Monday, 15 January 2018

Around the coast of Simon's Bay

If you take a drive from Simon's Town, the setting of my book The Girl from Simon's Bay, towards the iconic landmark of Cape Point, you will come across many less famous - but no less spectacular - spots. Don't whizz by but rather stop, like I have done, and take in the pristine coves, the bobbing kelp and the tumbled rocks that make this section of the coast so distinctive. Past Miller's Point, you will find several lookouts where you can pull off the road. If you have a pair of binoculars with you, scan the flat rocks rising out of the sea. There are several that are home to heaving colonies of seals. You can see them, lumbering about, and occasionally slipping into the sea to snap up a tasty penguin or two.

And, on a darker note, I always check the seas foaming around those rocks in case a bigger predator is about. You've probably seen extraordinary footage on television of great white sharks doing a little light snapping of their own... a seal makes a tasty lunch. But so far I've never been there at the right time. What would I do? Shout from the shoreline as the shark heaves itself up towards its hapless prey? I suspect it would all be over before I could focus my binoculars... It's nature, and let's keep it that way.

Louise, the heroine of The Girl from Simon's Bay, loves to swim with her childhood friend, Piet. But when he starts to avoid her, she must swim alone. Something we always vowed not to do because you never knew what could happen, a freak wave rising out of a flat sea, a shark gliding close to shore...

New Year's greetings to you all from near the southwestern-most tip of Africa!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Happy New Year - and a surprise!

What will 2018 bring? Hopefully a kinder world but also, on a personal note, I hope you receive a delicious amount of what you want and not too much of what you'd prefer to avoid! In any event, I wish you happy reading!

2018 marks 8 years since the completion of my first manuscript, which would go on to become The Housemaid's Daughter. It also marks the first anniversary of the publication of my latest novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay. And, as you know, I've been blogging about my journey along this road from the very beginning.

Just recently, I was amazed to spot a new version of The Housemaid's Daughter on Instagram. Here it is, with a most evocative cover. Foreign publishers are supposed to send a few copies of their translated versions of the book to the author but sometimes this doesn't happen, or it takes rather a long time. So... I can be checking out something completely different and up will pop a new edition in a language that I don't recognise. Surprise!

Google Translate can help, but in this case I'm not sure I'd have been able to copy the appropriate words into the translator! I'm also intrigued that my surname in Bulgarian consists of 3 letters. And, talking of tricky translations, here is the title of the book in Chinese...

Re the mystery version above, I confess I had to leave a plaintive message in cyberspace asking what language it was and a kind reader obliged! I'm delighted to see this handsome edition, and I hope that my Bulgarian readership will continue to grow!
Good luck!

Monday, 4 December 2017

165 Blog Posts - and counting...

It's been a quite a year!
My new book, The Girl from Simon's Bay, has been published in paperback, e-book, audiobook - and recently in Spanish. The year kicked off with a series of launches in South Africa, comprising signings, talks and radio and TV interviews. If you missed any of them, you can find them on my website
It's been wonderful to receive great feedback from readers far and wide, with a particular thank you to those of you who've taken the time to write a review on amazon for me. Every review propels boost the book further up the ranks so please keep them coming!

And let's not forget The Housemaid's Daughter, which continues to sell steadily and win new friends across the world in a total of 13 languages since its publication in 2012.

I started this blog in June of 2010 - more in hope than expectation - and called it 'Publishing my First Book'. It was a matter of dipping a toe in an industry that was completely new to me and seeing if I could survive. I never imagined that my writing would be successful in the wider world. Yet it has, and what a journey it's been!
I've made new friends, rediscovered old ones, absorbed lessons from more experienced writers and editors, and honed my craft through their input.

Since 2010, I've written 165 blog posts describing the background, research and whimsical back stories that have underpinned each of my novels, from the stark Karoo to the wartime naval dockyard of Simon's Town and beyond. And always, through everything I write, runs the vibrant, seductive charm of South Africa.
"There's everything here," says a character in The Girl from Simon's Bay.
"Beauty. Cruelty. Humanity. You won't ever lack material."

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Is it Aden? Or is it Simon's Town?

Earlier this year, we had the privilege of watching part of the shooting of The Last Post, a BBC TV series set in 1960s Aden, a former British territory. Except... we weren't in Yemen, but in Simon's Town.
Yes, Simon's Town was chosen as a "double" for Aden, with its streets turned into Arabian markets and the old sanatorium site at the top of the mountain standing in for the army barracks where much of the action in the series takes place. There is a nice symmetry to choosing Simon's Town, which was, of course, for many years a British enclave and the home of the Royal Navy's South Atlantic fleet.

