Friday, 29 November 2013

The Sea Garden: early copy giveaway

A very exciting parcel from New York this week...some early copies of The Sea Garden. Known as "bound galleys", these are uncorrected proofs, the same text I worked on a few weeks back, bound into paperback form. There are a few mistakes, which have now been set right. These versions are intended for book markets and early reviewers, so I was wondering if any of you here would like a chance to read it now?
I only have a few copies, so this will have to be a lucky dip. Please put a comment on this post and I will draw a name out of a hat in a week's time. Don't forget to leave a blog link or another way for me to contact you. Or, if you prefer, go over to my official facebook page, "like" it and leave a comment on the giveaway post there. Good luck!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Nancy Wake: The White Mouse

Eagle-eyed readers who know their wartime history will know that the beauty in uniform shown in the montage I made for the previous post was no model or actress but the real deal: Nancy Wake, SOE agent in France and the Allies’ most decorated servicewoman of WWII.

She was born a world away from Occupied France in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1912, of French Huguenot and English stock, with a dash of Maori. The family moved to Sydney, Australia when Nancy was 20 months old – she was the youngest of six children. But her newspaperman father walked out on them, and her mother struggled to raise the children alone. By 16, Nancy Wake was working as a nurse, but when an aunt in New Zealand died and left her a windfall, she used the money to travel to London and then to Europe.

Following in her father’s footsteps, she worked as a journalist, first in Paris, then witnessing the rise of Hitler, Nazism and anti-Semitism in Vienna. She met wealthy French industrialist, Henri Fiocca in 1937 – entranced by his spirited nature and proficiency at the tango! – and in 1939 Nancy was happily married to him, living a life of luxury in Marseille. Charming, sophisticated Henri was the love of her life, but the storm clouds were gathering.

Six months after they married, France was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. Never one to stand by, Nancy joined the embryonic resistance movement as a courier, smuggling messages and food to underground groups in Southern France. As the beautiful wife of a wealthy businessman, she had connections and an ability to travel denied many others. With false papers and the purchase of an ambulance, she was soon involved in helping escaped prisoners of war and airmen out of France through to Spain on the “Pat O’Leary line”.

But the Gestapo was watching her. Her life was in constant danger but she assumed so many guises and was so adept at evasion that the authorities named her “The White Mouse”. At one stage she was top of the Gestapo’s most wanted list with a five million-franc price on her head. When it became too dangerous for her to remain in France, she managed, after five failed attempts and capture and interrogation by French Vichy enforcers, the feared Milice, along the way, to escape to Britain using the arduous route across the Pyrenees.

Anyone else might have thought they had done their bit, but Nancy Wake, then 31, joined the British Special Operations Executive which worked with local resistance groups to sabotage the Germans in occupied France. In the run-up to the D-Day invasion she learned about codes and wireless operation, survival skills and explosives, and in April 1944 she was parachuted into the Auvergne region in central France, her mission, alongside SOE agent John Farmer, to organise wireless communication between London and the bands of Maquis, to oversee ammunition and arms caches from the nightly RAF parachute drops, and facilitate the destruction of key targets.

It was a rough, tough life, a far cry from her cosmopolitan pre-war existence in the well-to-do quarter of Marseille. In country dominated by German troops, she slept in woodland, and on one occasion she cycled 500 km through several German checkpoints to replace vital codes her wireless operator had been forced to destroy in a German raid. It took her 71 hours, at the end of which she collapsed with pain and relief.

As she moved between Maquis groups hidden in the hills, she survived countless violent engagements with the Germans. She had to shoot her way through roadblocks, and execute a German woman spy on the basis that only one of them was going to get out alive. All around were hideous burnings and reprisals. She killed a sentry with her bare hands to keep him from alerting the guard during a raid on a German gun factory, saying afterwards that the SOE had taught her “the judo-chop with flat hand” but its effectiveness took her by surprise. Nancy Wake’s French resistance comrade Henri Tardivat said of her warrior queen qualities: “She is the most feminine woman I know, until the fighting starts. Then, she is like five men.”

