Tea with the Vicar, or How (Not) to Market a Book

View to the church

I’ve been looking after my 91-year-old dad who has just come out of hospital after a bad fall. His confidence has been knocked and we still don’t know why he blacked out, but I can tell he’s improving. He’s started working on the fiddly bits of the galleon he’s building from scratch again, and there was a whole bingo card of swear words as he was engrossed in trying to get it right.

 My dad is fortunate in that he lives in a small village with a real sense of community. He has been heavily involved in the church and parish council for many years and there is a whole group of women in the village who have been looking out for my dad. In addition to umpteen phone calls, he had people calling in with eggs, biscuits and cakes all of which he was delighted to receive. Then he wonders why he has put on weight!

One call was from the vicar. She asked if she could pop around in the afternoon. Although she took over the three parishes just before Covid she hadn’t been inside my dad‘s house before.

So, the vicar came to tea. It sounded like a cliche.

Dad insisted I get down and wash the best China and prepare the tea and homemade biscuits when she arrived. I was happy to do that, and when I joined them in the conservatory, she was already discussing the readings for the next 8 o’clock service with my dad.

I asked her what the biggest challenge was in bringing together three parishes into one.

“Having three parishes is not the problem, the biggest challenge is trying to bring different factions together in the church. There are three different factions, liberals, the evangelicals, who are probably the most active, and the traditionalists like your dad. They all want something different for the church.”

We had an interesting conversation for about twenty minutes with Dad saying he didn’t want anything to change and he didn’t want the “happy clappy” services, thank you very much.

Then the vicar turned to me. “What do you do?”

“I’m a retired accountant, and now I write books.”

Most people would leave it at that, or say “that’s interesting,” and move on. However, the vicar is one of those people who listen intently and always seem as though they are genuinely interested in what you have to say. It’s very powerful and appealing.

“What’s the book about?” she asked and nibbled on a cookie, waiting for an answer.

Ah. How would I explain this? To add a bit of context, when I first came out to my dad many years ago, he cut me out of his will and had nothing to do with me for a long time. It’s been a long road back to being accepted and part of that acceptance is that we never talk me being a lesbian.

I tried to ignore my dad’s glare, although I could almost feel his eyes boring down on me, willing me to say nothing.

I wasn’t going to be silent, so I smiled at the vicar and said, “it’s a lesfic romance.”

She didn’t blink an eyelid, clearly knowing what that was, she returned the smile and asked, “Are you gay?”

I stole a glance at Dad, who stared at me stony eyed, his mouth a straight line.

“I am, but we don’t talk about it.” I indicated my dad.

“I’m not talking to your dad; I’m talking to you.” she smiled. “Tell me about the book.”

So, I proceeded to explain it being an intergenerational story, covering the period from 1939 to the present day, with themes of secrecy, prejudice and love.

“It sounds really interesting,” she said, “I’ll have to pre-order that.”

“You’ll have to shut your eyes on some of it.” I explained and she laughed and gesticulated that it wouldn’t bother her.

I have no idea if she has pre-ordered it, but I am very grateful. She acknowledged me, who I am and what I’ve achieved and wasn’t going to put up with any of my dad’s prejudices. It was the first time in twenty odd years that Dad has had to confront my whole truth (after the first disastrous time, I’ve never taken any girlfriends to meet him) and it was good for him to hear that the church has moved on, somewhat, and the vicar approves and encourages me and others like me.

Needless to say, Dad has not mentioned the conversation at all, but I think he’s had to think about it.

Afterwards, I thought how bizarre that I’m happy to chat about the book to the vicar, the plumber, and window cleaner, because that doesn’t feel like marketing. Yet I balk at having to sell myself, or go online onto the various Facebook and Twitter groups and say, hey you don’t know me but buy my book, it’s great.

That’s what I’ll have to do, though. Maybe if I can treat it as if I am just chatting with friends and they’re asking what I’ve been up to, then it will feel more natural.

Does anyone actually enjoy doing the marketing? To me it feels like selling myself, selling my soul, not letting people know about what I’ve been working on for the last year. And now it’s available to pre-order, it’s all starting to feel a lot more real.

Pre-release Anxiety and Excitement

Opening the proof copy of my debut novel, Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes

As it comes closer to release day for my debut novel, I’ve started to shred my nails, even though I haven’t bitten them for many years. I think I’m as nervous as when my daughter had her first day at school, knowing she needed to be out in the world, but hoping she wouldn’t be targeted by bullies or be called horrible names.

