THE BOOK COVER – HAND OVER YOUR BABY!

Nannies, daughters-in-law and book covers – can they ever be good enough for your baby?

I was cautiously optimistic; even at the time of offering for the book, the publisher had shown me covers of other novels as examples of what they had in mind. Later, I’d been invited to send images of local houses and scenery. All this was reassuring, when I recalled the appalling stories of author friends: a heart-warming, beautifully written character-led story was given a cover she felt suggested erotic fiction; a thoughtful and moving memoir about some harsh realities of moving to the countryside was given a twee cover totally at odds with the book’s message. In comparison, I told myself I really had nothing to worry about. I just had to get used to the fact that my Spanish house was unlikely to look quite the same as I imagined, and not all my images – ‘essential’ Almerian semi-desert plants, locally specific ceramics, goats and a particular type of tasty but ugly tomato – were likely to be in it!

I was delighted when the first image arrived, except that they’d planted an Agave Americana right by the front door. It’s stunning and locally emblematic, but also a vicious invasive beast, with toxic sap giving agonising contact dermatitis! Luckily the publisher patiently let me do some re-planting.

So, here’s the final result – and I’m happy to say I really feel it does my baby proud.

You can now pre-order The Spanish House and its friendly pot plants on amzn.to/x9GvcW

FINALLY, UNBELIEVABLY: THE ‘HOW I GOT MY AGENT’ BLOG POST!

Childbirth, Ikea, and submitting a novel to literary agents for representation: things I swore I’d never do again. Particularly the latter; if you’ve read MY POTHOLED PATH TO PUBLICATION, or ONE TO ONES, I’VE HAD A FEW, you know why. And those posts haven’t aged well; dear God, how smug I was, thinking I’d never need to run the agent gauntlet again!  But that was before my small friendly publisher decided to stop publishing fiction; unless I could somehow make my new novel into non-fiction – a bit of an ask, for a seventy-year family saga – I was back to square one. Un-agented, un-published and back in the muddier-than-ever submission trenches.

Out came the Writers’ Yearbook, the laptop and the sickening realisation that I was about to lose a sizeable chunk of writing time. Come back faffy postal submissions, all is forgiven. These days, most agents expect you to have Googled their client list, favourite novels, festival interviews, whacky Wish List (airport romance, anyone?) and their submission requirements designed to be just that bit different to that of whoever you last subbed. Honestly, it’s time to bring in some kind of UCAS-like process, rather than this fawning agent-fan fiasco; if they want new clients, how about they open a website and look for us, eh?!

Anyway. The new novel was the thing. I loved it, and wanted to give it the best possible start in life – which unfortunately meant going to the ‘publishing gatekeepers’.  Even though, after having gone through this process three times before, I felt a default loathing for these people. Once again, I rejigged the Submissions Spreadsheet of Shame, with its colour code highlighting of yellow for Submitted, orange for Full MS Requested, and a disgusting dark brown for Rejections. And once again, the spreadsheet soon started to look like a pile of poo.

But then the jolly orange Full MS Requests started to arrive. I got cocky and started subbing some of the Big Cheese agents I hadn’t bothered with – and a couple of them also turned (Red Leicester) orange. After a few months, I had 9 (NINE) Full MS requests; writing friends said I had it made, and I began to believe them. But the months started to pass, several agents asked for more time… and Doubt set in.

It was torture trying to get through more than half an hour without tapping the email button on my phone. I unsubscribed from nearly everything – even my darling White Stuff Clothing – to cut down on annoying non-agent-news notifications. There was that time I heard the whang of an email and was convinced, felt it in my bones, that it was going to be good news – only to find it was my son’s phone with a match on Bumble. Then a London number flashed up and I got The Agent Call – except it was an agent chasing up because their full MS request email had somehow bypassed my scrutiny and gone straight to junk mail.

