Thursday, 19 January 2017
Today, Thursday 19th January 2017, is publication day in the UK for The Girl from Simon's Bay!
So... the book will be in bookshops around the UK from today, and also available to download to your Kindle, iPad, iPhone, and any other digital reader - wherever you are in the world. For South African readers, copies will be arriving in your bookshops from mid-February, and I will be doing a series of events in Cape Town in early March. If you are in Australia or New Zealand, keep an eye out from March. US and Canadian readers will have to be patient for a little longer - but remember that you can download the ebook immediately.
This picture of me with an early copy of the book was taken at the top of Red Hill, overlooking Simon's Bay, last month. It does not look the same today. Sadly, last week, a devastating fire swept through the area, destroying much of the beautiful fynbos, and threatening Simon's Town below. Only the heroic action of three water-bombing helicopter pilots plus the dedication of firefighters on the ground averted a tragedy.
A fire threatens Simon's Town in The Girl from Simon's Bay...
Perhaps it was the sun glancing off a piece of glass on the mountain that caused the spark. Flames burst through the leafy canopy like myriad orange umbrellas.
"It'll head this way," I cried, "the wind's in this direction -"
Wednesday, 4 January 2017
Happy New Year! A box arrived on my doorstep the other day...
And here are the contents: all crisp and hot off the press, the first copies of The Girl from Simon's Bay!
It's always a wonderful feeling to hold the finished book in your hand for the first time, to flick through the pages and read a random section and realise that, yes, it's finally in print! I am delighted with it, I love the design, and the cover is really smooth and tactile to the touch. Typeset in 11/16pt Sabon, it's clear and easy to read - I always enjoy a book whose the type setting doesn't require me to screw up my eyes! Right now, The Girl from Simon's Bay is being distributed for its launch in the UK on the 19th January. Copies will soon be heading off to South Africa where I will be doing a series of promotional events and interviews in Cape Town in early March. In due course, there will be paperbacks available in the USA, the Commonwealth and other English-speaking countries.
But if you are a Kindle or iPad user, you don't have long to wait - wherever you happen to be in the world. You can order the book directly to your device right now via your favourite online seller, and it should pop up in your library/digital bookshelf on 19th January. Hooray for technology!
Sometimes David surprises me... in the passing slide of blue eyes, the timbre of a man's voice, the line of a warship sliding across the bay.
I can almost believe...
Sunday, 4 December 2016
After all, a new book is surely a good time for a refresh!
Website design has certainly moved on from when we set up my original site four years ago. Instead of a static page, I can now include a set of revolving photographs as a backdrop, for instance. And I can add more links to the research I've done and the places that feature in the books. The website is now "dynamic" (!) in that it will squeeze itself onto the smallest phone without losing content, or expand to fill your large desktop screen. Progress! And, hopefully, a more appealing layout. Let me know what you think.
In addition to the smart new features, I've revamped the existing material that described The Housemaid's Daughter, and included lots of new content about the background and inspiration for The Girl from Simon's Bay. The new novel is set in Simon's Town, the naval base at the foot of the Cape peninsula in South Africa. There are photos of the bay and the mountains, there is background to the 4 ships that feature so strongly in the book, and I've given a taste of the wartime royal navy town that's at the heart of the story. It's a world that nurtures - yet sometimes turns away from - the Girl in the title...
So do take a look, especially if you plan to read the book. It will offer a private view behind the scenes!
The Girl from Simon's Bay will be published in paperback on the 19th January 2017 in the UK and South Africa, with the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to follow in Feb/March. But remember that the book will available worldwide, on 19th Jan, as an ebook for Kindle, iPad and other ereaders.
Don't miss it!
Sunday, 20 November 2016
The Girl from Simon's Bay has taken her place on a cover that strikingly evokes the setting for my upcoming book. Last year I took a series of photographs from a vantage point above Simon's Bay, on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa, to provide inspiration and detail for my publishers' design team. I wanted to show the spectacle of the glittering bay surrounded by mountains, while also conveying a haunting sense of a young woman adrift...
To my delight, the designers also included typical Cape features like the swathe of fynbos with pincushion proteas in the foreground. And for those of you who know the Cape, you'll recognise the ribbon of sea foam as being a well-known sight along the coast, particularly down at Cape Point where the sea can be so rough that foam seems to decorate every rock and inlet.
Now that the cover is complete, the book will be going to print. Pre-orders are already being taken so if you fancy getting in early then do place an order at your favourite online bookseller and await its delivery in the New Year. The official launch date is the 19th of January. I can't wait to feel the pages beneath my fingers! You can, of course, also order the book to read on Kindle, iPad and a variety of e-readers.
