Thursday, 11 November 2010

Publication Day

The Jewel of St Petersburg - today is publication day in the UK. A day of excitement and jangling nerves. A day for cruising the bookshops. Interviews, book-signing, photographs, talks - it's all part of the process of launching a new book. And my publisher, Little, Brown/Sphere, does it with style.

After a solid year of hard work - to be honest, in this case more than a year because I ran wickedly over deadline - it gives me a huge sense of satisfaction to see the book out there on the shelves in all its Russian glory. (On the cover, that's the white marble Jordan staircase from inside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.)

I have an urge to hug it and pet it when I see its swathe of red on the display tables. But at the same time publication also brings a sense of closure. I can put it behind me and move on - which feels a bit like betrayal, abandoning one child and taking off with another.

I have been asked which of my books I like best and I know my answer will always be the same:- whichever one I'm writing at the moment. I fall in love with my characters and can't imagine my life without them - until the next lot come along. Such is the fickle nature of an author.

But it is also why I enjoyed writing a sequel to The Russian Concubine so much and now this prequel set in the glamorous tsarist times. It meant I could prolong my relationship with Valentina and Lydia and explore what it was that made them the people they became in the later books, as well as indulging once more my passion for Russia.

A flash of red dress and a flick of a page carry me straight back into that turbulent world, so that I have to struggle to detach my mind and immerse myself in the next book which is set in the tumult of Malaya 1941. But I have secret plans to return to Russia - at least one final time. Just don't tell my publisher yet!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Why a Prequel?

This is the question I am asked by readers: if you intended to write a trilogy about the Ivanov family, why not write them in the correct historical order? Why write the first part of the story last?

A simple answer: when I sat down to write my first book, The Russian Concubine, I had no plans to make it a trilogy. You have to understand that the convoluted processes that go on in an author's brain are mystifying even to an author! I had no idea when I wrote it that Lydia Ivanova would come to play such a large part in my life or that I would fall in love with her beautiful damaged mother, Valentina.

So when I finished the second book - The Concubine's Secret(UK)/The Girl From Junchow(US) which follows Lydia's search for her father - two things kept elbowing out all others in my mind.

1) Firstly, how did Valentina Ivanova become the woman she did? What happened? What gave this private, secretive pianist such strength and yet such crippling weakness?

2) Secondly, what was Russia like to live in before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution? I had shown Russia during its grim repressive regime under Stalin's communism and now I wanted to show the other side of Russia. The glamorous side. The world of the Russian Court, the most extravagant and decadent in all Europe, with the final days of glory of Nicholas II, Emperor and Tsar of all the Russias.

It sounds a straightforward task, doesn't it? No such luck. I quickly discovered there are even more pitfalls in writing a prequel than in writing a sequel.

Throw-away references to the past in the other two books plagued me and had to be shoe-horned into the new one - which meant two characters both called Nikolai (argh!) and Valentina aged 15 years old when she first met Jens, not 17, as I needed her to be in Jewel (aargh!). Constantly I was tripped up. Harder still was planting in my portrayal of Valentina the seeds of the person she was to become.

Nevertheless I loved writing The Jewel of St Petersburg and exploring Valentina's world, displaying the magnificence of Russia as well as its suffering. Giving a glimpse of how the two are twined inexorably together. So now I shall sit back and keep a sharp eye on Valentina as she flashes her red skirts in the bookstores.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

JEWEL's Publication Day

It's here at last - The Jewel Of St Petersburg. My latest book's Publication Day in the US.

I wake with the soles of my feet tingling and my pulse beating too fast. It's a great feeling after a year's hard work, not just by me but by my whole team at Berkley - my editor Jackie Cantor, as well as those in Production, PR, Sales and Marketing. Thanks guys. I want to say a particularly big thank you to Berkley's design department who have done a fabulous job on the cover. It's truly sumptuous.