Then the first rejections started to arrive. They were kindly and helpful, and I highlighted the agents in a sad but respectful grey. Maybe I should have coloured them a dawning-on-me pink, because what started to emerge is that I’d written a book they really liked but couldn’t sell. Eventually there was just one agent left on the wall, riddled with indecision, and I put her out of her misery with a little nudge. I submitted the novel to a few independent publishers, but they were similarly nonplussed.

It was very painful, this book bereavement, this need to put a whole world I’d created and lived in for two years in a digital drawer. I literally went through denial, anger and then acceptance – that it didn’t obey the insane but irrefutable marketing laws of genre. There was only one possible cure for me, and here in a nutshell is how I got my agent: I decided to write something new that did.

This coincided with the first lockdown and, missing my Spanish home, I got an idea for an escapist holiday read. But before I flew off with my usual obsessions, I spent a month reading similar books, to get the hang of what interested people who read this genre. The Spanish House was less literary than The Pier, but my heart was soon just as invested in it. With minimal wing-clipping, I soon had a new novel I loved and really believed in.

No Yearbook this time. I only sent ‘invitations to look’ to fifteen agents; anybody who hadn’t shown any interest at all in my beloved The Pier could go hang. Several weren’t looking for this genre or already had too much of it, but there were soon three Full MS requests, including a Big Cheese. Quite quickly this time, I got my answers: Big Cheese saw the novel going in a different direction; the second agent was overburdened, and once she asked about and approved of the agent who’d made me an offer, conceded. The third… was Kiran Kataria at Keane Kataria.

We didn’t have The Call, we had The Zoom – because it was August and I’d moved out to my own Spanish house and, going through the Spanish residency process, wouldn’t be in the UK for a while. Obviously, I’d already Twitter DM’d some of her authors – all of whom were ecstatic about her. But to finally hear somebody talk about the characters of your book as if they’re as real as they are to you, to have someone so believe in your writing that they’re happy and looking forward to working on the story and finding it a home… I’m still pinching myself, to be honest.

Six months on, and Kiran’s been everything I dreamt of in an agent: an insightful and painstaking editor; a calm but no-nonsense soother of my angsty author moments; and then a superb negotiator – of my three-book deal with Aria Fiction (Head of Zeus)! My only worry is she’ll see this and find too many I-don’t-think-this-is-the-word words.

LOCKDOWN? ALL ABOARD FOR THE FLIGHT OF IMAGINATION!

lockdown blog pic

Book sales have soared as people jump into books to escape the pandemic. Love in the Time of Corona. The Non-Traveler’s Wife. A Tale of Two Metres. Even my Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, initially self-isolating in a lighthouse as it happens, has had an increase in fans. But how are writers coping, now we’re figuring out how to Zoom our day job, helping offspring yanked out of uni, dealing with a series of stress-related ailments we thought we’d grown out of, and worrying about loved ones, finances and loo rolls?

Twitter shows a full spectrum, from writers who now can’t write at all, to those who see little difference between this and the usual authorial lockdown as you try to meet a deadline. I’m closer to the latter extreme, probably helped by the fact that my work-in-progress features another protagonist coming from a state of isolation. If that sounds bleak, I should point out that it’s set in a quiet corner of sunny Andalucía, taking me and the protagonist somewhere no flight other than that of imagination can currently go. I’m never in a rush to return.

Today, however, is the second birthday of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, so I’ll be celebrating with a walk down to the sea, some cake, the instagram of my dry-throated interview at the book launch

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rI8Hk_b9HEM&feature=share

and a listen to the novel’s Spotify song playlist,

https://spoti.fi/2JGs34Kstarting with Contigo en La Distancia (With You in the Distance) :-/ 

Keep distant (but friendly) and well!

If you’d like to lockdown with The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, you can get hold of it online  https://mybook.to/lighthousekeeper or you could get a copy from matthew@urbanepublications (charging via paypal) or CBS at orders@combook.co.uk / 44 (0) 1892 837171.

