Had a lovely trip to Agatha Christie’s magnificent holiday home last Friday. Greenway, now owned by the National Trust, is set in stunning Devon countryside overlooking the River Dart with views down to Dartmouth and up to Dittisham. The house is elegant and huge but still feels like a family home as it is so cluttered with collections of all sorts of things. Agatha was married to archeologist Sir Max Mallowan and accompanied him on several digs in Syria and Iraq which explains the collections. (I thought I was a hoarder…)
It’s been said before: publishing a book is like giving birth. Well, I’ve given birth to three babies and they might be teenagers now, but I still remember the pregnancies, the overdue dates, the labours, the births, the pain … and the end results.
So… I spent a long time writing the books, waking in the night, unable to sleep, plodding along, struggling uphill, and then the persistence of finding a publisher, someone to take care of you when the time came, knowing it would be worth the waiting and the pain to finally have that book in my hand. In my arms. Etcetera.
This time last year I was a first time novelist and the overwhelming emotion when I held The Generation Game for the first time was relief: I’d finally done it, helped along the way by professionals and friends and family. And there was much celebration.
A year on and I have just held my second novel, This Holey Life, in my hand – born a little early, a few weeks before the due date of August 1st.
(OK, so how much longer can I keep this analogy going?)
Having a book published is not as eye-poppingly, skin-splittingly painful as actually pushing out a seven pound something baby but, yes, there is pain. But there is also joy.
And now the long hard slog of nurturing this book has to begin, along with working on that next baby…
It’s been a funny old sort of long weekend. You can’t go anywhere without being accosted by Union Jack bunting – whether it’s cheap plastic or posh Cath Kidston, bunting is being hung out as never before. I’m a fan of bunting, don’t get me wrong. I love all things retro and vintage and bunting has nostalgia threaded through it. (Though we haven’t had any up at home as the Union Flag is banned. Another story.)
The telly and newspapers have been full of stats about Queen Elizabeth II who has been on the throne for sixty years, the second longest-serving monarch (only Queen Victoria to beat at 63 years). She has seen 12 British Prime Ministers (Tony Blair was the first PM to be born during her reign in 1953), 14 New Zealand Prime Ministers, 12 Australian Prime Ministers and 11 Canadian Prime Ministers. 12 US Presidents, 6 Popes and 6 Archbishops of Canterbury. She has been on 261 overseas visits including visiting Australia 18 times, Canada 22 times, Jamaica 6 times and NZ 10 times. She was the first British monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland (last year) and the first to visit China (in 1986).
On a personal note, I have grown in admiration for her over the years since I first saw her in Bristol in 1977 during the Silver Jubilee celebrations. During the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant on Sunday, Sea Containers House unveiled a giant photo of the Silver Jubilee balcony appearance which brought the memories to the surface: A hot day. Waiting on the Downs above the River Avon, the Suspension Bridge in the background. Waiting and waiting for a glimpse of her Majesty to drive past in an open car. My lovely grandparents looking after my brother and I, excited as we were. Her dark hair, her wave, her smile. A picnic with tomato sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs. An ice lolly. Tired legs…
Back in Teignmouth, we went to a street party. Despite the heat, I was dressed in a red, white and blue tank top knitted by my mum from a Woman’s Realm pattern. The highlight for me was winning the bonnet competition (see The Generation Game for a fictionalised version of events). And looking at that photograph now, of the pre-Diana Royal family back in the day, you can only wonder at how that family has changed over the years. As every family has changed. As mine has changed. The jubilee offers a chance to wonder at the journey we have been on as a nation over the last 60 years. And the journey each of us has been on with our own families, through the ups and the downs and the highs and lows. The break-ups, the make-ups. The successes, the failures. The passing of the old and the arrivals of the new. The sun and the rain.
We don’t know the obstacles ahead of us but, when we come up against them, we keep going. We keep going because of the love we have for those around us that we call our family. Whether we see them everyday, every month, every year. Or whether we just carry them in our hearts.
I was very nervous on Thursday as I was speaking at my first festival, about my journey as a writer since winning the Yeovil Literary Prize in 2006. I was privileged to be asked along to the inaugural Brympton Festival at the stunning Brympton House in Somerset. I had a lovely receptive audience and it was informal and relaxed. They were very gentle with me. And it was a cathartic experience, talking about my ups and downs until finally having The Generation Game published last summer, five years after the opening chapters won the Yeovil. It was particularly touching to have Margaret Graham there, as she organised the Prize the year I won and has been an encouragement ever since.
In fact, I met lots of great people, including author Katharine McMahon who writes novels about strong women in historical settings such as the Crimean War and the French Revolution. She was the speaker at the literary supper. Very glamourous evening. Too much champagne (if there is such a thing) in a gorgeous setting.
I wish the festival well for next year and the years to come. And I’ve got the festival bug. So I hope there are more to come…
Thanks to the lovely ladies who invited me to their book group last night at the Newquay in Teignmouth. You were very welcoming and extremely kind about The Generation Game. I was honoured to be initiated into the group by being told the motto. Just as well I can keep a secret…
Very sad to hear that Davy Jones has passed away. We watched The Monkees as kids on the telly and Daydream Believer has always been a favourite of mine. So much so that it is the theme tune to my novel The Generation Game – if a novel can have a theme tune. It was played at the book launch last summer and Judi Spiers played it on her radio show just a week ago at the beginning of my interview…
Amother link to my childhood gone, but not forgotten.
Very excited to be on Judi Spiers show tomorrow morning between 11 and 11.30 on BBC Radio Devon. I grew up with Judi on the telly and it will be so cool to chat with her. She just gave me a name check on today’s show and said that The Generation Game is the ‘best debut novel she has ever read’!
Tune in if you can…
From 1972-74, my parents, two older brothers, Sammy the cat and I lived above the Candy Shop on Belgrave Road in Torquay. It was a shop that you only find in seaside towns; we sold sweets, fags and grockle tat (for those of you that are not Devonian, ‘grockles’ are holiday-makers). I was only little but this time and place has always stayed vividly in my mind and became the setting for my debut novel, The Generation Game.
The Candy Shop is now a security shop. But I still drive past every now and then, just so I can remember…
There are far more famous connections to Belgrave Road. Agatha Christie was baptised in All Saints Church which was just over the road from us. And further down, towards the seafront, is the Grosvenor, made notorious recently from the hilarious Channel 4 documentary, The Hotel.
A few months ago I visited my old school in Teignmouth and talked to some English students about the book. They asked me who would play Philippa if the novel was ever made into a television drama. I turned the question back on them, and one lad suggested Miranda Hart. Genius. But I only discovered today that Miranda was born in Torquay in 1972… How cool is that?
Don’t ask me how my brain works, because I don’t know, but today I was listening to the classic pop song Hold Me Close by David Essex. Check out this Youtube video to see the 1970s in all its gilded glory and spangled splendour.
Just love the way men could dress back then, anyhow they wanted. A flowery choker and a hairy chest could sit well together (admittedly looking like David Essex helped – not sure my dad could have got away with it)…
… so I was only a 7 year old when this song was in the charts but, whenever I hear it, I go straight back to the sweet shop where we lived in Torquay at the time. This was the setting for my debut novel The Generation Game and indeed Hold me Close is ‘played’ twice in the book at significant moments. There’s something about the cheesy words, his slight cockney accent, the flares, the cheap Top of the Pops set that makes me long for that simpler world.
Or is that just plain old nostalgia…? And is there anything wrong with that?