Friday, 27 January 2012

On holiday

An extraordinary thing happened this week. Marcia and I took a whole day off on Wednesday and had a holiday. This hasn’t happened since some time last summer – not a whole day in which neither of us did anything to do with work.

I had finished the copy editing for The Sea Garden and sent it all back to Transworld. Marcia had come to ‘a good stopping point’ in the book she is now writing which has the very simple working title of The Lake. She wanted to catch up with a friend and I wanted to have a natter with one of mine. Both were available so Marcia trundled off to Tavistock where she met Anne in the Bedford Hotel (where else?).
I'm afraid most of you will have seen this photo of the Bedford Hotel.I will make a real effort and take some more one of these days..
Meanwhile, I drove on my own to the farm shop in Lifton to meet Nigel. The farm shop has it’s own web site: click here.
The farm shop otherwise known as Strawberry Fields.
THe Lifton Farm Shop is a family run business: Jo and Roger Mounce to the right with their son Adam and his wife Laura.
They grow a lot of the produce they sell on their own farm, here Adam harvests rhubarb.

That may not sound very exciting but this was the first time that I had driven on my own since the retina in my right eye detached just over two years ago. To my delight, I actually enjoyed it. The farm shop is just over seven miles away but there was very little traffic about: on the outward leg I think I met no more than one lorry, five cars and two horses. It was marginally busier coming back but with two cyclists instead of horses and I managed to pass them without knocking either over.

I was first back – but only just – and so I lit the fire in the sitting room and we spent the rest of the day reading, chatting and planning what we want in the garden this summer. That, of course, necessitated consulting the catalogue that had just arrived from Suttons (the seed and plant people in Paignton) and a subsequent telephone call to order the seeds we selected. The real worry is that after this unseasonably warm start to the year we shall have some bitter cold just when we don’t want it.

On Thursday it was back to work with a bit of a bump. I usually write this blog on Thursdays, there were about thirty emails that needed to be answered and a form from the US Inland Revenue Service which had to be completed – and it was my turn to cook the lunch. Meanwhile, Marcia was busy working herself back into the book.

Now, all of you outside the UK and, indeed, outside Devon please look away as I want to talk about the Devon Community Foundation. The Foundation provides support for all sorts of individuals and small groups carrying out voluntary community work throughout the county. They provide financial assistance which is often invaluable. The money comes from all sorts of fund raising activities which raise over a million pounds each year. Even with that, they are unable to support everything that they consider worthwhile.
The Great Hall at Dartington.

The next fund raising scheme is an event to be held Wednesday week which will take place in the Great Hall at Dartington near Totnes starting at 6.30 pm. Most details on their web site but a bit of late news is that Matt Harvey (Radio 4 Wordsmith) will be there for a bit of light entertainment.

If you would like to go you will have to reserve by Tuesday next.

Friday, 20 January 2012

And now for something completely different.

As I explained a couple of weeks ago, both of us are heads down doing things about which it is difficult to write anything exciting (Marcia busy on her next book while I work away at the copy editing of The Sea Garden). Luckily something has happened on the other side of the channel which might be of interest.

When Marcia started writing, it was as if the flood gates had been opened and groups of characters bringing story after story with them began to inhabit our lives. In those days, Hodder Headline were publishing a new book every six months but Marcia was writing a complete novel in a little over four months. She needed to stop – for everyone’s sake.

She didn’t, of course: she wrote some short stories, ‘Just as an exercise’. Some of these were published and four in particular were destined for greater things. These became expanded into full length novels - novels that were very different from the stories Marcia was writing under her own name. Accordingly her agent decided that they should be published but by a different publisher and under a different name. Thus it was that four books by Willa Marsh appeared in the Sceptre list.
 Suddenly, in 2008, and completely out of the blue, Éditions Autremant Littératures in Paris announced that they wanted to publish them. Thus it was that Meurtres entre sœurs (Sisters under the skin) was published in 2009. An option on the film rights to this book has been bought by a French film company, Tessalit Productions. Encouragingly, they have just extended those rights which suggests they are probably going ahead. We shall see.
Le journal secret d’Amy Wingate (Amy Wingate’s Diary) followed in 2010 and Meurtres au manoir (The Quick and the Dead) has just hit the bookstalls.
Under the title ‘Drôle de drame’ the following review appeared in Le Figaro on January 12th.

