Ten Books Every One of Us Should Read

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  1. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.
  2. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.
  3. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.DSCN0465.jpg
  4. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.
  5. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.
  6. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.DSCN0466
  7. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.
  8. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.
  9. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.
  10. A book we want to read, regardless of who does or doesn’t like it, regardless of whether it’s a ‘classic’ or not, or what bestseller list it’s on or isn’t on, or what award it has or hasn’t won, or who tells us we’re supposed to or not supposed to be reading it. If you like it, read it.DSCN0471.jpg

Words and Music

This is one of the stunning images from the filming of the Maria in the Moon video yesterday. The beautiful song at its heart came from Hull talent, Carrie Martin, after we talked about my new novel a few months ago. I was describing its themes and story-line while she cut my hair. And as my locks fell, our words flowed…

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Dancer Katie Hoyle. Credit for image to Laup Wilson

Let me tell you a bit about Carrie first. We go way back. She’s been my mobile hairdresser since my daughter was a baby and I couldn’t easily leave the house to have my unruly curls attended to. We’ve always talked words and music; she a bit of both, me mainly the words. We always dreamed together of a time when it ‘happened’ for us. When we might able to give up the day jobs. Be who we were supposed to be. We weren’t exactly sure what ‘happened’ would be, but I think it’s starting to ‘happen’ now. For both of us. And we’re right where we’re supposed to be.

Carrie is making waves with her music, playing gigs and big festivals, making us tingle with her gorgeous song-words and memorable melodies. Though she’s influenced by artists like Eva Cassidy and Ann Wilson from Heart, she is unique. Quirky, magical and all heart. Her album What If is a beautiful mix of moods, including appearances from Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman. Check out her stunning website – Carrie Martin

So back to that fateful haircut. I asked Carrie today what it was about the book that led to her creating the song. “The title for one,” she said. “I thought it was fascinating! The subject was a challenge; it had to be subtle. The line ‘innocence is pure, it’s like a daisy chain in our hands’ was the first lyric. It felt so poignant and strong that the rest just followed very quickly!” Naturally I’m beyond interested in the creative process so asked Carrie to tell me more. She said, “Okay, ‘The walls of faith crumbled but never quite fell down’ is another line that made a tear come. It really hits home that these things are reality, and the damage is often irreversible. I actually had the bars of the opening riff weeks before we talked. Its sad, mysterious sound left me wondering what I’d find to fit its feel. The minute you told me the story of the novel, I just knew this was the song. It felt right.”

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Carrie filming the video to Maria in the Moon – credit to Laup Wilson

I also asked Carrie what it was like yesterday, filming the video. She said, “It was trying because of the terrible weather but it led to a massive team effort between Katie (our dancer), Charlotte (who plays ‘troubled Maria’ ), video guy Dave Caley, dance teacher Julie Hatton, and my manager David Micheal Ward. We were using brollies to shelter each other and working together to get the shots! We all stood there flabbergasted when Katie danced in the woods to the music blasting out – it was very moving. It prompted Julie to say ‘God, I need to buy this book, when is it out?'”

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Actress, Charlotte, as Maria. Photo credit to Laup Wilson

Back in 2015, I was honoured when Carrie performed at the Hull launch of How to be Brave. She played A Thousand Years (because of the line, ‘how to be brave’…) to a rapturous room. So now, it seems utterly natural that she has written a song to accompany one of my books. We’ve always inspired one another, and now we can actually share the stage.

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Dancer, Katie. Credit to Laup Wilson for photograph.

Watch this space for the release of Maria in the Moon by Carrie Martin. “It’s almost there,” she tells me, having been in the studio, recording vocals. “We have both worked so hard for this moment and I have a weird feeling about all of it. When I play at gigs, everybody takes to this song immediately. You triggered possibly the best thing I’ve ever written. I played it live in Sunderland last night, loads of people were asking about you and the book. I didn’t tell anybody what it was about, but it sparked their interest all the same. The guy in studio thinks it’s got something huge, and I have gut feeling it could be the one.”

Enjoy these beautiful images from the filming of the video until we can see it in all its finished glory soon…

How I Got Published

How did I get a book deal? It’s one of the things I’m frequently asked about at book events and festivals. How did I get published?

Unless the person asking – usually a hopeful writer, like I’ve been most of my life – has five hours, the determination to still keep writing despite my reply, and a pretty thick skin, I can’t respond fully. Time and a desire not to dishearten them prevents me answering in detail. Because my journey was long. Ten years long. People serve less time for serious crimes. It was littered with rejection upon rejection upon rejection. There was no satnav to tell me which way to go so that I arrived more easily at my destination.

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With Maria in the Moon, the first book I wrote, but my third release.

There’s no magical right answer to the question of how to get published. Every single author will likely have a different tale to share. Some might have enjoyed a quick trip from writing a first novel to book deal, some may have got lucky with their tenth book, but most are probably still driving down the motorway, looking for the right exit.

All I can share is my story. And here it is. Are you ready?

