Sunday, 11 March 2018

Spotted at an Airport near you...

Where were you when you last bought a physical book? A high street bookstore? A small, specialist independent?
Chances are it may have been at the airport!
While many of us have moved to reading on digital platforms, we all love to browse while waiting for a plane. And we can't resist picking up a new book that we might have heard of but not yet got around to buying online.

In reaction to this, it turns out that sales of print books at transport hubs have bounded ahead of sales at high street stores. Indeed, airports are now prime commercial property, selling everything from jewellery to umbrellas to shoes to... books. It's a captive market: all those passengers waiting for their flights, ripe for a little light shopping. In 2014, global travel retail was apparently worth about $60 billion. By 2020, it's estimated to reach $85 billion.

UK bookseller WHSmith has seen its book sales increase substantially at its airport, train and motorway service station outlets. I was a beneficiary of this shift when the group decided to offer my latest novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, on a special promotion over the Christmas holidays.

I always go back to the heroine of my first novel, The Housemaid's Daughter, when I think about how reading lets us travel to another place in our minds...
Then, after many times of struggling, I began to separate the words in Madam's diary.
Tomorrow I sail for Africa...

Monday, 26 February 2018

Did he or didn't he? Lord Nelson in Simon's Town...

There's a hotel named after him, and a plaque on St George's street... but did Horatio Nelson actually set foot in Simon's Town?

The year was 1776, and young Nelson was a midshipman serving in the East Indies aboard HMS Seahorse. He contracted malaria and was deemed so ill he had to return to England to recover fully.
During the 6 month journey home, his ship, HMS Dolphin, called in to Simon's Bay where it stayed for a month. There is no record that he left his sickbed and came ashore, but perhaps he couldn't resist the chance to feel Africa beneath his feet - and experience some local hospitality. Or perhaps he needed nursing ashore?

If not, then there is some conjecture that he visited again about 3 years later. At the time he was posted in the Americas as Commander of HMS Badger, seeing action off the east coast of central America. Apparently his ship called in to Simon's Town...

Poor Nelson suffered many wounds during his long and famous career, the most serious being the loss of his right arm and the sight in his right eye. He overcame those, but the malaria that he contracted as a young man never left him. It recurred several times, and it is a testament to his stamina that neither illness nor injuries prevented his later triumphs.

In The Girl from Simon's Bay, Ella Horrocks travels out to South Africa some 200 years later to find the woman her father loved during the 2nd World War.
And where did she stay? I couldn't resist it.
At The Lord Nelson Inn, of course!

Monday, 12 February 2018

Walking The Girl from Simon's Bay

How do you get to know the setting for your book?
You walk it!

That's right, and here's a map we produced to show the myriad alleys and steps that wind through the naval port of Simon's Town, routes that Louise and David followed many times throughout my novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay.

Rectory Steps, Alfred Lane, Drostdy Steps... the town is laced with hidden and fascinating walkways. Many of them date from the era when Simon's Town was a British naval base, and home to the Royal Navy's South Atlantic fleet. You can still see the Victorian stonework, and the carefully constructed drainage channels at the side of the alleys.

We photographed most of them and then superimposed them on a map of the town centre so that while I was writing, I had a visual reminder of what my characters would see about them, the nature of the path beneath their feet (stones? gravel? paved?) and the steepness of the gradient. I contrived routes that would allow one person to escape the view of another, I arranged unexpected meetings, I made sure that Louise's father, Solly, who had bad knees, only met his daughter half way along the route between the Royal Naval Hospital and their home. I didn't want to aggravate his knees by making him climb too many steps! And I traced a path across the mountainside that Louise followed when she ran home during a massive wildfire.

As I strode, the heat and crackle of the fire faded behind me. The path was clear, although lone rabbits and whole families of mice were using it to flee the flames, scuttling past me.
I looked back.
The smoke was spreading a mantle over the surrounding mountains.
A wavering line of orange edged closer to the upper wards of the hospital.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Queen Victoria's daughter, a Great Dane, a Naval Band...

What connects the daughter of Queen Victoria, a Great Dane and a naval band?

On 11th October 1904, the Royal Naval Hospital overlooking Simon's Bay, South Africa, was opened by HRH Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein, 3rd daughter of Queen Victoria. It was built to serve the naval community of Simon's Town, setting for my latest book The Girl from Simon's Bay. At the time, the town was home to the Royal Navy's South Atlantic fleet. The princess could not have guessed how important a role the new hospital would play some 40 years later during World War 2. The initial 3 wards were expanded to accommodate over 200 patients served by 5 medical officers, 2 dental officers, 29 sick berth ratings, 6 nursing sisters, 22 VADs and many locally-recruited staff. The hospital was under constant pressure. For example, during the final quarter of 1942, 550 patients were admitted with ailments from battle injuries (burns and contusions from shell splinters) to VD and ulcers. Over 8000 patients were treated between 1939 and 1945.