The liberation of France in August 1944 brought no good news for Nancy. She learned that her husband Henri was dead, tortured and executed by the Gestapo in 1943 because he had refused to give them any information about the whereabouts of his wife.

Back in London, Nancy Wake continued working at the British Air Ministry in the Intelligence Department. She married again in 1957, to a former prisoner of war, RAF man John Forward, and moved back to Australia with him. She was active in politics there, standing as a Liberal candidate, though never being elected.

For her achievements, she was awarded the George Medal from Britain for her leadership and bravery under fire, the Resistance Medal, Officer of the Legion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre with two bronze palms and a silver star from France, and the Medal of Freedom from America.

For many decades, she went unrecognised by the Australian government, possibly because she was considered a New Zealand citizen. Finally, in 2004, Nancy Wake was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. In 2006 Nancy received the NZ Returned Services Association’s highest honour, the RSA Badge in Gold, for her work with the French resistance during the war.

Nancy Wake returned to London in 2001 after she was widowed for the second time. She lived for a while at the Stafford Hotel in St James’s, which had been a forces club during the war and where she was still remembered. She passed away on 7 August 2011 in Britain, where she lived her last years at the Star and Garter forces retirement in Richmond, just three weeks short of her 99th birthday. Her ashes were scattered at Verneix, near Montluҫon, scene of her parachute drop into extraordinary wartime heroism.

For more detailed accounts of her life, I recommend Nancy Wake’s autobiography The White Mouse, published in 1985, and the authoritative biography by Australian journalist Peter FitzSimons, Nancy Wake: A Biography of Our Greatest War Heroine, revised in 2011. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Sea Garden: blurb

Thank you all so much for your fantastic reactions to the US cover! There are more over on the facebook page, and your thoughts really mean a lot. So what's inside the cover? This is the HarperCollins blurb, the long version for the catalog - note spelling! - and pre-publication sites. No doubt some of it will appear on the back cover, too.
I've made a couple of photo montages to help set the scenes. Let me know what you think...
Romance, suspense, and World War II mystery are woven together in three artfully linked novellas-rich in drama and steeped in atmosphere-from the critically acclaimed author of The Lantern
On the lush Mediterranean island of Porquerolles off the French coast, Ellie Brooke, an award-winning British landscape designer, has been hired to restore a memorial garden. Unsettled by its haunted air and the bitterness of the garden's owner, an elderly woman who seems intent on undermining her, Ellie finds that her only ally on the island is an elusive war historian …

Near the end of World War II, Marthe Lincel, a young blind woman newly apprenticed at a perfume factory in Nazi-occupied Provence, finds herself at the center of a Resistance cell. When tragedy strikes, she faces the most difficult choice of her life . . . and discovers a breathtaking courage she never expected.

Iris Nightingale, a junior British intelligence officer in wartime London, falls for a French agent. But after a secret landing in Provence results in terrible Nazi reprisals, he vanishes. When France is liberated, Iris is determined to uncover the truth. Was he the man he claimed to be?

Ingeniously interconnected, this spellbinding triptych weaves three parallel narratives into one unique tale of love, mystery, and murder. The Sea Garden is a vivid and absorbing chronicle of love and loss in the fog of war-and a penetrating and perceptive examination of the impulses and circumstances that shape our lives.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Sea Garden: US cover reveal

I think it's safe to show you this the past week several pre-publication sites have uploaded the US cover of The Sea Garden that I wrote about a while back. Here it is, the wisteria tunnel in all its mysterious splendour - and most of you will be happy to know that the proofs I've just sent back to the publishers in New York contain references to it in the text.

