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The Silence: cover reveal

Cover Reveal!

Today I’m jumping up and down with excitement as the cover of Susan Allott’s debut novel The Silence is revealed. The Silence will be released in April next year.

I’ve been lucky enough to have Susan answer a few questions, too, about her writing process and the story behind her novel, a suspenseful mystery about a missing woman, marriage, emigration, children, and especially secrets. The Silence has been compared to both Jane Harper’s The Dry and Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

I can’t wait to read it.

Welcome, Susan! At last, your cover is here, and it looks wonderful. Covers are so important. Can you tell us something about the process for you? Who gets to design and choose the cover – do you have input? And what about the title – was that your choice?

Susan: My covers were done by the in-house team at Harper Collins, one designer based in the US and one in the UK. The US cover came through first and I thought it was beautiful but I did ask for some changes. I had a very specific image in my mind of what the houses on Bay Street look like, and it bothered me that the houses on the cover weren’t exactly as I’d described them in the book. The designers went away and made the changes I’d asked for and when it came back the houses were accurate, but the cover was no longer beautiful! It was a good lesson. I realised the cover needs to evoke the book rather than depict it in a literal way, and it needs to be attractive to potential readers.

When the UK cover came through I loved it immediately. It’s so intriguing and inviting: exactly the kind of book I would pick up in a bookshop.

The title was my choice but it took me ages to come up with it! My book is about a woman whose disappearance goes unnoticed for thirty years, but it’s also about Australia’s ‘forced removal’ policy which continued for decades, and most white Australians were somehow unaware of it. We were trying to find a title which brought those two elements together, but nothing was quite right.

In the end I went back through working titles I’d used before I found a publisher. One of these was ‘The Great Silence’, a quote from W.E.H. Stanner’s famous lecture which describes a ‘cult of forgetfulness’ around the history of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I played around with it a bit – ‘The Long Silence’? ‘The Huge Silence’? – but of course the more powerful title was the simplest one. I sent an email to my editor and agent: ‘How about The Silence?’ And they both replied ‘I love that.’

It was such a relief, that we’d found the right title, but also that we’d held out for one that really worked instead of compromising. It’s so right for the book, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it sooner.

Silence_CoverReveal_1200x1200

Do you have a favourite task in writing, such as scribbling ideas, fleshing out scenes, inventing characters, visiting locations, editing? If so, why?

I get the most pleasure out of editing. I do a lot of deleting, rewording, deleting again, over and over until it finally works. My happy place is sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, reworking what I wrote yesterday and making it shine. I have to force myself to push on and write new material. I think it’s because the first draft is often so flat and clichéd that it dents my confidence. I need to get over that. I do know that even the best writers’ first drafts are appalling.

I’m going to ask you to play favourites: who is your most beloved character in your own writing, and why?

I think I’d have to say Mandy, the character whose disappearance is central to The Silence. She’s a 1960s Australian housewife who doesn’t fit the mould. Her husband wants nothing more than a brood of children and she is secretly taking the Pill.

Over 50% of the novel is set in the 1960s, before Mandy disappeared, so we get to know her well. I wanted her absence to be felt in the chapters set thirty years later. Hopefully she comes across as complex and relatable, as flawed as we all are. She’s been in my head a long time.

Can you tell us something about yourself that you think readers should know?

The Silence began as a story about my experience of living and working in Sydney in the late nineties. More specifically, my experience of failing to love Australia, while everyone around me seemed so happy and at home. The book I tried to write was about a young British woman called Louisa who, like me, left Australia to return to the UK. Then she got home and wondered what was wrong with her. That experience of overwhelming homesickness was my starting point. But the story didn’t come to life until I started exploring the world Louisa had left behind: her husband Joe and their neighbours, Steve and Mandy. I wrote against my own experience, describing Australia through the eyes of people who loved it and called it home.

I fought the idea of setting the book entirely in Australia for a long time. Funnily enough, I met an Australian man in London a few years later, and went on to marry him! He encouraged me to keep writing. We visited Australia a few times over the years and gradually I accepted that my story was there. In part the novel is about the experience of migration, and how liberating it can be to make a new home on your own terms, even though that didn’t happen for me.

Are there any particular writers or books that inspired you on your own creative path?

