At the moment I'm feeling a little like this:

jugglers

My new novel A SINGLE THREAD is written and edited but not yet published. I'm waiting for it to come out in September, when I will be busy busy answering questions about it, reading from it, running from place to place. And that's great. At the moment, though, there's a little bit of space for me to start researching and thinking about the next one. (More on that next month.) So I start doing that, and then I get asked to write a short story about where it's set. So I do that. At the same time, GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING is 20 years old (!), and I do some events to celebrate. Then I get asked to write an introduction to a special edition of A SINGLE THREAD.  Before you know it I'm pingponging between embroidery, painting, Winchester, Venice, Delft, the West Indies, bellringing, glass beads, Vermeer, cathedrals. My desk is getting messier and messier as I try to keep all the balls in the air. No complaints, of course. But I am starting to lose my words!

Happy Summer.

I am just going to put these covers out here. They are so beautiful and so different.

US AST cover final small  UK AST cover final small

The woman in green arrives in the USA on 17 September 2019. The scissors arrive in the UK on 5 September 2019. Other countries: 2020. I will be updating the website this summer - keep an eye out!

 

Why is it so hard to come up with a good title for a novel?

I’ve found that I either know the title from the start (Girl with a Pearl Earring – no-brainer), or I struggle to find one until the very last minute, with publishers breathing down my neck. Often someone else suggests the title (husband, agent, editor).

You would think that as the writer I’d know what the title should be. After all, I know the book better than anyone else. But maybe that’s the problem. I’m too close to the story to make a judgement on what the title should reflect.

What should a title do? It should be memorable but not so quirky that it irritates. It should intrigue. It should hint at something about the book, though it can’t tell you everything. It should conjure up an image that stays with you. How do you communicate the essence of a book in a few words? It’s hard!

Lately there’s been a fad for novel titles that are whole phrases or sentences, and completely unmemorable to me.  Titles like I Let You Go, Everything I Never Told You, When All Is Said, How Hard Can It Be? or All the Light We Cannot See. Some of these are good books, but I struggle to retain the titles because they don’t offera concrete hook I can hang onto.

To me good titles are strong and simple: War and Peace. Or an amazing turn of phrase that may not even mean anything: To Kill a Mockingbird. Or that make you do a double take: My Sister, the Serial Killer. Or make you laugh: Crazy Rich Asians.

For my latest novel, I spent months coming up with literally a hundred titles:

 

novel titles

None of them worked. The book is about a lot of things: embroidery, bellringing, cathedrals, single women in the 1930s. For me the struggle is to work out which element to emphasize.

At last lovely Ore at HarperCollins UK calmly lobbed one into the ring:

A SINGLE THREAD

Perfect. It references the embroidery and the singleness of the heroine, while also hinting at the tapestry that makes up a community. And it sets up a strong image easy for the reader to remember.

Why didn’t I think of it? Among the many titles I’d come up with, I’d used “Single” and “Thread” but not together. Thank you, Ore!

A Single Thread will be published in the USA and UK in September 2019, with other countries to follow. Now we just have to come up with a cover - even harder than the title!

On October 1st I pressed SEND on two years of research and writing a new novel. Off went the book through the ether to my editors. (In the old days it was a big jiffy bag I took to the post office.) It is a huge leap to press that button. No one had seen it; no one really knew much about it. Then I had to wait for them to read it and see what they thought.

It’s odd: by the time I turn in a novel I am so close to it that I have absolutely no idea if it works or not. An editor could just as easily say, “Sorry, this is terrible” as “Wow, fabulous!” For either response I would simply nod and accept their judgment, because my own ability to judge is shot. Strange, eh?

So what did I do while I waited? Well, in the book my heroine Violet Speedwell goes on a walking holiday in August 1932 between Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals – 26 miles. I wrote the scenes without doing the walk myself, though I always meant to. So my husband and I and friends went a-walking, over a very rainy and then a very sunny weekend.

TCWinCathforweb      TCSalCathforweb

We started at Winchester Cathedral, and ended at Salisbury Cathedral. (Yes, THAT spire, all 123 metres of it!)