Releasing a book feels very similar. I’m quite a private person, having many acquaintances but a few really close friends I’d walk through fire for. So the thought of being vulnerable to strangers who have no interest in being kind or understanding is giving me nightmares. So far people have been kind, and I love that, with some exceptions, the lesfic world seems more interested in supporting and helping each other up, rather than pulling each other down. Long may it continue.

I was surprised by one very close friend, who typically does not read lesfic, said it seemed to fall between two genres: lesfic and romance. When I asked her to clarify she said it was all about the sex scenes. She thought they were unnecessary, and if it weren’t my book she was reading, she wouldn’t have gone past them. Not that there was anything wrong with the sex scenes, she said, just that she wasn’t expecting them, or if they were there, she expected there to be more at the end. When I explained it was not unusual in lesfic to have sex and romance intertwined within a book she seemed happy, but suggested that if I wanted to market it into more general/ women’s fiction maybe I should leave those out.

So, it got me thinking about whether you should tailor the book for distinct markets with different editions. Yet I have read some of the more recent women’s/ general fiction that can be quite explicit. Having said that when I was researching book covers, I noticed that some books have separate covers for different media (very crudely, kindle tends to be bolder and brighter, paperback more stylish). I guess the tweaking of the book could be done later, in the meantime I have some nails to bite.

And if you are interested the blurb for Warm Pearls and Paper Cranes is:

A family torn apart by secrets. The only way forward is love.

Maud Heaston has been in love with Beatrice Williams since they first met in 1939. They’ve been through hell and back; family, careers, and secrets have threatened to tear them apart, but their love has endured it all. Until now. Old age and illness have forced them into separate nursing homes and the family Maud trusted to take care of them are only out for themselves.

Hannah Jones is trying to put her past behind her and find her place in the world. Midway through a doctorate and living with Suki, the woman she’d like to be more than just friends with, the last thing she needs is Gammy, her interfering great aunt, back in her life. Though Gammy took Hannah in when her mother died, her overbearing nature and constant criticisms forced them apart. Now they barely speak.

Maud needs Hannah’s help to be reunited with the love of her life. Hannah needs Suki to take a chance on love. Can a reconciliation between Maud and Hannah free them both to be with the women they love or will the past destroy their future?

The release date is 15th October, and it can be pre-ordered now through the following:

getbook.at/WarmPearls

Hello, Reader World!

I think I got into reading as it was something in which I could beat my brother. He was severely dyslexic, and they didn’t get support in those days. He was three years older than me, brilliant at cricket and everything else, and I idolised him. But reading was my thing.

As a child, I lived in Zambia and school finished at 1:30 p.m. In the afternoons, we were free. The dust tickled our noses, and we were serenaded by cicadas. It was so hot we would intersperse splashes in a friend’s pool with bouts of reading to dry off. We read anything and everything we could get hold of, from the Times of Zambia to classic children’s books, and we swapped with each other. We even picked up a copy of The Thoughts of Chairman Mao.

Television schedules were indicative rather than actual, so I’d read and tell stories to my brother’s Action Man and Eeyore while we waited for the one children’s programme to appear. I started to write the stories down. If I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always say, “a writer.”

At eleven I fell in love…with Shakespeare. On a trip back to London we went to a magical outdoor Shakespeare performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park, and I was hooked. From then on I started to write poetry and study performance. 

Established back in the UK, I was lucky enough to attend the same girls grammar school as Carol Ann Duffy (although some years later!), and was taught by the same English department and by the wonderful Mr Walker who inspired and encouraged her so much.

I continued to write poetry but moved into economics and accountancy for a full career’s worth of numbers and report writing, which slowly stifled my creativity. In my very limited spare time, I tried to write a novel but struggled with the plot and having enough headspace and energy to explore and play.

I was determined to retire from full time employment as soon as I’d paid off my mortgage, and I saw an advertisement for Global Wordsmith’s course in Spain—to begin the day after my retirement date. It was fate.

The course was much more than I hoped, Robyn and Brey being the perfect balance of ultimate professionals and welcoming hosts. I soon realised how much I didn’t know, and that writing a novel is not like a glorified work report or indeed an extended poem. Within a day, the plot I’d been billowing around with for months formed into a parabolic arch locked with a keystone of midpoint crisis. 

I shall always be grateful for their wisdom and encouragement. So when I was approached to see if I would submit a short story for the upcoming anthology, LesFic Eclectic, I leapt at the chance, and I feel very honoured that it was accepted.

In the meantime, I’m working on my novel, Cider, which is a great excuse to go around and sample different ciders in the name of research. For details about my novels, please see my website tab, Scribbling. So I hope you enjoy my short story, and I look forward to years of creativity and connection with you all. I’ve got a lot to catch up on…