 

 

TALKING ABOUT ‘THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S DAUGHTER’ AT THE BOOK LAUNCH

Celebrating my book birthday today by er… making myself watch my book launch video 😬🤪🙈

If you like the sound of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, you can get it from any good bookshop or online e.g. https://amzn.to/2xQtuXY

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: TWO LIGHTHOUSES AND A MADRID PENTHOUSE

TLKD LOCATION PIC COLLAGE.JPG

‘What made you set your story in a lighthouse?’ I’m often asked. The truth is, it wasn’t intentional. The story was inspired by my unexpected, Twitter-initiated friendship with a well-known flamenco guitarist – and I just found myself exaggerating our true-life locations: his comfortable house in outer Madrid became a penthouse apartment in the vibrant city centre, and my (then) near-coastal bungalow became my local lighthouse… at Beachy Head.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter follows Imogen, borrowing her Aunt’s renovated lighthouse while recovering from the break-up of her marriage, and, thirty years earlier, her lighthouse keeper father on the nearby Beachy Head lighthouse – until he mysteriously drowned there in 1982. She discovers that he was intensely corresponding with a young female penfriend – just as she is, with (you’ve guessed it) an actor-musician Twitter friend in Madrid. They learn that these unexpected, irresistible connections can have wonderful – but also possibly tragic – consequences.

 

BEACHY HEAD

I think it’s common to want to run away to the coast; there’s something energising about it, as if reaching the edge of the land makes you face up to things. But Beachy Head is no ordinary edge: towering 530 feet above the sea, it’s the highest of the series of chalk cliffs undulating between Seaford and Eastbourne in the South Downs National Park. It takes Imogen a while to get used to the ‘the earth dropping and swaying beneath her’. Many years ago, as a heart-broken twenty-something, I escaped to Beachy Head myself – not to go anywhere near the edge, but just to stand there like some French Lieutenant’s Woman and feel sorry for myself. I didn’t know then that the area has always been a renowned suicide spot. Although numbers have been much reduced by the Beachy Head Chaplaincy team patrolling the cliffs to help despondent people, about twenty to twenty-five poor souls each year still lose their lives here – some unintentionally (the chalk cliff edges are notoriously unstable). Although there’s an awareness of this sadness, and danger at the cliff inevitably finds its way into the story, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter mostly celebrates the invigorating beauty of the area, just as local people and a million or so visitors do each year.

One of the reasons I chose the Beachy Head area for Imogen’s coastal escape was because it has not one but two lighthouses. The squat little Belle Tout was built in 1832, but the cliff top was often so foggy that its light flashes couldn’t be seen from the sea. It was decommissioned in 1902, a few days before the new lighthouse in the sea below Beachy Head was ready to take over. The Belle Tout has passed through the hands of a number of private owners, including two physicians, so it didn’t seem unreasonable for Imogen’s aunt and physician uncle to have bought it. It’s now a beautiful little B&B, and it was wonderful to be able to stay in the original keeper’s bunk room that became Imogen’s in the story.

I never got to see inside the Beachy Head lighthouse, but I was lucky to be able to spend a magical afternoon with lighthouse expert Rob Wassell (author of The Story of… books about the two lighthouses and Birling Gap) on a boulder-strewn low-tide walk to it. As Imogen says, ‘from the cliff top, it was an endearing, little red and white striped ornament; on the beach it is shockingly tall, its colours majestic, a sad and mysterious presence.’ Like many lighthouses at the time it became automated in 1982, making the keepers – and their profession – redundant; this impending change, which must have been very distressing for many of them, is an important element in her father’s story.

 

MADRID

Given the novel’s theme of communication, I wanted to include the viewpoint of Imogen’s Twitter friend Santi in Madrid. His setting is as contrasting as possible from hers; the land-locked capital city and the seaside cliff top initially make them feel like they might just as well be on different planets. My research in Madrid included the delightful but Spanish-taxing company of flamenco musicians, many weeks walking around the city, observation (and being asked to take over) a community English class, and a nerve-wracking audition for a television drama!

