Monday, April 30, 2018

A Memory from the Pink Sofa

A few years ago, a writer friend, Carol Hedges, invited me on to her Pink Sofa. This was a great honour, as the Pink Sofa is legendary among writers. So with her permission, here's what I wrote for her - it's a slightly different take on my life. Oh - and while I'm here, could I recommend Carol's Victorian Mysteries? Starting with this one: Diamonds and Dust.

I’ve been dying to get onto the Pink Sofa for ages. I’ve always liked the look of the cake. And is that red wine hiding behind the chair?

First of all, I’d like to hark back to a previous guest here – Beryl Kingston. I was so pleased that her post had such a terrific response because, you see, Beryl and I have quite a lot of connections. I can’t actually remember when we discovered these, but it was during a phone call years before social media (or any sort of media, actually!) that we suddenly stated saying “No! Really? So did I!”

To start with, we had both lived in Tooting, London, as children. And we had both been – wait for it  - Tooting Carnival Queens! Even odder, Beryl had been teaching at my Grammar School up until I started in the first form. It still strikes me as strange that had it not been for an accident of timing, I could have been taught by someone I now regard as an inspiration and a friend.

As for Carol (who?) – years ago, I lived in St Albans, where my eldest daughter was born, and one of my best friends lived in Harpenden, where I used to do my weekly shop in Sainsbury’s. That’s about it as far as we’re concerned.

My own journey to publication – or, rather, novels – is rather mundane. I wish I could present you with a picture of the struggling artist in the attic, but I can’t. Like many writers, I started writing as a child “making” my own books. When I got to about 11 or 12, I was filling Woolworth’s exercise books with pony stories. It never occurred to me that I could make a living writing – I wanted to  be an actor! I started well, debuting on the London stage at the age of 15 playing Laura in The Glass Menagerie, things rather fell off after that. I drifted through modelling, demonstrating, (Kent Hair Brushes, since you ask) disc jockeying in a posh nightclub wearing a silver catsuit and eventually becoming an air stewardess for British Airways in the glory days. At least, I’m told they were. I’ve managed to inveigle my way onto The One Show and The Alan Titchmarsh Show on the back of that.

I married a professional musician and we duly starved. This was the St Albans era. Eventually, the Musician, who was art school trained, went into magazines. And one day came home with a large cardboard box, told me to open it, assemble it and write on it how easy it was. It was one of the first desk top computers, long before Apple or even Amstrad. The magazine was Which Computer, and the Musician was the Art Editor. I was launched on a career as feature writer.

Many years and a few more children later, having discovered a penchant for writing pantomimes (still produced all over Britain each year) and short stories for magazines, I decided to go all highbrow and do an MA in Creative Writing. They were still very new then, and I picked one as far away from home as possible, in Wales. On the same course was a woman called Hazel Cushion, and at the end of the course we decided to produce a charity anthology for Breast Cancer, called Sexy Shorts for Christmas. We did everything between us – I commissioned, edited and typeset, the Musician designed the cover, Hazel did everything else and proved to be a very good business woman.

And that was the beginning of Accent Press. Which, of course, is now going strong as a small independent publisher with a number of bestselling titles both in print and ebook. I’m no longer anything to do with the organisation, I simply sit back and write Libby Sarjeant books and the odd Edwardian Mystery for good measure. And thank the Lord and little green fishes I met Hazel, as I can afford to eat for the foreseeable future.

Thank you for having me, Carol, and please may I have a top-p? You what? You said you didn’t like red wine...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My beginnings

I have recently been invited to choose three words to describe my creativity. See if you agree with me. I think most people who receive this newsletter will already know most of this, but just in case you don't...

I think the first would, unfortunately, be “enforced”. I have been a working writer for over 35 years. I know that, because I started when I was pregnant with my third child, who is now 35. I wrote as a freelance, first for Which Computer and subsequently for its stable mates Business Matters, Small Business Matters and various other trade journals. I had always written, inspired by my favourite books as a child, such as Elizabeth Goudge’s Little White Horse, Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh series (I write pieces for the Monica Edwards society’s magazine now) and Pamela Brown’s Blue Doors series, but never thought I could do it as a job. Instead, I became a model, an air stewardess, actor, disc jockey in a night name it, I’ve done it. When I wrote the first of my Libby Sarjeant series it was the 20,000 words of a dissertation which prompted Accent Press’s Hazel Cushion to buy it. So I had to finish the b... sorry, the novel. Ever since, each book has become harder, so yes, sorry, “Enforced”.