So what do you think? Will you be enticed to pick up the book, and will it draw the eye in a bookstore next June when it's published stateside by HarperCollins?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Sea Garden: proofs

A quiet week, once again immersed in The Sea Garden. The US proofs arrived, the final stage before the manuscript becomes a bound book to be published next year. The copy edited version is now laid out as the pages will appear for the reader. This is the last chance to spot mistakes - of plot inconsistencies, fact, spelling and punctuation - and rectify any infelicities.
Only the small things, mind. We've gone far beyond the stage of wholesale re-writes. Any great new ideas will have to remain missed opportunities. I find proofreading quite nervewracking precisely because of these constraints: this is more-or-less it, and the fear is that you will sit down in front of these pages with your red pen and cup of tea, and despair at what you read. The words aren't perfect, and it never will be as perfect as they were in your head. 
The danger is also a terrible kind of word-blindness. As a writer, you've gone over the same words so many times that the story can seem dull. Obviously there are no surprises, but even the phrases that seemed good enough to survive this far seem lacklustre through familiarity. A few can be struck out, but you don't want to be completely ruthless or there'd be nothing left.
I find it most relaxing to sit on the floor, leaning back against a sofa, with the pages in piles on the carpet around me, anywhere but at my desk where I feel too much like the person who wrote them. As much as possible, I want to feel like a reader of the book. A very critical reader. Those pages where I mark some alteration are put in one pile, to be sent back to the publishers. The clean pages go in another.
Sometimes I realise that I ought just to run upstairs and check a fact, either in my research books or on the internet, and return relieved that I'm in time to change something. Just as well I had mental alarm bells when I came to the part set in wartime London and saw I had my characters walking past the statue of Eros in Piccadilly; it took five minutes to ascertain that Eros was packed away in storage during the course of both world wars. Pity, that was one of the better descriptions that had to be red-penned! 
But obviously, there's excitement and a certain pride in reaching this stage. The steps in the process by which writing turns from a private endeavour to a public one are gathering speed. I never forget to feel hugely grateful that anyone wants to publish me at all, and that top-notch editors and agents in New York and London have devoted their time and expertise to my efforts.

I wrote here a while back about the section of the book that is set in Provence (you have to scroll to the end of the post - note the change of the overall title, though not of this part). Well, here it is, and if I say so myself, I think it looks great on the page:

The Sea Garden will be published in summer 2014 by HarperCollins in the US and by Orion in the UK.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Cambridge revisited

Cambridge in October...the falling leaves on the Backs and the sense of excitement and possibility...there's nowhere in the world that brings back my younger self to me with quite such intensity. It has been a busy half-term, and a shockingly sad one, for reasons I don't want to go into here, but it began with a trip to my old university with daughter Maddy.
It's been decades since I was last at the arts faculty buildings on Sidgwick Avenue, but there we sat in the old lecture halls for a couple of the Festival of Ideas talks that she was interested in: Six languages that changed the world given by Professor of Linguistics Ian Roberts, and Truth and lies in teenage fiction, a talk by author Anthony McGowan. Both were utterly engaging and thought-provoking, delivered to the kind of packed houses that lecturers like Christopher Ricks on Tennyson used to command in my student days.
In many ways, the town and the university seem completely unchanged. The venerable buildings are beautifully cared for, though more closed off from the public than they used to be. The atmosphere is the same; even the scraps of conversation  from passing students seem unnervingly the same as they always were. "...tea at Caius..." "...see you at the ADC..." "...essay crisis..."
Yesterday, it brought home how extraordinarily comforting it is, when a place stays so much the same, when I happened to drive past the location of my first real job as a trainee journalist, the next stage after Cambridge. Maddy was involved again, as she'd found a driving test theory centre that offered a slot that did not entail getting up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday, that just happened to be down the hill from the old Kentish Times building on Sidcup Hill. 
After leaving her to take the test, thinking that it would be another glimpse of the past, I decided to take the road past the old newspaper office, a hulk of a 1920s/30s place with the name proudly emblazoned. But at the top of the hill there were only unfamiliar new buildings and no sign at all of what had once been the hub of a large regional paper with nine area editions. I had no idea it had gone, and the gulf between expectation and present reality was oddly disconcerting. 
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