In my next blog, I'll be introducing you to Louise, the heroine of the novel, and the enigmatic girl on the cover. But for now, let me leave you with a brief taster...
Infant waves curled towards me over the crystal sand.
I reached out both hands to seize the oncoming water with its lace of bubbles and fell forward. Cold, green liquid gurgled into my mouth, lapped at my forehead and started to trickle into my ears...
Friday, 28 October 2016
Once again I turned to navy records. I looked for actual young men of a similar age who'd gone on to distinguish themselves on similar vessels to my potential hero. I identified four men who filled the criteria. Born between 1910 and 1911, they either went to Dartmouth as cadets or joined the navy after school. Each was a midshipman in 1928/29, and served on battleships (HMS Nelson and HMS Revenge) or cruisers (HMS Effingham, HMS London). All reached the rank of Lieutenant in 1932/33, and pursued Gunnery training at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth. Upon the outbreak of war, one was assigned to HMS Royal Sovereign, one was on HMS Rodney, one was on HMS/HMNZ Achilles and one was on HMS Coventry. All survived sinkings and crucial battles. All continued in the Royal Navy, 3 retired as Admirals.
It was from the strands of these four very different, but real, individuals that my hero sprang. He needed their dedication, their skills, and sometimes their luck to survive. I have not named any of the officers whose careers I researched. But there is one whom I'd like to acknowledge, who provided a particular inspiration. He was Lt (later Rear Admiral) Richard Washbourn, of HMS/HMNZ Achilles. He was awarded the DSO for his bravery at the Battle of the River Plate in 1939. Here is an extract from his citation:
When ... several splinters struck the gun director tower, killing three men and wounding two others, though wounded on the head by a splinter which half stunned him and killed the man behind him, continued to control the main armament with the utmost coolness. He set a magnificent example to the rest of the Tower crew, who all stood to their posts and made light of the incident. Thus the primary control kept working and secured throughout the action a high rate of hits on the enemy.
Of such are heroes made...
Friday, 7 October 2016
How do you create a leading character - and in particular a wartime hero from a time long gone?
That was one of the challenges I faced in my forthcoming novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, due out early 2017.
There were several specific requirements. My hero needed to serve on particular warships that took part in the Second World War AND happened to pass through the British naval base of Simon's Town, South Africa, during the conflict. Some serious research was required plus a large dose of inspiration.
I started - not with my hero - but with the navy in which he was to serve. As I combed through records of Royal Navy ships that had called at Simon's Town for repair or refuelling between 1939 and 1945, I built up a list of suitable candidates. Then I matched them with battles or encounters that were pivotal to the war, especially in the Atlantic. Soon my hero had a sequence of ships in which he might serve, and a series of battles in which he might be involved. I chose Gunnery as his speciality so that he could participate most closely in the battles I'd chosen. So... I knew where my man would be at any time during the war and, in particular, I knew when he'd be in Simon's Town.
That was all very well, but now I had to find a way to link the individual to the action. In order to make him believable on a professional level, I'd have to design a career trajectory that would allow him to start as a midshipman and then move up to being a Lieutenant during the war years and to be in a position to serve with honour on the vessels I'd earmarked.
How do you manufacture a young man, bring him up to be in love with the sea, send him to Dartmouth and then engineer his career and his life to ensure he's in the right place at the right time?
Clearly, a further line of research was needed.
More next time!
Friday, 23 September 2016
You want to write a book, you've got the outline of a story or a character in your head but... where to start?
May I suggest a Mind Map?
Pioneered by Tony Buzan of Use Your Head fame in the 1970s, the mind map quickly won over converts not just among the business community but for anyone facing a project whether it was making jam, restoring furniture or, indeed, writing a novel.
The great advantage of a mind map is that it allows you to get your arms around an entire subject on one piece of (very large) paper. The result shows your project in a format that is truly at-a-glance. So for both of my books, it's been the first step on the way. It allows me to sketch out the action, specify the characters and then - crucially - show the links between them. And that's key: we may have appealing characters or plot lines but we struggle to link them together into a coherent whole.
I often revisit my mind map after the book is finished, and it's interesting to compare the original concept with the final product.
There are casualties!
Some action - even some characters - just never survive on the page, and others arrive unexpectedly as the story develops. But the basic framework is still there, and the linkages survive. I guess I could draw the mind map on my laptop, but a physical, paper version is so much easier to use. I have the latest one on the wall above my desk so, as I write, I can look up and see where I'm going. And while the final destination may not be entirely settled, my map makes the journey clearer. And, oddly, it frees me up to be more adventurous:
If I stretch that character beyond the boundaries I've set, what might happen?
Maybe some delicious, unstructured mayhem...