The second word would be “comforting”. I write what I like to read, and none of it is alarming. I write about the Kentish countryside because that’s where I live – well, in a seaside town, actually -  and it’s all very – yes – comforting, and feels like being enfolded in a familiar blanket. I also have murders. But the one thing my readers tell me is that when they pick up a new book it’s like meeting old friends. The books have evolved into different situations for a group of friends to explore, and naturally, because of  my own background there’s theatre in there, too.

Which brings me to my third word, “theatrical”. I made my first professional appearance on the stage in a London “fringe” theatre, although we didn’t call them that, back in the Dark Ages. Since then, after having my children, I have done a lot of work for my local theatre, The Playhouse, Whitstable. I have become a bit of an expert on pantomime (I’ll bore anybody) and had a book commissioned back in the nineties on how to write one. It’s still in print in its third edition, believe it  or not, with a foreword by Roy Hudd. I’ve written and had produced and published (they earn me my holiday money) seven pantomimes, and at the behest of the British Music Hall Society, one “Music Hall Musical”, which has now formed the basis of my new Edwardian series, The Alexandrians. I used to be the editor of the BMHS journal, “The Call Boy”, and had access to some of the greats before they popped off to the great Green Room in the sky.

Music plays a huge part in my life and always has. My father was half of a singing duo, I married a musician and produced four of them. I am extremely proud of them all, although none of us will ever have a great deal of money (especially the one who is a published poet. Poor soul.). I am now a widow (horrible word. Conjures up black lace veils), a grandmother (even worse) to two smalls and the slave to two cats. I am, in fact, what Central Casting would suggest as the perfect Lady Novelist/mad cat lady. I think...

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The First Newsletter

I''m hoping that this will arrive in some people's inboxes, and if it does, will they please leave a comment at the bottom. Yesterday's blog was obviously open to misinterpretation, as some people were clicking on my big arrow and wondering why nothing happened, and others were simply telling me that all the addresses were on show. Yes, I know - that's why I'm doing this! If I could use MailChimp properly I'd do that, but this seems a lot simpler.

Since January not an awful lot has happened in my professional life. I've been dreadfully stuck over the current epic, and very behind on the upcoming deadline. But last weekend I went away with a group of writer friends and beat it into submission. I still haven't quite caught up, but it's progressing quite nicely, now.

Apart from my "retreat", another thing that's helped me is the suggestion by another writer friend, Victoria Connelly, to set up a Reader Group on Facebook. I have a personal Facebook page and an official Author Page, but I had never thought of a straightforward group. It's worked like a dream. The readers are happy to talk about the characters, give me ideas and in general be supportive. It is their suggestion that I revive the newsletter, and after a few false starts, this is the latest scheme. If anyone reading this would like to join the Reader Group, called, by popular request, Lesley Cookman's Libby's Loonies, and you are on Facebook, we'll be happy to see you. I know there's quite a bit of resistance to FB at the moment, which is one of the reasons that a newsletter of some kind seemed like a good idea. I still get requests via the website, and there are people who aren't on social media, although that's increasingly fewer and fewer.

So, for everyone who isn't on social media, and those who haven't seen the blog over the last 6 months or so, the 19th Libby Sarjeant book, Murder And The Glovemaker's Son is due out this August. The 18.5th was Murder Most Fowl, which came out for Christmas last year.
If anyone is reading this who has landed here by accident and you would like to carry on reading, please add your email address in the little "Follow by email" box and click submit. And with a bit of luck, new posts will pop into your inbox at fairly regular intervals.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The new newsletter - again

Well, hello, everyone!

After a couple of disastrous newsletters, I'm trying again.  Last weekend I went away on a "retreat" with some writer friends. We are all of a certain age (within certain parameters) and have known one another for some years, and share a certain nervousness of the newer, thrusting authors. We all started well before social media and networked blogs, or even self (or indie) publishing, and all the new guys, both young and older, are so well versed in the technology.  So a couple of the girls have made it their business to learn all about it, and I follow their blogs, which pop into my inbox every week like a newsletter. Oh! I thought. I could do that!

So here we are. All you have to do is fill in that little box which says "Follow by email" and click the little box saying "submit". And with a little bit of luck and a following wind, we'll have a newsletter again. This one can be a sort of test one, to get people to sign up, and see how we go. This arrow points in the general direction of the sign up box.