Wednesday, 22 July 2015
You may be surprised to find out that it isn't the famous St Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square, London, but a church modeled on its design thousands of miles south! Yes, this is the Dutch Reformed Church in Cradock, South Africa.
Built one hundred and forty years after the Wren-inspired London masterpiece (actually designed by one James Gibbs), the Cradock church had a slightly bumpy start. At the opening ceremony in 1868, attended by thousands of folk who had come in from the surrounding farms and hamlets, the builder refused to hand over the keys because money was still owed to him. Given that the cost of construction was some £24000, presumably the IOU was not a small amount! A whip-around among the many worthies in attendance led to sufficient funds being collected to appease him, and the keys were duly handed over and the ceremony proceeded.
Since that time, the church has continued to sit proudly above the centre of Cradock, an unmistakable landmark as you approach the town.
Ada, in The Housemaid's Daughter, notes its dominance with a little indignation:
I could imagine flying right over the broad streets of the town, past the spire of the Dutch Reformed Church - far higher than St Peter's, the Master and Madam's church...
Interestingly, it wasn't only South Africa that drew on the design of London's St Martin-in-the-Fields, shown in the picture on the left.
The iconic building inspired lookalikes even further afield in the United States, in India...
Keep an eye out on your travels!
Saturday, 4 July 2015
From Wisconsin to Florida, from Georgia to California... everyone's celebrating the Fourth of July!
And, in the spirit of celebration, I'd like to say thank you to so many US readers for their response to The Housemaid's Daughter.
It doesn't seem to matter where you live - or, indeed, whether you've ever been to Africa or not - the story of Ada and Cath has touched many folk. Lots of readers have also told me that the book has gone one further: it's taught them a slice of history they haven't known. We all understand the backstory of our own country and what has shaped it, but despite living in an inter-connected world with television coverage reaching into its furthest corners, we're often ignorant about the background to the places we watch on the screen. Books can help to bridge that gap.
I was hoping to be able to tell my fictional story while simultaneously reflecting the historic journey of South Africa over a period of sixty years from the 1930s to the end of the 80s. It's a time that I lived through (almost all of it!) and I felt there were aspects that I could incorporate into the book which would give readers a sense of the reality on the ground - and perhaps echoes from their own country. I didn't want the politics to overwhelm the story, but rather to make its point more subtly - through the reactions of the characters to the events that befall them.
"A history that I was not too familiar with, and characters you grow to care about.
I want my daughters to read this some day."
And it's interesting - and sad - to reflect that Ada and Cath would recognise many of the the divisions and difficulties that continue to play out today, in many parts of the world. Perhaps that's why the story still resonates...
Friday, 19 June 2015
Two pieces of news this week about the French edition of The Housemaid's Daughter, Une Chanson pour Ada
I have just received my copies of the new "Pocket" edition, which is exactly that: a compact version, designed to be convenient enough to fit into a reasonable-sized pocket, and on sale shortly. It has a fresh cover, which you can see from the photo. Once again, a publisher has put a particular stamp on its version. The original Chanson featured a romantic heroine and child, gazing into the distance, but somewhat isolated from one another. In the Pocket edition, the two figures are far more connected, and very much reminiscent of Irish Cathleen keeping a watchful eye on the young Ada. May they fit into many pockets/handbags...
Hard on the heels of Pocket, comes news that my French publisher has selected Une Chanson pour Ada to be part of their special summer promotion, in association with Fnac, the biggest book retailer in France. Twenty titles have been chosen, on the basis of being ideal 'beach' reads. The promotion takes place from mid July to early August, so that readers can arm themselves with diverting literature before they set off on holiday.
Sounds good to me.
A la plage!
Friday, 5 June 2015
Welcome to The Housemaid's Daughter in Turkish!
As ever, when a new translation appears, I pore over the cover, the subtitles, the glossary etc for an insight into the particular style and interest of the readers who will be taking my book home.
A sense of place is clearly important for the newly-translated Turkish edition. Cradock House makes it onto the cover for the first time in any of the translations. Not content with taking centre stage, it also provides the title for the book... Cradock Evi ... Cradock House. The subtitle of Hismetcinin Kizi refers to the (house)maid's daughter. And she is very appealing, making her way through tall grass towards the distant building. It's certainly a pretty and poignant cover, and it seems to have hit the spot with local readers, who have posted many pictures of the book on social media, especially photo sharing sites, where Cradock Evi has been shown alongside inviting cups of coffee (!) and bright sprays of flowers. Thank you to my diligent Turkish readers!