Just along the road from us, the production company set up a huge green screen which formed a neutral backdrop to various scenes which might need a different background inserted after filming. We returned one day to find a vibrant street action being shot with the heroines posing in pastel, full-skirted frocks and headscarves. With the addition of trestle tables laden with fruit and shaded by dusty umbrellas, old fashioned bicycles propped against walls and extras in traditional robes, suddenly we were in the Middle East of the 1960s. But there are clues to the location if you look carefully. In some of the scenes taken at the top of the mountain, you can see Simon's Town historic aerial ropeway rearing its head in the background. And every so often there's a magnificent view of the docks and the sweep of Simon's Bay, like in the picture above.

So... if you happen to be intrigued by the setting of The Girl from Simon's Bay, take a look at this series on TV catchup and see if you can spot some of the buildings and streets described in the novel - even if they've been given a Middle Eastern flavour!
If you're outside the UK, hopefully you'll soon get the chance to watch it via the BBC's worldwide channels...
The port was tucked into a protective curve of mountains, with Simon's Bay at its feet.
A huge flag flew in the grounds of Admiralty House...

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Water, water, everywhere?

Water, water, everywhere,
Not any drop to drink...

Famous lines from the epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in the late 18th century. Many of us read it at school, a grim tale of a sea journey that started in hope but then encountered storms, ice, the doldrums, an albatross, fierce sea creatures...

But today, when I read these lines about water and not a drop to drink, I'm struck not by a journey, but by a region. Cape Town and the Western Cape of South Africa is in the grip of a crippling drought. Surrounded by ample seas and usually blessed with wet winters, the area has had very little rain for the past two years. Dams are at an threateningly low level. Just this last week, severe water rationing was introduced. What to do when rain doesn't fall from the skies? Desalination plants have now become an urgent priority.

In researching my novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, I looked at weather records for the Cape, particularly during the Second World War. I wanted to know the climatic conditions at the time my hero's warship was visiting Simon's Town. Would he arrive in a storm? What was the likelihood that he and Louise would be able to take a walk on the mountain in fine weather or would they have been driven indoors by pouring rain? While I was looking for evidence of storms, I discovered that there were periods of drought and water shortage, too. New dams had to be built and church services included prayers for rain. There were consequences in the following summers. I used what I learnt...

The sun glared down from an unseasonally cloudless sky.
Perhaps it was the sun glancing off a piece of glass that caused the spark.
Fire! shouted the rating from the guardhouse below the hospital...

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Welcome to La Chica de Simon's Bay!

On the 26th of October 2017, La Chica de Simon's Bay will hit Spanish bookshops and online booksellers.

Yes, the Spanish translation of my novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, has arrived. I hope it will emulate the success of La Hija de la Criada (The Housemaid's Daughter) and sell tens of thousands of copies in Spain!

The book has been translated from English into Spanish by the impressively named Maria de Puerto Barruetabena Diez, and is 400 pages long. My Spanish publisher has tweaked the cover image slightly from the English version to produce an evocative, early-morning rendition of a mountainous coastline skirting a foam-flecked Simon's Bay. It looks uncannily similar, I'm sure you'll agree, to the photo that I took recently...

I'm always excited when a foreign translation comes out. It's like launching a ship on an unknown journey. Will it reach its destination? Will it survive the storms and do better than expected? I was thrilled by Spanish readers' enthusiasm for La Hija de la Criada, so I hope they will take Louise and David and their story, set on the shores of Simon's Bay, to their hearts and make it a runaway success.

Good luck!
Buena suerte!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Travelling with... The Girl from Simon's Bay

I'm delighted to report that WHSmith Travel is running a promotion for The Girl from Simon's Bay this month in their stores at airports and major train stations in the UK. This is a real coup, and hopefully will drive sales to holidaymakers and business folk alike, in fact anyone looking for an interesting read!

I thought it might be fun to see if we could spot the novel in as many locations as possible. A bit like that favourite book we used to read with our children when they were younger - Where's Wally?!

So...if you happen to spot the book in your travels, please take a pic with it - or just of the book if you're shy - and post it on facebook for me, saying where you found it.
(Or, if you fail to see it at your particular station - however large or tiny - and feel it deserves to be there, then don't hesitate to ask the store to get in stock! Consumer power is a great thing.)
Let's make it a sellout!