The first 3 books about the crofting township of Balvaig, the house called Kingdom, and the MacKenzie family who own it: all in one package for the first time!
BY HEART is now republished with a fantastic new cover, designed once more by Jessica Bell. The feedback I’d had since the book was published in 2015 was that the original cover was too misleading: the theme is anything but romantic.
I love the new look – interested to hear what readers think. It’s available as an ebook on Amazon meantime, and I’ve newly signed off on the printers’ proofs for the paperback today.
Although I managed to get ‘A Way of Knowing’ through to publication stage last year, I hold my hand up to the fact that I’ve done very little new work since last summer.
Two reasons. Firstly, the dratted EU referendum. I’m passionately pro-Europe, and although I’ve had well-intentioned advice in the past that I should keep the “author” side of my social media posts quite separate from the “real me” side, no can do. If I tried, the “author” part simply wouldn’t ring true. I’m a political animal, and I freely admit that I’ve spent hours almost every day since June on FB, 90% of that time spent on anti-Brexit groups & topics.
Secondly – and more importantly – since last July we’ve lost two of our beloved cats and one of our dogs. It’s meant a long gap in feeling like writing. However, in the last week or so, I’m slowly getting back into the writing routine, and still hope to get the sequel to ‘A Sensible Woman’ out by the end of this year.
I’ve had some great pre-publication feedback on ‘A Way of Knowing’, so it’s out today on Kindle, just in time for the equinox (I’ve always believed the equinoxes and solstices are very propitious times).
Like ‘The Swan Widow’, it’s a story with a strong and independent main character who’s a woman in her sixties (I hesitate to say “love story”, but one reviewer has called it “a fascinating and unusual love story, and a story about the nature of love and of identity”, so I won’t argue!). It has a dark side too, and deals with uncomfortable topics.
As I completed my latest novel (‘A Way of Knowing’, due to be published shortly), it struck me that I’m guilty of giving my male leads one common characteristic: they all love to cook, and/or are competent cooks. I also have a theme running somewhere in my head about the ironing of shirts.
My first short story to be published, back in the 1990s, hinged on the theme of a woman (clearly in a very unhappy marriage, with an over-controlling and critical husband) who finally recognises that her marriage is a sham when she fails to iron one of said husband’s shirts to his satisfaction. The same scenario crops up in ‘The Swan Widow’. When I realised I’d incorporated another reference to this is the latest book, I promptly hit the delete key!
So I’ve been asking myself: why do I have a ‘thing’ about men who can cook, and want their shirts ironed to perfection by the women in their lives?
Probably a combination of wishful thinking and autobiography. I’m not one of nature’s enthusiastic cooks. My family members have never starved or gone down with food poisoning, but I’ve always regarded cooking as a necessary evil – and have never managed to marry a man who can do much more than wield a tin-opener. My father was probably at least as competent as my mother in the kitchen, but hardly a role model for all my fictional men who can whip up cordon bleu meals without breaking a sweat. So very much a case of ‘Oh, I wish…’!
The recurring theme of shirts is more obscure. Again, I regard ironing as something to be avoided except in dire necessity, and when I inherited a household that had ‘a woman in’ to iron everything – and I mean EVERYTHING: she even ironed socks – I soon put a stop to that. ‘Minimum care’/’non-iron’ are my favourite labels. Needless to say, I raised my sons to iron their own shirts if they needed ironing (as did my father – he even ironed my school blouses). So not quite sure where this trope originates.
My modern-day knight in shining armour can clearly handle the griddle-pan and the iron as competently as the sword (and keep his own armour polished, by the way). His skills in the kitchen and utility room are possibly as important as his skills in the bedroom, as far as my female characters are concerned.
I realise that this puts me beyond the pale as far as many readers of mainstream romantic fiction are concerned, but hey, it would be a tedious and monochrome world if we all lusted after the same men.
Vive la difference!
Like all authors, I tend to be paranoid about getting my books reviewed on Amazon, because so many people (not just readers, but booksellers, agents, God Almighty for all I know) judge the worth of a book by the number of such reviews it has (quantity seems to count at least as much as quality!). It’s a road beset by obstacles. For one thing, reviews posted on one Amazon site (for example .com) don’t show up on the others such as .co.uk, so the author has to pray for large numbers of people on both sides of the Atlantic to post reviews. For another, not all readers want to post a review – not because they don’t like the book, but because they are just not review-posters. I have to admit that, although an avid reader, I very, very rarely post book reviews on Amazon. Thirdly, some reviews are so brief or off-the-wall as to be of no real use in guiding prospective readers (or providing feedback to the writer!). A really competent Amazon reviewer is worth her/his weight in rubies. I would never BEG for reviews. I know this puts me in the dunce’s corner as far as “book marketing” is concerned, but it seems to me like terribly bad manners, and from what I’ve read, Amazon has its little ways of detecting reviews of the “friends & family” type, and it removes them!
In any case, many (most?) of the books I admire most have very, very few reviews on Amazon.
So I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of NetGalley, that amazing website for librarians, the book trade and bona fide reviewers. Although not everyone who downloads a book reviews it, and although some only award a star rating rather than writing a review, there are pearls to be gleaned – and most reviewers also post on other sites: Goodreads, their own blogs or Amazon (much more commonly on the .com site, unfortunately from my point of view). Reviewers on NetGalley have so far provided me with some cracking good feedback on The Swan Widow and By Heart. It’s expensive to list books on the site, but I belong to a romance writers’ co-op, which makes it affordable. I’m sure there are similar co-ops for other genres. A Sensible Woman is also listed at the moment, via an agency, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for good feedback on that too.
Because, in the end, I’d rather have a really thorough-going review from a single reader who has enjoyed my book (or even one who has hated it, but takes the time to tell me why) than a dozen who write things like “I didn’t like this book, because the postman had dropped it in a puddle” (I kid you not – I have actually seen this on a 1* review; thank goodness, the postman’s managed to keep mine out of puddles, as far as I know).
The paperback version of A SENSIBLE WOMAN is now available via Amazon! It will also be in bookshops from the end of February. Many thanks to all those who helped me get it to this stage: Helen, Lin, Leigh Anne and Jessica!