The biggest influences for me while writing The Silence were Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, and Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara – the book and the film. Tim Winton too of course, I’ve read everything of his including his memoirs. Oh and Evie Wyld is incredible. The trouble is, these wonderful writers can be slightly intimidating and I spent a few years thinking my writing wouldn’t be good enough until I sounded like them. I think I took a long time to accept that my own voice was ok. I read a lot of non-fiction too while I was researching. The stolen generation storyline was inspired initially by a passage in a book called Australia: a biography of a nation by Phillip Knightley. There’s a section in that book about an Australian policeman who used to come home from work, sit at the back of the house and cry. I knew I wanted to tell his story.

What would you say is the most difficult barrier to overcome in writing a novel and having it published? Do you have advice about that, or a good story of how you got there?

I think the hardest thing is to keep going, especially when you’re aware of how hard it is to get published. For me, the challenge of writing alongside the demands of work and family life sometimes felt insurmountable. My advice would be not to fixate too much on publication as a goal, especially not in the early drafts. Write primarily for yourself and try to write the kind of book you love to read. If you love your book and enjoy writing it, that will come through on the page.

I’d also caution against giving up the day job too soon. Time is not always your friend. I never had enough time to write for the first few years, when my kids were little and I was working. I wrote whenever I could find a spare hour in the day. (Sometimes it was only twenty minutes.) It gave me an urgency when I did sit down to write that may not have been there otherwise. Writing was always the thing I did when I should have been doing something else. My me-time.

That said, I think it was a gift from the Universe when I was made redundant at the end of 2018. I had an agent by that stage and she was keen to submit my manuscript before the London Book Fair in March this year. The months I spent writing full time in the run-up to submission were completely immersive and I’m not sure I’d have managed it if I’d still been employed. I might have found the time somehow but I wouldn’t have had the headspace.

And the book did sell in the run-up to the Fair! I don’t like talking about luck, when really it’s sheer stamina that gets the book written in the end, but I do feel very lucky that I had that period of time to finish the book just when I needed it.

What was the most difficult scene to write in the novel – you don’t have to give away spoilers!

There’s a scene about a third of the way through where Isla, my protagonist, starts to question her long-held loyalty to her father, who is suspected of murder. I needed to show her range of emotion while also managing the plot and the logistics of the scene. The hard part always is trying to be subtle, but not so subtle that the reader loses the thread of where the character is coming from. I’m pleased with that scene now but it took forever and I drank an awful lot of coffee.

What are you most looking forward to in your writing?

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the new book, which is set in London this time. I want to get the sense of momentum again, where the hours go by and I barely notice. Other than that, I’m not sure if this is strictly ‘writing’ but I want to hold the published copy of The Silence in my hand and flick through the pages. I can’t think of anything more exciting.

That will be a wonderful day indeed. Congratulations, Susan, and I’m looking forward to holing a copy too – and reading it!

The Silence by Susan Allott will be released on April 30th 2020.

Susan’s links:

Website: www.susanallott.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sallottauthor/

Twitter: @SusanAllott

Instagram: @susanallottauthor

Something to Say: Pernille Hughes

Something to Say is pleased to welcome Pernille Hughes, whose debut novel has just been released. So exciting. Brand spanking new book!

pernille writer pic 2 (1)Photo by I. Hughes

STS: Welcome, Pernille. This must be a thrilling time for you! Tell us something about your project.

My debut novel Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was published on August 3rd. It’s a Romcom, a second-chance love story, a HEA story, and ‘getting up again when life punches you in the face’ story.

STS: That’s HEA as in Happily Ever After, yes?

It certainly is! Tiffanie Trent gets dumped by boyfriend Gavin on their 10th anniversary. Heartbroken and homeless, Tiff, a bookkeeper at an old-school boxing gym, figures that at least she has her job. But then the owner drops dead, leaving her floundering. When she then inherits the gym, Tiff, not sporty at all, needs to decide if she can take it on, defy the naysayers who say she can’t do it, and bring the club and her life into a better state of play.

STS: And Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s was just released last week on August 3rd. That’s awesome. Is there one aspect of the story that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?

As well as sharing Tiff’s reluctance to take part in physical exercise, I relate to her coming to see that she needn’t let others tell her what she is capable of. A teacher once said I couldn’t be a writer and I believed her, abandoning writing for about ten years. When I had my kids I turned back to the words to keep my brain clocking over and saw that actually I get to decide whether I am a writer or not. Tiff gets to examine her life too and understand that she determines what she can do, not others.

