Friday, 17 October 2014

Website Shorts (2)

I wonder if you know that The Housemaid's Daughter has a website? No? Read on.

These days, it's not enough simply to write a book! Readers want to know the background to the story, what inspired the author, and what is special about the setting. I know that I would have loved to go behind the scenes of some of my favourite books/authors of the past... Daphne du Maurier, Gustave Flaubert, Nevil Shute...

On the website you'll find the family history that spurred me to write the novel, the geography and geology of the Karoo region of South Africa where the action takes place, the music that becomes Ada's signature piece - in fact, you can listen to a recording of the haunting Raindrop Prelude at the same time.

There's also an update on the latest published translations, and a variety of media articles and pictures from my travels to promote the book in the UK, South Africa, Canada and further afield.

Have a glance at the comments from readers, and see what the reviewers say, from the likes of National Geographic and USA TODAY right through to Bookworm Ink. And do have a listen to some of the radio interviews, especially the hilarious one with Sue Grant Marshall on Radio Today!

Nip onto and see what you find!

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Housemaid's Daughter in 10!

We've reached a milestone: 10 languages!


Plus a couple of large print English versions.

For me, what's fascinating is the variety of covers. In most cases they have been designed to reflect the African heritage of the book - sometimes boldly, sometimes more subtly. But occasionally a publisher has taken a completely different tack, as with the Italian version. And beautiful it is, too. Several translations have paid homage to the music by including watermark musical notes in the background.

But the real difference between the covers lies in the human element: the portrayal of the heroines of The Housemaid's Daughter, Cath and Ada.
Sometimes they are both missing (Chinese and Spanish), sometimes Cath is romanticised (French), sometimes Ada has been made contemporary (Dutch) and sometimes - wonderfully - both have been caught in a moment of joy (Polish).
What do these interpretations say about national traits?
I wouldn't presume to know!
I'm just astonished at the creativity on display.

There are still a few translations to go... so watch this space!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Rescuing zebras, learning the alphabet...

There is a magnificent game reserve close to the town of Cradock in the Karoo, where The Housemaid's Daughter is set. It's called the Mountain Zebra National Park, and it has the distinction of having saved a species.

Zebras have always caught the imagination. "Horses in striped pyjamas", we think, when we first see them in picture books, or when they are co-opted to teach us our letters: Z is for Zebra. In my novel, Ada is introduced to the zebra in just that way.

But by the 1900s, zebras were in trouble, especially the Mountain Zebra, a species distinct from the more plentiful plains zebra. A sub-species called the quagga had already become extinct and it seemed that the mountain zebra would soon join it unless a tract of suitable land could be found where it would be safe from predators, particularly man.

In the nick of time, the Mountain Zebra National Park was proclaimed in 1937. A founder group of less than 10 animals was provided from local conservation-conscious farmers and thus begin the great revival. From that first vulnerable herd, the population in the Park has steadily grown to some 700 animals. What a success! Especially when we hear of the tragic decline of so many other species, like the rhinos and elephants being poached in other parts of Africa.

I wonder if Ada ever saw a zebra? Perhaps I should have contrived a meeting. After all, she loved the veld...
"I would put Dawn on my back and walk to where the sky met the earth, for the pleasure of being on my own and yet part of a company with the birds and the small animals that scurried about us.
When the sun was at its highest, Dawn and I would squat in the bony shade of a thorn tree... the heat of the veld stretched into watery mirages far ahead...

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Housemaid's Daughter goes Large in the USA

I have just received a copy of my novel, The Housemaid's Daughter, in Large Print for the US market. It has been published by Thorndike Press in hardback, with a beautiful African sunset on the cover. Thorndike is part of the Gale, Cengage Learning group, and sells Large Print books to libraries, schools, institutions and to individuals through their website The book is also available from conventional online vendors.

I'm always on the lookout for particular quirks in the various editions. In this case it was the the logo and seal of approval of an organisation that I had not come across before, the NAVH. This is the National Association for the Visually Handicapped. Digging a little further, I discovered that this body has specific guidelines for publishers if they wish to gain NAVH approval. Some are understandable - minimum limits on margin size, maximum limits on size and weight, opaque paper so that bold print doesn't show through - but there are other recommendations that address readability in more subtle ways.

It turns out that Sans Serif is the easiest font for visually impaired readers, with a type size of at least 16 points, but preferably 18, and with no short strokes on the end of a character. And then there is the business of "descenders", those pesky tails extending below j and q... these should definitely not be allowed to wander from the vertical or have any flourishes.