Good early reviews are coming in:

"Gripping, elegant and fierce, this is a classic war-torn love story, and Furnivall's best yet." Library Journal

"A delight for Furnivall's fans, and equally a joy for those new to her work." Publishers Weekly

"A memorable love story that will speak to readers' hearts and minds." Romantic Times Magazine

"A jewel of a book." Barnes &

One thing readers are probably not aware of is the significance of Amazon at book-launch time. Amazon is the largest bookseller in the world and during the first few weeks of a book's life, you'd be surprised at how many publishers and authors keep a sharp eye on what comments are being posted on the Amazon website. It gives them a finger-on-the-pulse feel of public reaction to a book. If you like an author's work, take the time to say so. It's easy if you are signed up to Amazon, and authors honestly do appreciate it.

Communication with my readers is part of what makes this whole writing thing so rewarding for me. So hey, if you enjoy The Jewel Of St Petersburg, do me a favour and stick a comment on Amazon. And if you want to talk more, you can email me as well on - I promise I'll reply to every one of them.

Happy reading!

Saturday, 17 July 2010


Trips up to London, website questionnaires, telephone interviews, magazine requests for articles and stories. Yes, it's that time again when I emerge from my cocoon. My new book The Jewel of St Petersburg is about to be published - August in the US and November in the UK - and the exciting process of putting my name about has started.

Last week I was wined and dined right royally by my publisher, Jo Dickinson, with a whole bunch of the marketing and sales bigwigs from Little Brown UK, along with fellow author, the lovely Bernadette Strachan. The venue was a classy restaurant on the Embankment in London overlooking the Thames - though we were downstairs in a private room. I think they were hiding us away in a wine cellar, not quite trusting authors to behave properly!

They are such a super team at Little Brown UK, I count myself lucky. I assure you that not all publishing houses are as warm and welcoming or go out of their way to make the experience easy for you. Bernie and I managed not to drop gravy over any of them or throw wine over our nextdoor neighbour - which was my cringe-worthy pi├Ęce-de-resistance last time I was at a restaurant in London.

Most of the year a writer keeps in regular touch with editors and PR, but it is rare to have the chance of a get-together with the marketing and sales teams. These are the people at the sharp end of book selling. It turned out to be quite an eye-opener at times. Like the fact that they get about one minute to sell your book to the supermarket buyers. Supermarkets are now major players in the book world and it's important to get them on board. But ... one minute?? That takes some pretty fast talking and an ability to push the right buttons straight off. I just had to hug these guys. They do such a fabulous job for me.

So while The Jewel of St Petersburg picks up its skirts and starts dancing, I am now deeply engrossed in Malaya where my next book is set. Fighting my way through steamy heat and jungle, sailing the Malacca Straits, lazing on colonial verandas and knocking back the gin-slings. Oh yes, and there's an occasional Zero or two on the horizon. A far cry from the snowy elegance of St Petersburg. That's the joy of writing - you never know what's coming next.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

No Man ebook for Haiti

No Man eBook for Haiti : I and other authors have contributed to an eBook called No Man, published by Little, Brown UK, and its publication marks the hundredth day since the earthquake occurred. There are stories by Alexander McCall Smith, Dorothy Koomson, Louise Candlish and Bernadette Strachan, among others, and all proceeds go to UNICEF’s Haiti Earthquake Children’s Appeal. It's for a desperately needy cause and everyone involved gave their services free of charge - the eBook costs just £4.99 from And if you've never downloaded an eBook on to your PC before, let me tell you neither had I. But it's simplicity itself. So give it a go.

Please, please, please buy and enjoy, while helping the victims of the earthquake.

Friday, 30 April 2010


Wow, I can't believe it's months since I said hi to everyone. Sorry about that.

I have been bogged down in a writing frenzy to finish and edit The Jewel of St Petersburg - already way over its deadline. For me that's the toughest aspect of writing, the need to meet your publisher's schedules, though I have to emphasise that both Little Brown UK and Berkley US have been sweetness itself in accommodating my tardiness. It's just that some books take longer to emerge than others and it's hard to know quite why that is. I met someone at the RNA Awards Luncheon in March who writes three books a year and I was nearly sick with envy at the speed of her writing!

