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!

Monday, 18 September 2017

The Girl from Simon's Bay - in mass market paperback

Here it is!
The mass market paperback of my latest novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay. This particular edition is a slightly smaller book and costs a little less than the original trade paperback that was published in January of this year. It still has the same evocative cover and, of course, every single word of the original! It's designed, as the words suggest, for the mass market in the UK and is available to order online now. It will reach UK bookstores by the end of September,and will be at the larger WHSmith Travel outlets at airports and stations in October. If you live outside the UK, the original paperback remains freely available. As does the e-book and audiobook, world-wide.

Most books that are published used to tread a familiar path from hardback to paperback, to e-book and audiobook, to serialisations etc, but these days the sequence can be different. In the case of novels, many are no longer produced as hardbacks but go straight to paperback. Some authors and publishers prefer to try out their books as e-books first to assess demand and will then bring out a paper version later.

Whichever way you like to read, The Girl from Simon's Bay should hopefully come in a format that you fancy. But if you like a signed copy, you'll just have to stick with print!

Please spread the word!

Friday, 1 September 2017

Meet me at Book Club!

Over the past 5 or 6 years, I've had the pleasure of visiting Clubs far and wide to chat about my 2 books, The Housemaid's Daughter and The Girl from Simon's Bay. And what a pleasure it has been! Lively questions, interesting discussion, engaging company.

I think we all imagine that Book Clubs are a relatively modern invention but actually they've been around for a lot longer than we realise. The first ones sprang up in 18th century England, when books were far more rare and expensive than they are today. In those days, if you loved reading, you could join a club and thereby get access to many more titles than you could possibly afford on your own. But... looking at paintings of the boisterous gatherings from those times, I wonder if they were really all about reading?

And here we come to the second - and some might say more important - aspect of a Book Club: its social nature. Getting together to chat, have a coffee or something stronger, a little light refreshment or a full-on meal, attending a Book Club meeting guarantees a couple of hours of lively chat and laughter plus some discussion about books, too. In fact, many of those early Clubs never got around to talking about literature, they just dived straight into the refreshments!

And how have Book Clubs evolved for our digital age? Well, if you live far from an urban centre, you can join an online club. This will give you access to a world-wide group of readers, and you can choose to focus on books in a particular genre, find friends, exchange reviews and engage in chats. It's not quite as sociable as being there in person, but you can always make an occasion out of it and raise a glass of wine towards the screen.

So what is it about books and reading that engages us so much?
One of the most beautiful answers comes from screenwriter William Nicholson, as spoken by Anthony Hopkins in the movie Shadowlands:
We read to know we're not alone...

Saturday, 19 August 2017

How do you like your read?

With The Girl from Simon's Bay newly out in a variety of formats, I've been looking at the way we read.
And it's fascinating because there have been some significant changes. After years of falling sales, print has picked up! Figures out recently show that for a second year in a row, the sale of paper books versus e-books has increased.

So, what's caused this change?
It may be that we're starting to find a balance between reading digitally and on paper. Interestingly, the increase in physical books sales is being driven by younger readers who seem to want to take a break from their hyper-connected lives and settle down with a book in their hands! There's also been strong growth in children's books and this has translated into more sales, too. After all, isn't a book made of paper a beautiful, tactile gift for a child?

Just to give you an idea of the numbers here: over 670 million print books were sold in the UK in 2016. We spent more last year on books across all formats than in the previous year. Physical bookshops, which have been under such pressure for so many years, also have reason for optimism because their sales rose, too.

So... digging deeper, what do the figures tell us about how are we reading these days?
It seems that when we have the choice, we like a physical book. But when we're on the go, we tend to read digitally. And our reading is no longer exclusively via e-reader devices. We're now embracing reading on our phones or tablets instead. And talking of phones, that's the way we're increasingly listening to books, too. Or via a CD set, like the ones in my picture, above. Who would have guessed? Listening to an entire book on your phone...

Perhaps the bigger issue, now, is less about formats and more about our lives.
As Frank Zappa memorably said:
So many books, so little time...