I sat down and read the first chapter and I have to say it really was a pleasure. The script leapt out at me, and I had no trouble finishing in double quick time. Despite the fact that the text clearly occupies more space, clever design of the pages/chaptering means that the book is not that much longer than most of the current hardback versions. I'm thrilled that readers in the US now have the chance to read my book in such a bold format!

So... if you happen to spot one in a library near you, have a look...

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Schwarze Tochter!

Welcome - Willkommen - to the German translation of The Housemaid's Daughter, boasting a dramatic cover of a young woman in profile, against a backdrop inlaid with a music score. This is certainly a very different image from most of the other translations, so it will be interesting to see how it is received by readers.

This particular translation has sneaked up on me - I wasn't expecting it out just yet. Translated by Irene Eisenhut, and published by Droemer, the book is now available in German bookshops and from the usual online vendors as a physical copy or as an e-book for Kindle, iPad etc.

I haven't yet received my copy so I can't do my usual flip through and check on the glossary. Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the more frivolous criteria by which I judge the foreign language translations is the quality and elaboration of the glossary! In most cases, I can't immediately understand what I am looking at, but I eventually manage to fathom out what is being written. The ability to render into another language wonderful words words like knobkierie (stick with a knobbed head) or shebeen (unlicensed tavern) or tokoloshe (evil spirit) usually gives me a good idea of how seriously the translator has worked to create a sense of Africa for a foreign audience. The most elegant translations have been in the Italian edition, which described Ada's simple doek (a headscarf) as a foulard o pezzo di stoffa da legare attorno alla testa.

I look forward to receiving my copy of Schwarze Tochter and seeing if it manages to top that!

In the meantime, spread the word to your German friends...
Viel Gluck!

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Housemaid's Daughter in the USA... 6 months on

My novel, The Housemaid's Daughter was published by St Martin's Press in the USA in Dec 2013. Six months have passed and I have been fascinated by the reader response to the book. From the wilds of Montana, to the urban jungle of New York, folk have been getting in touch with me to tell what they thought of the story. You can get a feel for the reviews if you look up the book on or on Goodreads, the massive online book club that has millions of members.

The feedback that really interests me is when the reader contributes his/her own experience to a review. It is extraordinary how many people have spent part of their lives in Africa and bring their own background to bear. But it is equally extraordinary to hear from readers who have never set foot on the continent and yet can empathise with Ada and Cath in their fight for survival. I guess that a story of love, hope and redemption - as it says in the blurb - shows how we are inter-connected, wherever we live.

The longing of a heart draws me like no other. It speaks to me because it reminds me how to feel. You will be brought back in time to South Africa.

This book was moving and showed the reality that exists that divide the races. The system of apartheid in Africa was used as the setting, but we find radical racism in our own country.

In terms of official media reviews, the best I have received to date is from USA TODAY. Do have a read of it. You will find it on the Media-Print page of my website,

Keep spreading the word to your American friends!

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Wars that influenced The Housemaid's Daughter

As we commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, I have been struck by how short a period of time elapsed before that generation became caught in a second world war at the end of the 1930s. In the space of 20-odd years, the world stood on the brink of another huge conflict. And the men who had fought in the trenches were being called upon to serve again.

The call was heard in South Africa, former British colony and staunch ally from the earlier Great War. My father, a pilot, volunteered to join the RAF, and served in North Africa. As did my uncle, who honoured his background by joining the SA Irish and seeing action as an infantryman there as well. Sadly, he died at the Battle of Sidi Rezegh in 1941. Both my father and my uncle were too young to have served in the Great War, but they went to battle with the clear knowledge from their parents of what a terrible conflict it had been.

When I was developing the plot for The Housemaid's Daughter, I patterned the character of Phil on my late uncle. (In a previous blog I have written about how I discovered my uncle's grave in Libya, via the efforts of the SA War Graves Project.) However, I wanted the fictional Phil to survive the battle and return to South Africa to play his part in the novel. In addition, I wanted to reflect the hugely damaging effect of shell shock - what we now call post traumatic stress - that has affected so many in both World Wars, and also in recent conflicts. As I wrote about Phil and his struggle to overcome the legacy of his war, I read about how today's soldiers and civilians are being rehabilitated from the same tragic condition.

I hadn't meant this blog post to be depressing, but it is sad that we are still subjecting young men and women to the same kinds of shocks that so devastated an earlier generation on battlefields that are now 100 years old...