Pernille pic 3Photo by C. Knappe

STS: I’d like to meet that teacher now! What is it that drives you to pursue your creativity, despite that lack of encouragement?

Without wanting to come across as scary, the voices just rattle around in my head and need to come out onto the page. I’ve been making up dialogue since I was little, verbally playing out scenes either in my room, or say, if we were walking on holiday. Additionally I’m conflict shy and so always end up coming away from issues and spending the rest of the day making up what I should have said and wished I’d said. Writing stories is great for getting it out, although it doesn’t make me better at wading into conflicts.

What pushes me to get my writing out there is partially a desire to make others laugh with my words and also to get validation for them (so, I’m ‘giving’ and ‘needy’ at the same time…). Also, as a stay-at-home mum, words and my stories are my marketable commodity.

STS: Many writers have described their processes using analogies – stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?

I visualise my process as sculpting. First I’ll write what I call a Vomit draft, just splurging words onto the page, only writing forwards and chronologically, not going back to correct anything, even if it means writing ‘something about XX, here’. That feels like choosing the material, like clay or stone.

The next draft will be looking at the ugly lump of words and deciding what the form of it is, what the essence of the piece will be and beginning to shape it. Each draft is then shaping the clay/stone until the sculpture is defined and the final draft will be the polishing. I like to have everything rounded off in my stories, ideally no loose ends, so when I’m asked to make edits, I find it really hard. In this analogy it’s like having to add an arm or something to a contained piece and then having firstly to make it look like it was always supposed to be there in the balanced piece and secondly smoothing the edges so no one can see the joins.

My stories start from an idea and then conversations around that idea come into my head. Until now my Vomit drafts have been extremely loosely plotted, after which I’ve found that when starting the first proper draft, I work best if I have a fully plotted plan and know the arcs of my key characters so that the choices they make from the start are true to their needs.

STS: That’s amazing. I love the name Vomit draft! Thank you for that – I’ll feel better throwing out great chunks of draft one now. Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?

Contemporary, Funny (hopefully), Plotter, Un-ambiguous (I’m not a fan of an ambiguous ending), Distraction-prone (ach, Twitter, you are my downfall…)

STS: Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your news with us today, Pernille, and I look for to a HEA future for your writing!

You can Find Pernille at the following links:

Twitter @pernillehughes

Facebook www.facebook.com/pernillehughesauthor

Pinterest www.pinterest.co.uk/pernillehughes

Bookbub; https://www.bookbub.com/profile/pernille-hughes

Pernille’s teeny tiny blog www.writingfromtheedgeofdistraction.blogspot.com

 

Here’s where to buy Sweatpants at Tiffanie’s:

HarperCollins www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008307691/sweatpants-at-tiffanies/

Amazon www.hyperurl.co/sweatpantstiffanie

Itunes https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/sweatpants-at-tiffanies/id1381181550?mt=11&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Google Play https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Pernille_Hughes_Sweatpants_at_Tiffanie_s_The_funni?id=jd9SDwAAQBAJ

Kobo https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/sweatpants-at-tiffanie-s-the-funniest-and-most-feel-good-romantic-comedy-of-2018

Deep Blue cover reveal: I can’t wait

Here’s a great cover reveal for a new instalment in Jane O’Reilly’s Second Species trilogy – Deep Blue, the sequel to Blue Shift.

Add this blurb, and it’s yet another book I can’t wait to get my hands on!

Jinnifer Blue opens her eyes to find herself in a ship that is the source of her darkest nightmares. Her plan to expose the horrific truth behind the government’s secret Second Species programme has failed, and now she’s being turned into a weapon by her worst enemy . . . her mother.

At the other end of the galaxy Caspian Dax, ferocious space pirate and Jinn’s sometime lover, is facing an even more terrifying fate. He’s being forced to fight in the arena on Sittan, a pitiless, ruthless alien landscape where blood is the only prize that matters. They will use him, destroy him, change him.

Jinn has only one chance – to go to Sittan and find Dax before his mind is completely destroyed. She must rely on her friends and one old enemy, leave her beloved ship the Mutant behind, and travel to a hostile planet. But hardest of all, she must keep faith that when she finds Dax, there will be something left of the man she knew.

One thing’s for sure: the fight has only just begun