Willa Marsh, c’est Jane Austen avec l’humour de Blake Edwards. Elle sait depeindre la campagne anglaise, qui comme chacun le pense depuis Austen, est peuplee de vieilles filles à la recherche de l'amour et de séduisants propriétaires célibataires. Dans son dernier roman, Meurtres au manoir, l’auteur britannique imagine aussi deux vieilles tantes indignes qui n'hesitent pas a noyer leur thé avec des psychotropes a base de plantes et de esprits fantómes que n'aurait pas renies Conan Doyle. Voila pour la touche british. L’humour, quant à lui, intervient a tout moment, noir et caustique. Les plus mechants ne sont jamais ceux que l’on croit et les gentils finissent toujours par reveler une nature: plus tordue. Ici, Clarissa pense avoir tiré le grós ot lorsque Thomas, un charmant veuf, lui offre son coeur et son superbe manoir, Tres vite, l jeune Londonienne dèchente. La campagne est bien morne sans amis ni distractions. Et ce beau manoir, n’est-il pas hantè? Surgit un beau cousin. Advient un accident. Dèbarque, intèressèe, la meilleure:copine. Willa Marsh mene les lecteurs par Ie bout du nez. Elle passe du burlesque au tragique avec le flegme d'un lord anglais, I'humour tempérant Ie cynisme du propos. Bienvenue au manoir.”

My French is far from good so the following translation may not be perfect – if anyone can improve on it please let me know.

Funny Drama

Willa Marsh is Jane Austen with the humor of Blake Edwards. She knows how to portray the English countryside, as we all think that since Austen, is populated by old girls looking for love and attractive singles owners. In her latest novel, Murder at the Manor, the British author also imagines two old aunts who do not mind lacing their tea with hallucinogenic drugs and who see spirits and ghosts that would not worry Conan Doyle. That's the British touch. The humour, in turn, comes at any time: black and caustic. The most wicked are never those that are believed to be and the kind always end being revealed with a more twisted nature. Here, Clarissa thinks she has hit the jackpot when Thomas, a charming widower, offers her his heart and his beautiful mansion. Very quickly, the young Londoner is disenchanted. The countryside is dull without friends or distractions. And is this beautiful mansion  not haunted? A handsome cousin arrives. An accident happens. Clarissa’s best girlfriend visits and becomes intrigued.

Willa Marsh leads readers by the nose. It goes from burlesque to tragedy with the coolness of an English lord and humour with cynicism always near the surface. Welcome to the manor.”

I am not suggesting that Marcia Willett readers would enjoy Willa March books – some might but some might not. There is a story from a time when Marcia was speaking in the Great Hall at Dartington during the Ways with Words Festival. She was taking questions and one rather threw her.

I have just read one of the books you wrote under the name Willa Marsh,’ there was a pause: a long pause eventually followed by, ‘and I thought you were such a nice person.’

You have been warned.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Copy editing and dogs - and lambs.

It is nice to be able to report that phase one of the copy editing of The Sea Garden is finished. That means that I have read the book and all of Yvonne’s notes and flagged any that I feel uncertain about. Now I shall work through those and either take a decision or not. Then there will be a session with Marcia to deal with whatever flags remain before sending copies of those pages which carry our comments back to Transworld.

How many times do I read the books before they are published? While Marcia is writing, I read what she has written whenever she comes to the end of a section. If she becomes nervous about pace or balance, I will read the whole book from the beginning: this may happen three times. Then, of course, I read it all before it goes off to Marcia’s agent en route to the publishers. When Marcia has carried out any work her editor suggests, I read it again – and again when the copy editing arrives and, finally, when the proofs arrive. I can honestly say that I am never bored – Marcia is one of the few novelists who write with so many layers that each time you read something new springs from the pages.

There are few certainties in life but one is that you are all in for a treat when The Sea Garden is published.

