All over England the year was dying in a blaze of glory – the first line of the new book came to me while out walking along a country lane. From that moment I was with Zoe Clifford, my modern-day heroine, searching for her family’s past. A past shrouded in mystery, a past that might answer present questions – and show keys to the future.
With a deadline to meet, I worked all day and most evenings too. With few interruptions I found evening sessions most productive, while mornings were spent pulling the new stuff into shape. Taking weekends off to spend with the family, each weekday I put in roughly twelve hours. Then, after two or three weeks of intense writing, I’d give myself a few days off to draw breath and catch up with the outside world.
‘How are they all doing?’ Lena would ask when we met for lunch in Otley. ‘Louisa, Robert and Edward – what’ve they been up to while you’ve been busy in York?’ It was like asking about the family – these particular members dead and gone according to the records, but still leading an active life within the covers of my books. ‘And what’s the latest on Louisa Elliott?’
The title was settled but the cover had been in question for months. With nose to typewriter, mind focused on the new work, I didn’t realize how fraught things had been behind the scenes in London. But when it was settled, the cover caused a huge stir of interest at the Frankfurt Book Fair – and subsequently led to Louisa Elliott being auctioned for publication rights in New York.
For details of what happened next, follow the links below:
If I had ever been tempted to take myself too seriously, events surrounding the publication of Louisa Elliott showed how unpredictable luck could be. The financial rewards made it a fun story, Cinderella-like in the way it was presented. Certainly, ever since I’d submitted the manuscript, I’d been feeling like the heroine in a fairy tale.
Perhaps these events answered the lack of serious reviews in the UK. But with such a story who could blame the big boys for taking the praise for media-hype, and tossing their review copies aside?
Fortunately, across the Atlantic good reviews were coming in. A relief all round, but from my point of view, the letters I was receiving from appreciative readers were just as important.
These were people who had bought my book with real money, and had taken the time to write. So many letters began with the words, ‘I have never written to an author before, but felt I must write to you…’
Louisa Elliott’s story, it seemed, had found echoes in many a family history – and, like me, these readers recognised that life isn’t all roses, that passion has its darker side too. If I’d ever wondered whether the years of research and writing had been worthwhile, then these letters proved that it had.
For publisher Carmen Callil, who had put faith and finance into bringing Louisa Elliott to public attention, it was frustrating not to have had more serious UK reviews. Apart from justification for her as Chatto’s MD, it would have helped my next novel along its way.
But luck, as I was well aware, is unpredictable – and there were more surprises in the offing.
In the Observer on Xmas Eve, there appeared an article by Brian Inglis, the journalist, author and broadcaster. At the time (1989) he was researching and writing a book on coincidence, and asking for any remarkable instances to be sent to him. I hadn’t seen the article, but my editor mentioned it, suggesting that I write to him…