For someone with a fear of heights and a frequent dislike of capital cities, researching my two main settings for The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter could have been a challenge, but I surprised myself by quickly falling in love with both places. I still visit my friends in Madrid whenever I can, and particularly enjoy all the flamenco venues, the Sorolla Museum, the Retiro, Jardines de Sabatini and numerous other glorious parks. As for Beachy Head – well, I now live five minutes from the lighthouse.

You can get a copy of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter from any good book shop, or online from various sites e.g.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighthouse-Keepers-Daughter-Cherry-Radford/dp/1911583646/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532207378&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=cherry+radford&dpPl=1&dpID=51yBWY3XBwL&ref=plSrch

‘DESCRIBE THE SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR LIFE’ – AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Spotify life soundtrack

How do you pick 5 songs for the soundtrack to your life? This was one of five questions in my most taxing but favourite online interview so far.

(Many thanks to @JillBookCafe. Check out FIVE ON FRIDAY in jillsbookcafe.wordpress.com to see others put through it).

 

 

  1. Which 5 pieces of music would you include in the soundtrack to your life, and why?

Blimey, are all the questions going to be this hard? Having put myself through these agonising decisions, I thought I’d make a Spotify playlist of them: http://sptfy.com/Eyj ENJOY!

Life on Mars? (David Bowie)

My big brother bought this LP, and I remember sitting on the carpet, legs all anyhow, poring over the album sleeve. Who was this strange, wonderful man? Until then, music had meant my parents’ Light Classics, used by my friend and me for hilarious made-up ballets in the living room. This was something else; Bowie took me somewhere I’d never been.

Étude Opus 10, No. 3 for Piano (Chopin)

Fast forward to Music College, where my Polish piano teacher had me playing plenty of Chopin. So beautiful, so emotional… so bloody difficult! Chopin will also remind me of my love of the piano, even if that love is not fully requited (I have pathetically small hands). This is just one of my favourites – and probably one of Jerome Kerns’ too, because Smoke Gets in Your Eyessounds just like it. [Listens as adds it to Spotify Playlist]. Hm. Bit teary.

Shining (Steel Pulse)

Let’s cheer up a bit with this irresistible bit of reggae. There’s so much going on in this track – busy bass line, percussion bitty-bobs and delicious vocal harmony asides everywhere – one play is never enough. And oh, the lyrics – including a classic line for a late developer like me: You took your time trying to find out what life, what life, what life has in store for you… You’ve guessed it: my wedding video music.

Como Me Duele Perderte / How it Hurts to Lose You (Gloria Estefan)

I came across this when I started Salsa dancing as part of research for my first novel, Men Dancing. Its bitter-sweet sadness matches both the novel and what was happening in my life at the time, but the song also reminds me of those early exciting but scary days of being a writer.

Dos Puñales / Two Daggers (Josemi Carmona, Paco de Lucía)

I’ve done well to limit the flamenco here to 20%, when it’s probably taking up 80% of my iPod. This is a wondrous example of flamenco fusion; it’s earthy but accessible, and beautifully produced. I love the way the music seems to have a narrative – whatever you want. A tweet asking where I could get hold of the album (Las Pequeñas Cosas), followed by a later one asking about this track, eventually led to a  friendship with the artist. This chance connection was one of the inspirations for  The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.

 

  1. Highlight 5 things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.

My Piano

I don’t play as much as I like or should, but when I need it (because I’m bored / fed up / nervous / happy / miserable, waiting for something), I have to have it, now. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching piano is that I want my darlings (adults and children) to have this wonderful support and delight in their lives.

The Sea

I’m generally uncomfortable in locations that aren’t near the sea; there’s a sort of a background feeling of if I’m not near the edge, where the hell am I. Exceptions like Madrid and… (can’t actually think of any others right now) have to have a lot going for them. My current distances from the sea (by foot, door to wet toe) are 10 (Eastbourne) and 3.5 (Almería) minutes.

