Saturday, 19 August 2017

How do you like your read?

With The Girl from Simon's Bay newly out in a variety of formats, I've been looking at the way we read.
And it's fascinating because there have been some significant changes. After years of falling sales, print has picked up! Figures out recently show that for a second year in a row, the sale of paper books versus e-books has increased.

So, what's caused this change?
It may be that we're starting to find a balance between reading digitally and on paper. Interestingly, the increase in physical books sales is being driven by younger readers who seem to want to take a break from their hyper-connected lives and settle down with a book in their hands! There's also been strong growth in children's books and this has translated into more sales, too. After all, isn't a book made of paper a beautiful, tactile gift for a child?

Just to give you an idea of the numbers here: over 670 million print books were sold in the UK in 2016. We spent more last year on books across all formats than in the previous year. Physical bookshops, which have been under such pressure for so many years, also have reason for optimism because their sales rose, too.

So... digging deeper, what do the figures tell us about how are we reading these days?
It seems that when we have the choice, we like a physical book. But when we're on the go, we tend to read digitally. And our reading is no longer exclusively via e-reader devices. We're now embracing reading on our phones or tablets instead. And talking of phones, that's the way we're increasingly listening to books, too. Or via a CD set, like the ones in my picture, above. Who would have guessed? Listening to an entire book on your phone...

Perhaps the bigger issue, now, is less about formats and more about our lives.
As Frank Zappa memorably said:
So many books, so little time...

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Blow, Blow!

Simon's Bay, which takes centre stage in my new novel The Girl from... is part of False Bay, a huge horseshoe of sea that takes a substantial bite out of the southern end of the Cape Peninsula.

When the early Portuguese explorers were searching for the sea route around Africa, they would sometimes sail too far south. Upon turning east in the expectation of making landfall off Table Bay, they would instead find themselves in an enormous bay surrounded by mountains - but not the iconic Table Mountain. After several misses, they realised their mistake and named it False Bay and no doubt hoped their navigation would be better next time around.

But False Bay - and Simon's Bay in particular - would have its day. In the winter, it was common for fierce north winds to blow into Table Bay. Any sailing ships that happened to be at anchor risked being driven ashore and wrecked. Clearly, a safer winter anchorage needed to be found. Every inlet around the Peninsula was investigated until Simon's Bay, ringed by mountains and tucked into a sheltered segment of False Bay, proved the ideal spot. A gale could be howling in Cape Town, but Simon's Bay's waters would be quiet.

And so, from small beginnings in the mid 1700s (a tiny garrison, a bakery, a slaughter house, a smithy) a town called Simon's Town sprang up to support the ships that called. The Royal Navy based its South Atlantic Fleet there and, during World War 2, the dockyard repaired over 200 warships and played host to thousands of seamen who, like those earlier mariners, relished its shelter.
Thank God for Simon's Town, writes the hero of my novel in his War Log in 1941.
Gale-force winds. Massive seas. We need solid earth. An uninterrupted night's sleep.

Today, Simon's Bay is the home of the South African Navy and still welcomes seafarers and visitors to its beautiful shores. You can visit the town's excellent museums to learn about its history (Nelson called, did you know that?), go and see the penguins at Boulders Beach, take a dip in the azure sea or simply soak up the glorious air. It's a little bit of paradise close to the tip of Africa.

And it all started because the wind doesn't happen to blow as hard there in the winter as it does in Cape Town... or so they say!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Dark days... but not forever?

This is one of a series of arresting plaques on the wall around Simon's Town's famous dockyard, which features strongly in my new novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay. Each plaque describes a different aspect of the town's history since the days when Simon's Town was a winter anchorage for sailing ships.

By the early 1900s, Simon's Town had a substantial dockyard including a dry dock that was, at the time, the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. The town arguably reached its peak as a crucial British naval base during World War 2 when hundreds of ships were repaired and re-fuelled during the conflict. Sailors from many Allied nations thronged its Victorian lanes and enjoyed the hospitality of its watering holes. But the world moved on, Simon's Town was handed over from Britain to South Africa in the mid 1950s, and a harsh government began to implement the system of apartheid. In 1967 Simon's Town was declared a white Group Area, and all non-whites were to be evicted.

The evictions, as described in the plaque, play a key role in The Girl from Simon's Bay. My heroine, Louise, and her family have to leave their cottage on the mountainside above the dockyard and try to make a new life some distance away.They lose their close community, they lose their proximity to work, they lose their magnificent view of Simon's Bay...
Once our cottage is empty, I rest on the wall.
The sea winks with a brilliance I must try to remember.

But will it be forever?
One day, Louise reflects years later, David might help me reclaim what I've lost.
Simon's Town.
The soaring mountains.
The irresistible sea...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

La hija de la criada... and more!

Guess what arrived on my doorstep the other day?
It's the latest edition of The Housemaid's Daughter in Spanish...
plus the first few pages of the soon-to-be published Spanish version of The Girl from Simon's Bay, just to whet readers' appetites!