If you happen to come across a copy while on holiday in Turkey, do let me know and post a pic!
Until then, good luck to Ada and Cath as they take their story to Turkey, may they find a growing audience...
Tuesday, 5 May 2015
I have a very creative member of my family who decided to make a mosaic of the foreign translations of The Housemaid's Daughter!
It's fascinating to see the various covers alongside one another, and compare them for appeal and tone.
So here they are, in loosely top to bottom order
The Housemaid's Daughter
Une Chanson pour Ada (French)
Sobaricina kci (Croatian)
La Hija de la Criada (Spanish)
La bambina dagli occhi di cielo (Italian)
Dottir Hushjalparinnar (Icelandic)
Kolor jej serca (Polish)
and the Chinese...
You will also notice that there are different versions of the same translation. This is to cater for bespoke Book Club editions, Large Print, and compact "airport" editions. Missing from the lineup are the German version Schwarze Tochter, and the newly published Portuguese version A Cor do Coracao. I hope to get copies of these soon, to add to the picture.
In most cases, the foreign publishers have chosen to keep the African theme of sunset and an iconic acacia tree. However, the Dutch and Italians took a different tack, highlighting the child Ada playing with a doll, or at the piano, both of which are charming images. I am also thrilled that most covers show a faint music watermark in the background, reflecting the powerful part that music plays in the story of Ada, Cath, and Dawn.
The first time my fingers touched the ivory keys I knew music would lift my heart...
Saturday, 18 April 2015
The Housemaid's Daughter is set in Cradock, a small town in the Karoo region of South Africa famous for its wide-open spaces and dramatic scenery.
In 2013, I was delighted to be part of an inaugural walking tour around the town during the Karoo Writers Festival. We listened to extracts from the works of Olive Schreiner, Iris Vaughan, Guy Butler and myself as we strolled the historic streets just above the Great Fish river. Now you can take the same tour to get your own perspective on the town's literary heritage. This venture is the brainchild of Cradock's Schreiner Museum and NELM (The National English Literary Museum) in Grahamstown, who are printing a walking tour guide.
Do you remember The Story of an African Farm? This is the groundbreaking book by Olive Schreiner, one of South Africa's most famous writers who put the Karoo on the international map when it was published in 1883. She lived in Cradock as a child, and the beautifully-presented Schreiner museum honours her memory and provides a fascinating stop on the tour. Then follow Guy Butler's memoir, Karoo Morning, as you go along Bree street, wind past an exquisite church or two - including the one built as a perfect replica of London's St Martins-in-the-Fields - and into Market Square, the setting for many scenes in my novel. From the Square, look across the river towards the railway station, where Ada waves goodbye to Phil as he leaves for the war, and later her daughter, Dawn, bound for the brights lights.
"Johannesburg," said Dawn to the man in the ticket office. "One way."
I stared at the pigeons in the rafters.
Then I felt Phil again, the warmth of his hug.
I turned to Dawn, who should have been his child, and took her slender body in my arms and held her as I myself had once been held.
A blast on the whistle and then the train struck out for Johannesburg where there was gold in the ground and - God protect her - all manner of trouble above it.
If you're in Cradock one day, take a walk...
Thursday, 2 April 2015
Here I am with my copies of the US paperback version of The Housemaid's Daughter.
How is it doing?
Well, if you nip onto the website of the most famous online bookstore (their .com site) then you'll be able to see approx 180 reviews of the book, dating from the hardback over a year ago, through the e-book and CD format to today's paperback. It makes interesting reading for me, as the author. Each person has a particular take on the story. Probably 95% of the reviews are wonderfully uplifting, but a couple of folk weren't so keen. Wouldn't it be boring if we all thought the same?
The book is also featured on Goodreads, the huge online book club that started out in the USA and has now spread worldwide. There, I have received 2000 ratings, and over 350 readers have taken the trouble to write reviews. Thank you! Goodreads also allows readers to nominate their favourite quotes in the book. The one that has struck most people is this one, perhaps you will remember it:
And I remind myself that wherever one finds oneself, home and love is lent to each of us only for a while.
We must care for it while it's ours, and cherish its memory once it's gone...
An inspiring thought, in today's turbulent world...