Friday, 31 July 2009

Displacement Activity

Displacement activity seems to be the order of the day. This morning I have been penning an interview for the Book Queen Club website about The Concubine's Secret/The Girl From Junchow. That means removing my thoughts from the pincer grip of my present book (title - The Jewel Of St Petersburg) and sliding them back into Lydia's convoluted mind. I know Lydia so well it is like falling into the arms of an old friend and I am enjoying pondering the interesting questions posed by Queenie C, my interviewer.

I've also just finished a short story that I was invited to write for a UK woman's magazine. As this was the first short story I had ever attempted, I found it a challenging exercise, vastly different from novel writing. This is just a sliver of time in someone's life. I especially adored the fact that I could see my way through the beginning, the middle and the end all in one day. Bliss! Can't wait to see it in print in September.

You see what I mean about displacement activity?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Glory Days

Now that The Concubine's Secret/The Girl From Junchow is safely fledged and out of the nest, I am able to focus once more on the new book I am writing.

It is the prequel to The Russian Concubine - telling the story of the struggles of Valentina's young life during the glory days of tsarist Russia. The story of how she meets and falls in love with Jens Friis, a red-headed and red-blooded Dane, against the fierce opposition of her parents. At the same time the rumblings of the Revolution are growing louder in St Petersburg, as Tsar Nicholas II, the Imperial Duma and the Social Revolutionaries are at each other's throats.

So as you can see, it's still Russia I am addicted to. I'm having fun writing about a period of extravagant glamour and opulence as a change from the bleak austerity and grey harshness of the Stalinist regime. The tsar's court was an extraordinary hot-bed of intrigues, plots and rampant dissolution that made its UK cousin's court look positively monastic in comparison.

But the book is not going smoothly. I chivy myself with reminders: 'What book ever does?' and 'You've been here before!' Bitter crumbs of comfort. But it doesn't make it any easier. There is always a stage in a book when I get depressed, and right now, this is it. Little worms of doubt burrowing into my brain.

Do readers really think a book just flows out as smooth and creamy as milk from a cow? Don't they realise it's like slitting open your veins and watching your life-blood drip on to each page?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Concubine's Secret

Today is Publication Day in the UK for The Concubine's Secret (titled The Girl From Junchow in US). I keep thinking I'll get used to this, the launch of my latest book, that I'll learn to take it in my stride as an author. But it doesn't get any easier.

It's still as nerve-racking as the first time, this whole process of letting one's beloved brainchild take its initial tottering steps. And I cannot shake my addiction to popping into book stores to check that it's on display, to loiter around the front tables, seeing who is - or more worryingly, who isn't - picking it up. The temptation to thrust it into shoppers' hands is strong, but I resist.

WHSmith is doing me proud with a special promotion of The Russian Concubine and The Concubine's Secret in a pack together and I love the idea of both Lydia's stories going out hand in hand. They belong together. Writing a sequel was a risky step, but I learnt a lot while doing it.

One of the main delights for an author when writing a book is getting to know the main characters, watching them develop and feeling them grow. You inevitably fall in love with them with all the passion and heady excitement of a new relationship. But when I came back to them for the sequel after a year's break, it was different. We were old friends by then, had been through a lot together, so our relationship had changed.

It's a bit like having children and one day you look at them and realise they've grown up, no longer 'trailing clouds of glory'. You have to adjust. Form a new relationship. And that's what I did with Lydia, enjoying seeing her mature but grieving the loss of her childish innocence. I needn't have worried though. She still led me on a wild and convoluted chase, took me to places I hadn't planned for, and swept me up in the intensity of her love for Chang An Lo.

I loved writing The Concubine's Secret but the time has come to let go. That's what I'll be doing when on Saturday (4th July) I'll be signing books at Torbay Bookshop, Paignton, Devon.