But before I get too excited about the upcoming La chica de Simon's Bay, let's not forget Housemaid which continues to sell steadily in many languages across the world since its debut almost 5 years ago. Spain, though, seems to have been particularly taken with the book.
Have you spotted the stamp on the top left hand side of the cover?
Mas de 15 000 ejemplares vendidos i.e. over 15 thousand copies already sold.

What a thrill to know that Spanish readers have loved the story of Ada's tumultuous life in a small Karoo town called Cradock! Was it Ada herself who captivated them? Or the clash of cultures playing out on the stark African plains? For each of us, a memorable book speaks in different ways. I hope you - and they - will enjoy The Girl from Simon's Bay or La chica de Simon's Bay just as much.

It starts with Ella, fingering a creased envelope marked Address Unknown...
The letter had passed through careless hands...
La carta habia pasado por varias manos...

Buena suerte!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Fairest Cape in all the world...

It was Sir Francis Drake who coined the now-famous line in 1580 to describe the mountainous peninsula that stretches from modern-day Cape Town to the southwestern-most tip of Africa at Cape Point...

"This cape, Drake wrote in July of 1580, is a most stately thing,
and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.

Bear in mind that Drake, at that point, was nearing the final stage of an epic round-the-world voyage and might very well have been sated by the range of exotic and spectacular places he'd already seen. He'd set out from Plymouth in 1577 and went south to touch at west Africa and then picked up winds to speed him across the Atlantic. He voyaged down the east coast of south America, followed in Magellan's wake by taking the famous straits into the Pacific. From there, he sailed up the west coast reaching, some say, as far as California before turning west to cross the Pacific and reach the islands of Indonesia. He continued west across the Indian Ocean, and saw the Cape of Good Hope almost 3 years after leaving Plymouth. Then he made his way up the west coast of Africa and returned to a hero's welcome.
And all that in a wooden sailing ship, with only the stars and the sun to steer by!
But the journey was not simply a peaceful voyage of discovery. There were mutinies and skirmishes, and disease and death. Drake was also after booty, and he plundered many ships for their cargoes of gold, silver and spices. His ship, Golden Hind, must have staggered into port, so substantial was its cargo of treasure. Drake would go on to become even more famous for his role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

But I'm pleased he took time out from adventuring and piracy to notice the splendours of the Cape...

Thursday, 1 June 2017

A Doggy Tale...

Have you ever heard of a dog that joined the navy?

If you go to Simon's Town, the former Royal Navy base that is the setting for my new novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, you will find one that did! Meet Just Nuisance, a Great Dane that was enlisted into the Royal Navy in August 1939 with the rank of Ordinary Seaman. But how did this come about?

Nuisance was born in 1937 and became a familiar sight around the naval base where he regarded the port's sailors as his companions. He enjoyed taking his ease on board ship, his favourite spot being on deck at the top of the gangplank. He was also an adventurous animal because he learned to use the train and would hop on in Simon's Town and wend his way to Cape Town, or jump off at intervening stops for a sniff-around. So frequent became his commuting that the authorities grew incensed with this massive dog riding the line without paying a fare - even though sailors offered to pay for him. Matters came to a head when the railway warned that the hound would be seized and put down if he didn't stop his illegal trips. A huge outcry followed. In the end, the navy Commander-in-Chief hit upon the idea of enlistment into the Royal Navy. After all, during wartime, any volunteer (human or, er, animal) was entitled to free train travel.

In due course, Ordinary Seaman Just Nuisance was promoted to Able Seaman to allow him to obtain 'naval rations'. He became a celebrity around the world, even getting 'married' to a fellow Great Dane and producing puppies, two of which were auctioned to raise money for War Funds at a reception attended by the Mayor of Cape Town.

What more can be said of such a famous pooch? Of course I had to include him in my book! And he is forever commemorated in a statue that stands in Jubilee Square in the centre of Simon's Town. Pop along and size him up, if you ever happen to be in the neighbourhood!

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Perils of Signing Books

Here I am, signing a stack of books during the launch of The Girl from Simon's Bay in South Africa. This particular bookshop was Exclusive Books, in Constantia, Cape Town, and these copies were destined for a store-front display. I hope that they have all been sold!

Book signings are fun, especially when I get to meet readers who are buying a book for themselves or a friend or relative. But there's a hidden peril! I have rather untidy handwriting (as a result, I tell myself, of doing all my work on a keyboard and therefore neglecting my handwriting). In most cases only a signature is required and that's not a problem. In fact, a wild-looking signature is almost a necessity. No-one, after all, wants a tame author signature, do they? So I can allow myself a flourish, without worrying that it may be incomprehensible.

However... if I am asked for more i.e. I need to inscribe a particular message, then I start to get nervous. Having to write, for example, "To Susie on her birthday" or "To a special friend", requires legibility. But I find that my wrist seizes up and my fingers refuse to create neat text. What if the poor recipient can't decipher his or her special message?

So far, I haven't had any complaints but I think it's been close. The alternative would be to print the inscription carefully and slowly rather than attempt a calmer version of my cursive signature. But doing so might raise the possibility among sharper recipients that the books have actually been signed by different people:
The expansive author and a far more ordered assistant...
Would they feel shortchanged in some way?