In between we stopped at a couple of places important to the novel.

farleymountforweb

 Farley Mount, an 18th-century folly to a horse

 

johnogauntforweb

The John O’ Gaunt Inn (which gets a bad rap in the novel but is actually very nice)

nethwallchurchforweb

The church at Nether Wallop (note pyramid similar to Farley Mount; same family)

 

tcwithnwbellsforweb

 Messing about in the Nether Wallop bell tower (I promise I didn’t ring them!)

 

And ... the editors are very happy with the book! Relief! I have a little tweaking to do, fixes to make it even better. Editing is a crucial part of  writing a book, and actually really fun.

 

There’s still the thorny question of a TITLE. Watch this space – once I’ve finally settled on one I’ll write about that tricky process.

 

Scribble scribble scribble. Type type type. That's what I've been doing today and for many days.

Some writing days are good; some bad. What differentiates them? Partly it's whether or not I cross the magic line of 1000 words (about 3pp in a novel). It may not seem like much, but it is a lot to conjure up day after day. If I write less than that I feel a little flat and stupid and annoyed with myself for procrastinating and wasting time.

But it's also about quality. A good writing day is when I push a scene forward and something unexpected comes out of it. Maybe a character does something I wasn't planning. Or I think up a twist that deepens the story. Or I surprise myself with a word or a phrase or a metaphor. Bad days are when I repeat "look" too many times (my characters seem to look a lot!), or I grind through a description of something and my heart isn't in it.

Today I wrote a scene for my forthcoming novel ("The Winchester Novel" as it has no title yet) between two friends, who are having a heart to heart, trying to get each other to confess to behaviour they're not sure they approve of. 1600 words, not too many "looks", and a couple of surprises. I wrote it long-hand, and have just typed it up to the tune of Al Bowlly's "Love Is the Sweetest Thing," which was a big hit in 1932 when the book is set. That song is becoming important - another surprise.

To give you a taste, here's a bit to read, along with a link to the song so you can listen at the same time. This passage is not what I wrote today, which would give too much away about two important characters. But it gives you a taste.

And here is the lovely Al Bowlly:

Ffrom The Winchester Novel:

             Violet gazed up at the sky, which was dotted with stars but no moon. New Year’s Eve revellers passed by, on their way down the High Street. Then she heard the bells. They were not the full-throated ringing she’d grown used to - indeed, looked forward to. Instead a round sounded normally, and the next dull, as if heard through a duvet. Back and forth, they alternated between loud and soft. They must be muffled, Violet thought. Or half-muffled. She seemed to recall hearing fully muffled bells when she was young and Edward VII died, and the strangeness of it, like a thudded ring that held no timbre.

            She glanced at her watch in the light from the pub windows. 11:30. Would they ring all the way through midnight? Was Arthur one of the ringers? She had a sudden urge to be up in the ringing chamber, high above the city. Before she could talk herself out of it, she stubbed out her cigarette and crossed the stream of people heading down towards the statue of King Alfred. She headed the opposite direction up the High Street, then turned into Market Lane, a narrow passage that led to the Cathedral Green. It was lined with shops, their windows still decorated with holly and crèches and snowflakes for Christmas. Here there were fewer people, and it was dark. She passed a few laughing couples - why were people always in couples, and always laughing? She hurried along. The Old Market Inn was on the corner, and she could hear people inside singing.

            Then she was alone, walking across the Green, the Cathedral ahead of her lit by spotlight, though it was dark inside and deserted, for there would be no service tonight. Only there were bells: louder now but still half muffled, as if a hand were being placed across a mouth but a shout was now and then escaping.

            Even as she thought of it, Violet shuddered at the image, and walked faster. And then she heard footsteps, and knew it was him. He was whistling “Love Is the Sweetest Thing,” and he was doing it so that she would understand he had been in the pub with her, he had probably spent the evening watching her without her knowing, and now he was following her, because he could.

            It was as if she were back in the cornfield, running through the same thoughts and choices. It was hard not to walk faster, yet she did not want to show him she was afraid. Now he has ruined it, she thought. Ruined a song I love.

            There was no one on the Green now, just her and the corn man approaching the Cathedral, squat and dark, with only the muffled bells to comfort and guide her.

            Their sequence clicked into the descending scale, repeated a few times, and then they fell silent. The bells’ sudden desertion was more than Violet could bear, and she ran.