Why do I love it? The salty smell, its ever-changing colours and moods, and (most) of the beautiful creatures in it. I’m susceptible to flour-soft sand, but I also love beaches where I can collect stones and shells. I’m a keen (if three-limbed – see later!) swimmer, and during Summer and Autumn I’ll check the flag, put on my beach shoes and be in whenever I can (in both countries). It’s also the best place (along with the bath) for getting writing and plot ideas.

Home in Spain

I’ve only had this little town house in San José (near Almería) for a couple of years, but now don’t know how I coped without it. My half-Spanish mother brought me up to be a hispanophile, so for as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to the country and its people. I also get very miserable and lethargic when starved of bright natural light and warmth, so escaping there lets me recharge my batteries. Although my Spanish is at a high level, I can still zone out of conversations around me – perfect for writing under a beach umbrella.

Thai Food

I’m not a foodie, but I’m insanely excited about these fragrant and spicy flavours and the flowery presentation. Spain needs to discover it; its absence there is one of the few reasons I ever want to come back to Blighty.

My mobile

It would probably do me good to live without my mobile for a while, I’m on it far too much, but the pain of being separated from my WhatsApping friends (including Spanish ones I can’t see as much as I’d like), Twittermates and Instagram would be considerable.

 

  1. Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Put more face, hand and sun cream on

I thought I’d be young forever. But if I’m still not listening now, I certainly wouldn’t have listened then. Sticky, messy stuff.

Label and date your photos

Uh, those boxes of loose photos with vaguely recalled faces and scenery…

Don’t lose contact with people you care about

Petty arguments or laziness caused me to lose contact with some friends.

Lighten up!

I was such an intense young person, playing melancholy piano and sitting around reading Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Can’t think how anyone put up with me. A year abroad (with light and warmth!) would have done me good.

Yes, you can write a book!

I should have taken the course, bought one of those elasticated leather notebooks, stopped making excuses, and started writing much earlier.

 

  1. Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you.

I used to be a keyboard player in a band

For some years, I was a piano teacher doing the day and played in a band a few nights a week. The second band I joined even had a single out; I’ll be in trouble for not including it in my five soundtracks, but you’d be glad I didn’t!

I used to be a post-doctoral scientist

I re-trained, and worked for Moorfields Eye Hospital for many years as an optometrist and post-doctoral researcher.

I used to be a ballerina

…at the Royal Ballet. No, just kidding! But I did teach piano at the Royal Ballet Junior School for some years – and got free tickets. Maybe in my next life.

I have limited use of my right arm

I have a congenital problem with my shoulder that makes it painful for me to open a door or lift anything as heavy as a hardback book with it. An operation didn’t help. But I can somehow do reasonable flamenco arms, and swim without going around in circles!

I almost died of pneumonia over the millennium

The last eighteen years – including the publication of my three novels – have been a bonus.

 

  1. What are the first 5 things you’d have on your bucket list?

Having my book out in Spanish

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter has equal male and female, English and Spanish viewpoints – Bicultural People Fiction! I’d love to see it in Spanish, and give it to some of my Spanish friends whose English isn’t good enough to read it in its present form.

Tour South America

I’d like to visit the places where my half-Spanish mother grew up, and more. My cousin and I have talked about it, but… This is what I should have been doing in my maudlin early twenties!

Learn how to high dive

Researching high diving for my next novel, this has become my new ballet. Ah, and I’d like Greg Louganis to teach me (check out the documentary film Back on Board and you’ll see why – what a lovely man).

Learn how to cook Thai food

Family over shoulder: ‘What? Learn how to cook anyfood!’

Have a grandchild

But not too soon, boys!

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughteris available – currently only in English 😦 – from good bookshops, or online at Foyles, Books etc, Waterstones or this place:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighthouse-Keepers-Daughter-Cherry-Radford/dp/1911583646/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1529011473&sr=8-1&keywords=cherry+radford