The Great Dane was Just Nuisance, a local celebrity(!) during the war. He was a particular favourite of the seamen and regularly rode the train with them into Cape Town. He was commissioned into the navy as an Able Seaman, and his statue stands proudly in Jubilee Square to this day. It is said that he enjoyed a pint as much as his sailor friends and ended up in the Royal Naval Hospital somewhat worse for wear...

What has become of the Hospital? This is where the 3rd connection comes in. The hospital closed in the late 1950s but the buildings have remained, and were converted into accommodation and facilities for the South African Navy band. I rather like that. Yet if you look around the site closely, you can still make out the structure of the old wards. And you can peer into one building that has been abandoned and see the former laundry with its overhead pulleys still in place.

Louise Ahrendts, the heroine of my book, serves at the Royal Naval Hospital during the war. It's where she meets the man who will change her life.
Lieutenant David Horrocks DSO, gunnery officer.
Emergency appendectomy, transferred from HMS Dorsetshire.
Reached us just in time.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Around the coast of Simon's Bay

If you take a drive from Simon's Town, the setting of my book The Girl from Simon's Bay, towards the iconic landmark of Cape Point, you will come across many less famous - but no less spectacular - spots. Don't whizz by but rather stop, like I have done, and take in the pristine coves, the bobbing kelp and the tumbled rocks that make this section of the coast so distinctive. Past Miller's Point, you will find several lookouts where you can pull off the road. If you have a pair of binoculars with you, scan the flat rocks rising out of the sea. There are several that are home to heaving colonies of seals. You can see them, lumbering about, and occasionally slipping into the sea to snap up a tasty penguin or two.

And, on a darker note, I always check the seas foaming around those rocks in case a bigger predator is about. You've probably seen extraordinary footage on television of great white sharks doing a little light snapping of their own... a seal makes a tasty lunch. But so far I've never been there at the right time. What would I do? Shout from the shoreline as the shark heaves itself up towards its hapless prey? I suspect it would all be over before I could focus my binoculars... It's nature, and let's keep it that way.

Louise, the heroine of The Girl from Simon's Bay, loves to swim with her childhood friend, Piet. But when he starts to avoid her, she must swim alone. Something we always vowed not to do because you never knew what could happen, a freak wave rising out of a flat sea, a shark gliding close to shore...

New Year's greetings to you all from near the southwestern-most tip of Africa!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Happy New Year - and a surprise!

What will 2018 bring? Hopefully a kinder world but also, on a personal note, I hope you receive a delicious amount of what you want and not too much of what you'd prefer to avoid! In any event, I wish you happy reading!

2018 marks 8 years since the completion of my first manuscript, which would go on to become The Housemaid's Daughter. It also marks the first anniversary of the publication of my latest novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay. And, as you know, I've been blogging about my journey along this road from the very beginning.

Just recently, I was amazed to spot a new version of The Housemaid's Daughter on Instagram. Here it is, with a most evocative cover. Foreign publishers are supposed to send a few copies of their translated versions of the book to the author but sometimes this doesn't happen, or it takes rather a long time. So... I can be checking out something completely different and up will pop a new edition in a language that I don't recognise. Surprise!

Google Translate can help, but in this case I'm not sure I'd have been able to copy the appropriate words into the translator! I'm also intrigued that my surname in Bulgarian consists of 3 letters. And, talking of tricky translations, here is the title of the book in Chinese...

Re the mystery version above, I confess I had to leave a plaintive message in cyberspace asking what language it was and a kind reader obliged! I'm delighted to see this handsome edition, and I hope that my Bulgarian readership will continue to grow!
Good luck!

Monday, 4 December 2017

165 Blog Posts - and counting...

It's been a quite a year!
My new book, The Girl from Simon's Bay, has been published in paperback, e-book, audiobook - and recently in Spanish. The year kicked off with a series of launches in South Africa, comprising signings, talks and radio and TV interviews. If you missed any of them, you can find them on my website
It's been wonderful to receive great feedback from readers far and wide, with a particular thank you to those of you who've taken the time to write a review on amazon for me. Every review propels boost the book further up the ranks so please keep them coming!

And let's not forget The Housemaid's Daughter, which continues to sell steadily and win new friends across the world in a total of 13 languages since its publication in 2012.

I started this blog in June of 2010 - more in hope than expectation - and called it 'Publishing my First Book'. It was a matter of dipping a toe in an industry that was completely new to me and seeing if I could survive. I never imagined that my writing would be successful in the wider world. Yet it has, and what a journey it's been!
I've made new friends, rediscovered old ones, absorbed lessons from more experienced writers and editors, and honed my craft through their input.

Since 2010, I've written 165 blog posts describing the background, research and whimsical back stories that have underpinned each of my novels, from the stark Karoo to the wartime naval dockyard of Simon's Town and beyond. And always, through everything I write, runs the vibrant, seductive charm of South Africa.
"There's everything here," says a character in The Girl from Simon's Bay.
"Beauty. Cruelty. Humanity. You won't ever lack material."