* * *

Both Marcia and I have lived with dogs for most of our lives. The other day I was looking for a photograph of Marcia (for Woman who are publishing an article about her at the end of the month or during February) and I came across one of her with Trubshawe. She was actually reading him a story the content of which I am sure was passing over his head – which is massive: certainly as big as Marcia’s.
It is a pity that we no longer have Newfoundlands but the problem is that they are extremely strong before they are really well trained which poses a bit of a problem when you get old and creaky. So, after the dreadful day when Trubshawe died – it happened very quickly and unexpectedly – we decided that there would be no more. Trubshawe is remembered as he was the model for Admiral Jellicoe and yes, he did barge into our larder and fall asleep on the cool flagstones against the door.

Many of you will know that the upshot was that we rescued a Labrador called Max who was a perfect gentleman. Max needed a home because his people had both died and their children lived in flats where keeping a dog was impossible. Max was a city dog, born and bred in Plymouth where he had spent all his life. Coming to us proved a problem for him in the beginning. We would take him out into the field and he would quietly walk beside us. Eventually he cottoned on to the fact that he was free to run and started really to enjoy himself. This was fine on a circular walk but if it was one where you walked out and back he would always walk to heel all the way back and we were never able to cure him of that. Poor old Max was very overweight when he arrived and, although he slimmed down quite a bit with us, he was suffering from diabetes and this eventually caused his death.

Next to come onto the scene was Jossie who is now seventeen. I won’t go into details but if you don’t know the story click here for the blog which explains what happened. Jossie is a control freak. She is stubborn, difficult, almost blind and totally deaf when it suits her. We are incredibly fond of her but she drives us both mad. Not surprisingly you will find her doppelgänger in The Sea Garden.

I often mention how varied is the morning view from our bedroom window. These two pictures underline that: one taken yesterday when there was a splendid dawn and the other this morning showing everything shrouded in mist.

Our local farmer, Sam, has his ewes lamb down indoors and puts them out into the field next to our house the following day, Well, the first lambs of 2012 arrived yesterday - spring is definitely on the way!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Back to the grindstone

Before I talk about work, may I offer a really heartfelt thank you to all who have sent either Marcia or me an email wishing us a happy new year. Sadly, we shan't be able to answer them all as there were too many but they have done much to lift our spirits. Thank you.

Those of you who have been following my weekly ramblings will know that the next book to come out will be called The Sea Garden and most of the action takes place either down on the River Tamar or in the town of Tavistock. Well, the copy editing arrived yesterday and with Marcia in full flight writing away on her new book it falls to me to work through the manuscript on her behalf.

Yvonne Holland has been copy editing Marcia's books and always does a superb job. She checks everything - and I do mean everything. She makes sure there are no errors in spelling, grammar or punctuation. She acts as a continuity girl making sure that there are no inconsistencies in the storyline. Everything factual is checked and sometimes re-checked. She is fantastic and has often stopped there being some real cloddies dropped. Some of these would be very embarrassing - for example there is a cafe in Tavistock mentioned in The Sea Garden which is in Brook Street but Marcia had said Duke Street. Brook Street is an extension of Duke Street and so the mistake is easy to make but, even so, Marcia would have been mortified if this error had slipped through the net.

Even so,it is up to the author to decide whether or not to accept the copy editor's suggestions. Obviously most of them are fine and so I can do the bulk of the work. If Yvonne suggests something that I feel Marcia should check, I flag it and then she takes over. Then comes the tedious bit - I work through the manuscript as we have it on the computer and make all the corrections. This is because some of the foreign publishers like to start work on the books before they are published and we feel that they should have the finalised manuscript from which to work.

So, if you want to know what I am doing next week it is the copy editing of The Sea Garden and Marcia will be writing - which makes me a bit worried: what on earth will there be to tell you about next week?

Meanwhile it is, of course, Twelfth Night. The Christmas Angel opens on this night with the words: "The Holy Family live in an old linen shoebag". They do, too. As with nearly all the dogs you read about in Marcia’s novels, Auntie Gabriel, the Holy Family and the rest of the Christmas bits and pieces are based on reality: they all live with us As they are all packed away to await next Advent we shall share with Jakey a sense of sadness but it will be tempered by the memories of a wonderful Christmas Day shared with some really lovely friends.
For those who have not already met her, here is Auntie Gabriel flanked by her two acolytes.

The Holy Family grouped outside their old barn on my grandmother's writing table.