I've loved the shift of mood in this book. So different from the harsher Stalinist regime of my last two books. I relished the delight of immersing myself for a change in the lavish lifestyle of the final glory days of the tsarist regime in Russia. It was an extravagant and decadent world of self-indulgence and gaudy excess, of Imperial balls, glittering diamonds and romantic sleigh rides - a sharp contrast to the privations of the underpaid workforce.

The Jewel of St Petersburg opens in 1910 with a catastrophic event in the life of young Valentina Ivanova and progresses to the moment when the Russian Revolution explodes throughout the elegant city of St Petersburg with the firing of the signal gun from the ship, Aurora, in 1917.

The book explores how Valentina, a privileged young woman and talented pianist, fights for her independence and falls in love with a Danish engineer, instead of the Russian Count her parents have planned for her. Valentina tries to protect her young sister from the tumult sweeping the city, as Tsar Nicholas, the Duma and the Bolsheviks are at each other's throats. But tragedy strikes and she is forced to look at her world and herself with new eyes. I could go on - but then you wouldn't bother to read the book! Suffice to say it's a story of passion and treachery set against a backdrop of danger, of secrets and lies interwoven into the fabric of a Russian society about to tear itself apart.

And isn't the cover gorgeous? As lush and lavish as the world it describes. Berkley have promised me a preview copy of it this week, and however many books I write, however many times I repeat the experience, holding that first copy of the book in my hands gives me a visceral thrill that doesn't dim. This business of writing is truly an addictive occupation.

Friday, 15 January 2010


Because I was up to my eyeballs in rewriting chunks of my present book at the time, I omitted to mention what a fab Winter Party the RNA threw in London at the end of last year. Loads of interesting authors, all with agony stories to tell. I was delighted to find out that quite a number of them had tales of being 'advised' by agent/publisher to ditch the opening of their book when it starts with the heroine/hero as a child.

Why? I hear you ask.

Well, I have experienced this 'advice' myself. It came as an unpleasant shock but I understand the wisdom of it from a reader's point of view. They want the story to be in the here and now, not a load of back-story. But clearly it is part of the process by which a writer gets to know her/his own characters, to understand what rocks their boat and how they will react in the events that are about to unfold.

It's always hard to chuck out episodes that you sweated blood over but that's what agents and publishers are for - to make you ruthless with yourself. So having got your motivations and childhood traumas all worked out in the opening chapter, my 'advice' to budding authors is 'Bin it!', and get on with the story.

Back to the party. It was good fun and wonderfully incestuous with all the book crowd full of encouragement for each other, while wondering fiercely whose sales were topping whose. The proceedings were further enlivened when a charming agent I was talking to fainted on me in mid-sentence. I know authors yack on about writing till boredom glazes the braincells, but really!!

Friday, 1 January 2010

New Year

I want to wish a Happy New Year to you all. It's got to be better than 2009, hasn't it? Here in Devon, UK, it has started with pure blue skies and a beaming blissful sun, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's a good omen for the year ahead. I heard on the radio today that it's official - we are to call it "twenty ten" rather than "two thousand and ten". Two syllables shorter. How lazy can we get?

I had a long and delightful Christmas with two weeks solid of family visitors and their three adorable cats. Charades, Pictionary and Articulate won hands down in the 'playing silly games after too much Sauvignon Blanc and Baileys' stakes, but even while performing an inspired ET charade with my finger pointed up in the air, my unfinished book haunted my mind. So now I am relieved to be back at work, hurtling towards the end with Valentina determined to make life difficult for me.

I want to say a massive thank you to my publishers, Little Brown UK and Berkley USA, for being so patient and so gentle in their enquiries as to when the book will be finished. If they're panicking, (which they undoubtedly are) they are showing no sign of it to me. I breathe easy.

Happy 2010 to you all.