Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Meet me at the Aerial Ropeway!

So says Louise Ahrendts, heroine of my new book, The Girl from Simon's Bay.

And I am standing - on a very windy day! - close to where she would have met David Horrocks, by the middle landing stage. The ropeway was built in the early 1900s to move supplies, staff and patients from the West Dockyard in Simon's Town, up to either the Royal Naval Hospital, or to the Sanatorium which sits at the top of the mountain. It took 15 minutes from bottom to top, and you rode in a rather elegant cable car which looked like a wooden gazebo. By the time Louise and David met there, the ropeway was no longer in use because a road had been built to the Sanatorium. Only the metal pylons remain.

I think the locals must have regretted the ropeway's passing - imagine what an exciting journey it must have been! And what spectacular views! There's a lovely story about the specific siting of the Sanatorium. It was apparently built right at the top of the mountain in order to make it difficult for recuperating patients to go down into town and make merry in Simon's Town's pubs!

And what of Louise and David? What came of their meeting?

It was 6 months since he'd left and four months since his letter.
And now here he was, sitting on the ledge by the aerial ropeway, staring at the thicket of warships clustered within the dockyard. I was above him, on a path I often followed. If he didn't turn, he wouldn't see me. If I turned and went back the way I'd come, he wouldn't see me either.

I waited, one moment willing him to turn, the next willing myself to be sensible and go back...

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Museums and Memories

One of the key areas of research in writing my new book, The Girl from Simon's Bay, was the ships that called into Simon's Town naval base before and during World War 2. I wanted to position my hero, David Horrocks, on vessels that not only played a significant part in the war but also visited the dockyard at particular periods during the conflict. I'm most grateful to Simon's Town Museum for giving me access to their records, and here is a pic of me presenting a copy of the book for their collection.

As I researched, I began to build up a picture of ship movements in and out of the dockyard. I settled on four ships: HMS Durban, HMS/HMNZ Achilles, HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cumberland. Based on their real wartime action, I designed David's war service. For example, while posted on HMS Durban just before the outbreak of war, David visits Simon's Town and happens to notice a young woman on St George's street, laughing with a young admirer. Slender, with that twist of the exotic so unmistakeable in the local girls...

War breaks out and he is transferred to HMS/HMNZ Achilles, part of the task force hunting for the German raider, Graf Spee. In the ensuing battle, David is wounded and carries a scar on his temple for the rest of his life. While on convoy with HMS Dorsetshire down the coast of West Africa, he develops appendicitis and, when the warship calls in to Simon's Town, he is rushed to the Royal Naval Hospital where he is nursed by a young woman who looks vaguely familiar...

David rejoins to HMS Dorsetshire in time for its role in the sinking of the Bismarck, but Dorsetshire's days are numbered.
Rescue came on the second day, just as hope - and water - were almost spent.
Then to HMS Cumberland, and the final days of the war in the Far East.
Two bombs, and it's over at last.
Wait for me, please. I will return.

Four ships, a world war and, in fleeting moments between the carnage, an unlikely romance...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Launch to remember!

It's been quite some week!
The Girl from Simon's Bay is now well and truly launched!

Four talks and signings, several radio interviews (listen on my website barbaramutch.com), print media interviews, blog interviews and a TV appearance. I've certainly been kept on the hop promoting the book in Cape Town. I've met many new readers - and also reconnected with ones who had read my previous book, The Housemaid's Daughter. Thank you to all those who came along to find out more and then went on to purchase a copy!

Breakfast TV must be one of the liveliest workplaces around. It doesn't have to be regimented or particularly serious - it's all about engaging with the slightly sleepy viewer and making him/her feel good about waking up and facing the day. On my show, there was a band giving an impromptu performance, someone demonstrating indigenous flower arranging, a feature on how to choose a puppy(!), a guest chef about to prepare a sausage dish, and myself talking about my new book. Never a dull moment! If you haven't caught my TV clip yet, jump on to https://youtu.be/rlEwJq_h-Z8 or find it on my website.

And how did we ever survive without mobile phones? Aside from the humdrum matter of calls/texts/emails, welcome to the mobile phone as temporary radio studio. I found myself in a car, on live radio, discussing my book, offering my take on International Women's Day and then receiving a job offer from a presenter who said I had a good voice for the airwaves!
Just don't put the call on speaker - too much feedback.
Amazing what you learn along the way!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Girl from Simon's Bay on air

I was thrilled to be invited onto SAfm's Literature program on Sunday 19th Feb. Hosted by Nancy Richards, it features all things literary including interviews with authors from South Africa and abroad. The Girl from Simon's Bay was chosen as the "Hero book" on Sunday's show, and we chatted for about half an hour live on air. You can listen to the interview if you go to my website barbaramutch.com and click on Events.

Whenever I go on radio, I'm always amazed at how efficient it is! No cast of thousands required here, as is the case with television. There was Nancy and her charming producer, a bank of complicated equipment... and they were good to go. Long live radio! No wonder it can bring us so much variety and can respond so fast to breaking stories.

I am counting down to the launch of The Girl from Simon's Bay in Cape Town during the week of the 6th March. If you happen to be in the area, do join me at one of the following events:

Monday 6th March at 10am at Fish Hoek Library for a Literary Tea - talk and reading
Wed 8th March at 10.30am at Exclusive Books in Cavendish Square, Claremont, for tea and book signing
Wed 8th March at 5.30 for 6pm at Wordsworth Books, Longbeach Mall, Noordhoek for talk and book signing, with refreshments

Do take a look at my website, again under Events, for the Invitations to the above.
I look forward to seeing you!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Searching for the Girl...

While four ships become the wartime home of the hero of my new novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, what of the heroine, the Girl herself? Where does she call home?

She is born in 1918 in Simon's Town, the British port which hosts the Royal Navy's South Atlantic fleet. She lives in a terrace of cottages above the dockyard where her father works. When she's 21, war breaks out and changes her world - you'll have to read the book to understand why!

But wait:
In the 1960s, the South African government embarked on a program of forced removals as part of their apartheid policy. Simon's Town was declared a White Group Area, and non-whites were evicted from the town and their homes were destroyed.
So... how was I to describe my heroine's early life in a community that no longer exists? While many of Simon's Town's beautifully restored Victorian buildings can still be seen, the cottages of local workers and fishermen have gone. Only fragments remain: a historic wall that marked one section of the community, a small, elegant mosque that defied demolition.

Luckily, I discovered the tiny Heritage Museum, tucked away near the dockyard, where a dedicated lady historian has created a vast archive of photographs, cuttings and memories. She was generous enough to guide me around the streets she once knew, and to conjure up life as it had been when my heroine lived there.

And here she is, holding an advance copy of The Girl from Simon's Bay, in her extraordinary museum...

Thursday, 19 January 2017

A Fiery Start to Publication Day...

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

Coming soon in 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...