I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. I filled notepads and exercise books with entire novels (chapters and contents page included) from the age of nine. Writing was then – and still is – pure joy to me. The place I escape to, the place I feel safest, the only place in the world where I really feel I know what I’m doing, and that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be. As a teenager, I started my own magazine to rival the school one, and told anyone who would listen that I’d one day be a world-famous novelist. (That I’m still hoping for.) Then life took over a bit when I got pregnant at nineteen…

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Me aged about six, likely already with stories in my head…

In my early thirties, I sent some pieces I’d written to our local newspaper and was offered my own column, Mum’s the Word, in which I wrote for ten years about being a parent. I also began to write short stories. Lots of them. I sent some out to magazines, entered some in competitions. Rejections came thick and fast. I cried the first time. But only once. I got up, wiped the tears away, and decided I had to improve. I wrote more. Slowly, they began being accepted. First by small ezines, and eventually by national magazines. I shortlisted twice for the Bridport Prize.

That was what gave me the confidence to write a novel. Every bit of advice I’d read suggested a writer hone their craft via the precise art of producing short stories, and by joining forums to gain harsh critiques in order to improve. I’d done both. So, after we flooded in 2007 and I had more time due to giving up work to care for my ill daughter, I started Maria in the Moon. It took me six months. It was a labour of not only love, but of tears. When I write, I give everything, and that can be draining afterwards. I let it ‘settle’ and then edited it some more. Then I sent it out to every agent and publisher. Over a period of a year, every single one of them rejected it.

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With the Hull Truck writing group in 2013. I learnt lots with these guys.

I took time to recover – it’s hard, there’s no denying it, when your lovingly created work is rejected by everyone – and in 2009 I started a second novel, The Lion Tamer Who Lost. I tried to use all the advice I’d been given on forums, and all the tips I’d read by successful authors, but most of all I went back to the place where I knew I was supposed to be. Writing. Six months later I sent it out to every agent and publisher. They all rejected it.

In 2011, I went back to Maria in the Moon and tried to improve her. I tried a couple of new agents. Success! (Or so I thought.) A lady from United Agents invited me to visit her. Carol really liked it and took me on. She did everything, but – again – all the publishers she sent it to said no. One of them liked the style and asked if I had any more ideas for a novel. I told her about The Lion Tamer Who Lost but she didn’t like it. I mentioned one I had in my head, and she liked the sound of it. So, in 2012, I wrote The Mountain in my Shoe.

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My lovely agent Carol came to see me at London Blackwell’s when How to be Brave was released…

She said no. Carol sent it to other publishers. They all said no. Some had positive comments, but the general problem seemed to be what I was. Where I fit. I was that difficult creature – I didn’t fit into a genre. But I refused to conform. When I write I can only write what must be written. I can’t fit into some narrow niche. It isn’t me. But this was only going to make things harder.

Ironically, after being told that not fitting into a genre would hinder me, in 2013 I started the novel that was my most unusual and hardest to define – How to be Brave. This was one book that refused to kowtow to any market. I knew this would be my hardest sell, and yet I had to write it. Just as I finished, Carol told me she was retiring. She did everything to try and secure me another agent, but no one was interested. I was on my own again. I had written four books now.

I sent How to be Brave to every agent and publisher. They all said no. At the end of 2014 it shortlisted for a big competition. This is it, I thought. The prize was a book deal. And I was going to win. I wore my lucky red dress, told husband Joe that I knew someone in a red dress was going to win. We arrived at the prize-giving and another writer had on a red dress. She won. I was genuinely happy for her, because I knew how happy she must be. But I cried all the way back to the hotel. I was inconsolable.

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Close… but not quite. At the prize-giving where I didn’t win.

I’ll admit, that was the hardest time. Friends asked how I could go on writing in the face of constant rejection. I said I did because I knew one day it would happen. I really did. But I began to lose my faith a little. I began to wonder if I could write a fifth book and go through it all again.

Then on Twitter I saw that a vivacious woman called Karen Sullivan was starting up Orenda Books. She wanted to publish beautiful books. Books she loved. I cheekily (this goes against all professional advice, folks!) tweeted her and asked if she would read How to be Brave. She said yes. She and slush reader Liz liked it. I had a tense wait for a definite answer, between Christmas 2014 and February 2015.

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The email I wrote Karen that changed my life.

Then on 9th February 2015 Karen emailed to say she loved the book, and of course it was a yes. I think, having read my journey, you can imagine how I felt. It makes me teary now to revisit. I know now that I only got rejected because I was supposed to be with Karen. She’s the only one who ‘got’ me. Got my books. Two years on, she has published the other novels no one wanted. Next year she will publish The Lion Tamer Who Lost too.

And I’m back to doing what I love, but without all the tears. Writing. I’ve started book five, loosely titled Star Girl. And it’s exactly like when I was nine and filled notepads with words. It’s where I’m supposed to be. What I’m supposed to be doing. And I’m glad I never gave up.

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