My favourite book that I’ve written is usually the one I wrote before. I am always convinced that the one I’m currently busy with is The Worst Book Ever To Be Written. The only book that I genuinely loved writing from start to finish and never felt like throwing myself off of a cliff at some point while I was writing it (yes, I mean that literally), was A Cornish Christmas, I don’t really know why that was, I don’t think it’s my best work, though I did for a while, but I think sometimes there’s a touch of magic to the process that helps, most books are usually a mix, my latest was the hardest, so who knows, perhaps I’m due an easier one soon – let’s hope! Though I doubt it as I’ve set myself a real whopper with the next one.
Still, Summer at Seafall Cottage was special to me. It’s the most I’ve stretched myself as a writer, with a present and a past timeline, and I took the most amount of risks with the story – writing something that dangled between historical and contemporary fiction. It wasn’t an easy novel to write either, personally, as I completed it during a very tough period when my husband and I moved countries, after leaving my full-time job as a lifestyle journalist which was surprisingly challenging. I’d spent so long wanting to write from home, only to get the dream and find I missed my colleagues, the camaraderie and my country! Also, this book was the first book I’d ever written under contract with my publishers, Bookouture, (my first two novels were self-published first, then edited and expanded upon and republished by them) so that came with it’s own challenges.
Still, I was immensely lucky, I had a lot of freedom with the book, more than most, that’s for sure, I had pitched a very basic idea of a woman going to Cornwall to recover her broken heart, finding a job and possibly getting involved in an allotment garden project, what I delivered instead was a woman discovering a secret diary, finding an abandoned cottage, and a love story that went back to the Great War! Thankfully my incredible editor much preferred that (phew!). She is beyond lovely, her name is Lydia and she is the nicest person. I had a real moment when I was biting my nails, wondering if she would be reading my pitch and going, ‘Wtf?’ But she didn’t, she wrote me back to tell me she loved it. Did I mention, I’m lucky, grin!
But it needed a bit (Ahem : A LOT) of work, because I’d lost a bit of confidence thinking that she wouldn’t go for the new direction, and I’d let the past story take over, so I needed to really work on the present storyline about the biographer whose marriage had imploded. I can’t tell you how incredible it is to work with the editors we have at Bookouture – they really help bring stories to life, hold our hands, and give what is needed – a reality check sometimes, a dose of encouragement, you name it – and eventually, Victoria’s story became far more real to me. It was like a weight had fallen off my shoulders, once I knew the book had potential, I just let myself enjoy the process, and the second draft was rather satisfying to write as I fell for Victoria’s story more.
Part of this was the introduction of a houseboat community, which happened by accident – because I went to a little pub on the water near me, (have I mentioned how lovely Suffolk is?!) and I was a little stuck with the story at the time, when I saw these gorgeous houseboats in the River Orwell, and suddenly came home inspired to feature them in the story in some way. I found this Youtuber called ‘So I bought a Narrow Boat’ and I became so enchanted with her life on the water, and her stunning little houseboat which had these little portholes and little round cushions that you used instead of curtains. (Incidentally, this is an excellent way to procrastinate, which I am a champion at). This led me to the incredible ‘alternative’ world of houseboats in general, and that’s how I came up with a side character named Angie, who becomes Victoria’s new best pal, – an ageing hippie who has a fondness for ‘suspicious brownies’ and runs The Floating Bookshop. She was a joy to write, I’d quite like to meet her myself!
I love writing characters, they are what brings the magic alive for me, and make writing that much more fun. Victoria was the sort of character who takes over, I really don’t know where she came from, all feisty and wearing rather funky t-shirts and old-fashioned men’s cloaks, and having the ability to do all sorts of complicated maths (this from an author who was hopeless at it at school, but hey ho) yet rather vulnerable too – I enjoyed spending time with her though. I hope I don’t sound mad now, lol.
Alice Hoffman said that when she writes a book she just strings along things that are currently holding her interest till something new emerges, and I couldn’t agree more – especially when it came to this book, a lot of it happened that way, and other ideas came from who knows where, really. Like Fen or Tilly, my characters from the past. I’m sure he was inspired a little by the character of Dickon from The Secret Garden, which in some ways I’m sure influenced the idea for this story as a whole – it was one of my favourite books growing up, and I love the idea of abandoned, forgotten places, the stories they could tell us if we could only find a way to listen…
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at Summer at Seafall Cottage! With some of the images that inspired it. I always enjoy it when authors share theirs so I thought I would too – also I think it’s really important to share the challenges, along with the joy that comes with writing – so while now, after a few months post publication I am fond of this book – there were real moments of hardship, doubt, worry and intense procrastination. Each book is different, some are harder than others, some stretch you, and that’s always a bit uncomfortable – it’ show we learn and grow, It’s funny but that is the lesson I keep learning – just keep going. The only way out is through. Sorry for talking in bumper stickers 🙂
And now apologies, time for a shameless plug, but if you haven’t read it yet, it’s on sale at 99p in the UK and about $1.30 in the US if you’d like to get it here.