.

I loved living with this book. I walked every step of the way with my characters - Sofia, Anna and Mikhail - through 1933 Russia. It's an intense love story that portrays not only the deep passion between a man and a woman, but also the powerful bonds of friendship between two women. It explores how love entwines with - and sometimes distorts - people's beliefs, and to what extent those beliefs can be imposed from the outside by an enforced political system. A story of strong emotions and rigid rules. It's when they clash that life explodes in ways no one anticipates.

That's what I love about writing. Becoming entranced in a world and a life that otherwise would never come within reach. And of course that's why we read books - for that pleasure of experiencing a whole new existence. So it is with excitement that I pat The Red Scarf on the head, kiss its rosy cheek and wave it goodbye. And good luck.

It will also be published by LittleBrown/Sphere under the title Under a Blood Red Sky in July in other English-speaking countries and in the UK in November. More news about that to come.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Cover Credits

A piece of exciting news!

A website called Cover Cafe runs a contest each year in which readers nominate and vote for their favourite book covers of the year. And guess what? The cover of The Russian Concubine was named as one of the best covers in the Historical category and so is now a finalist.

You must admit it's a gorgeous piece of artwork, designed by Richard Hasselberger. So thank you, Richard, and thanks also to my publishers Berkley US and LittleBrown UK. It's a terrific honour.

Anyway, the competition voting should be up and running by early May, so check out the website: And get voting!

In the meantime, I'll get working.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Keep Them Coming

Though the weather outside has turned stormy, at last a period of calm has descended in my house. Which is exactly what I need. So far, this year has been full of distractions and diversions, all productive and necessary, but not particularly helpful towards the book I am currently working on.

So now I've slipped back into a comfortable writing rut and hope to stay entrenched in it for the next few months. It's important for writers to become totally immersed in the world they are creating if the final construct is to ring true, so as I write historical fiction, I eat, drink, sleep and read nothing but the time and place I am writing about.

I continue to research while I write, frequently discovering new facts that trigger an idea for a scene or an unexpected plotline. That is part of what makes the whole process fun - like discovering about the Krokodil, the Russian Communist propaganda aircraft in the 1930s that was painted to look like a crocodile. I used it, of course. As if I could pass up on such a great image!

You just never know what you will stumble across or what is coming at you next. This element of surprise helps keep the writer - and hopefully, the reader - engaged in the story and adds to the sense of adventure that lies at the heart of books.

So while the rain beats down outside, the wind battering my magnolia and threatening to tear my roof off, I remain calmly oblivious because I'm far too busy struggling through the snows of northern Russia right now.

But I do want to mention, even as I sink deeper into my writing-cocoon, how much I value the responses of readers - in comments here on my blog or in email contact. So thanks, guys, keep them coming

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Book Covers

As always, the book-cover departments of Sphere (UK) and Berkley (USA) have done me proud. Though the images on the jacket of Under a Blood Red Sky (UK) and The Red Scarf (USA) are very different, both are very striking. Both should jump out at you on the bookstore shelves.

I have the two covers pinned up in my study and I try to look at them objectively, but fail. Instead I see my characters moving through the scenes depicted. I hear their voices and smell the Russian pine forests or catch the sound of St Petersburg's church bells.

When you have spent months, even years, creating the world in your book, sometimes it's hard to let it go.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Disaster and Delight

February started with a disaster.

My computer crashed. Those are the three words every writer dreads. But because I am totally paranoid about losing material and don't trust myself not to wipe my whole world off the hardrive with the touch of a wrong button, I back up everything of importance.

So the new book is safe. Sighs of relief. That's the good part. The bad part is that I have wasted hours and hours on the stupid machine and eventually we parted company with much ill feeling!

Despite that setback, progress on The Red Scarf/Under a Blood Red Sky is steaming ahead. In January both Berkley (USA) and Sphere (UK) provided copyedited manuscripts for me to check through. This is a process some writers regard as tedious, but I actually enjoy it. After so many months away from it, working on other projects, it is interesting to return to the book with fresh eyes - and with a big fat red pen.

This was my last chance to alter anything before it is set in stone for the printer. So I took my time trimming and tightening. I defy any author to read his/her own work without wanting to alter something - even when it's the final published book in their hands. But at some point you have to say Okay, that's enough, and hand it all over to the publisher who, by this time, has a tight schedule to lock it into.

That's when your work stops and your publisher's work starts. So I am eager to hear initial responses from sales force etc as the finished book passes through more hands prior to publication.

This is when the excitement begins to build - and the nerves kick in!

Friday, 1 February 2008

My Next Book

2008 is well under way now, so it's time to talk about my new book which will be published this year.

It's called The Red Scarf in America and Under a Blood Red Sky in the UK.

The reason for this is that my two publishers couldn't agree on one title. Apparently it's quite a common occurrence - look at the great Phillip Pullman with Northern Lights also called The Golden Compass. Annoying for an author? My lips are sealed.

Let me say first that my new book is not a sequel to The Russian Concubine. That one is coming out next year, in 2009. But The Red Scarf/Under a Blood Red Sky is also a sweeping epic story. It is set in Stalin's Russia in 1933. At its heart is an intense love story but it is also driven by the powerful bonds of friendship between two young women, Sofia and Anna. It is a mix of tsarist glamour, gulag suffering and rural life in a Urals village which Stalin's fist is slowly squeezing ever tighter. In this book I explore the extraordinary strength of the human spirit and tell a story of love, escape, revenge and redemption.

The Red Scarf will be published in June 2008 in the USA. Under a Blood Red Sky will be published in November 2008 in the UK. I'm very excited about it.

Friday, 11 January 2008


A photo of visitor kittens - Loki & Jellybean - getting their claws into my Christmas.

A new year, a new start - so on with the new book.

After the indulgences of the festive season, it's hard to strap on the hairshirt of self-discipline once more, but it's astonishing how a deadline does focus the mind. My English publisher, LittleBrown/Sphere, asked me to write a piece for their monthly Newsletter and it set me thinking about New Year Resolutions.

To resolve or not to resolve?

Are they a waste of time? Who sticks to them?

Yet New Year Resolutions are part of the extraordinary optimism that is hard-wired into the human psyche, the triumph of hope over experience. And I love that. We can – and we will – improve ourselves, even if we need the January 1st deadline to make it happen. It’s the deadline factor that makes all the difference. A bit like writing really.

Writers will wait until a deadline is about to loom on the horizon and then start to panic. Don’t get me wrong. Having a deadline is a wonderful thing. It means that a publisher is ready and eager to read your latest work. The problem comes from the fact that, to start with anyway, deadlines are a long way off, then one day you wake to find you still have 20,000 words to write and only a morning to write them in.

So this coming year I have resolved to stick to my writing target each week , so that I’ll complete my manuscript early. Time to sit and enjoy the garden. To visit friends and family. To relax. Only that’s not going to happen, is it? Like everybody else, I 'll fall off that moral high ground. As nights grow shorter and days grow warmer, other activities will tempt me away from my desk. For even writers are human.

Over the years I’ve made lots of resolutions – to give up my sudoku addiction or to trim my cat’s claws more often (you should see my sofa!). At the time they all seem achievable. But now I think we should try making resolutions at a different time of year. After all, it’s very easy to think about giving up cakes or chocolate or alcohol when you’ve spent the last ten days doing nothing but eat and drink and be merry.

So that’s my resolution for 2008 – I’m not going to make any until the end of June. But by then of course, when the lazy days of summer arrive, I will decide to leave it all until next Christmas - like everybody else!