Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

It was our intention to watch two hours of The Apprentice on our return to the UK. However, the local Majorca paper warned us that TA had been brought forward to make way for a football match. Considering the time I spent with the video instruction book, programming the thing before our departure it's very irritating. Just as well we read about the change, though, as M would have accused me of getting it wrong, as footballers leapt on to our screen.

It was also our plan to spend the last week sunbathing, but apart from cool and cloudy weather, we also had two days of more or less non-stop rain, as well as colossal thunder storms - similar I believe to the UK. It was in in one such dramatic storm a few years ago, in which I sat at my computer, tempting providence, and wrote a love scene in Tainted Tree.

My writing has proved of interest to a couple of the other guests who are intending to look up A Bottle of Plonk and Tainted Tree on their return. It would be wonderful if those who enjoy the books could tell their friends. Those of us without access to major publicity must rely on others to spread the word.

When I explained to one interested lady that I wanted people to read my work, she comforted me, saying, 'Oh well it won't just be one person; if we read it, we'll pass it on to someone else.' Buy the books, people. Don't borrow them; don't lend them.

I was awed by North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell's tour de force. At a guess, 200,000 words - both a love story and an intelligent discussion of the cotton trade, the industrial revolution and labour relations in 1850. I could never write anything like that. The immediate lack of rapport between her main protagonists was reminscent of Pride and Prejudice, but there was so much more content. More like something of George Eliot's perhaps. It was also surprisingly modern. Thank goodness for the novelists of those days who wanted their women to be strong and independent.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Back from hols

A few memories from my holiday which I recorded at the time:

Days 1 & 2 (Tuesday and Wednesday) in Majorca. We arrive to hear that there's been a violent thunderstorm the previous day, but the weather's good at the moment. I've been reading To Die For by Linda Howard, one of my prizes from Piatkus last year (Winchester Conference). I polished it off yesterday and today. It was readable chicklit - fast moving and amusing some of the time, but the sex was repetitive and so was much of the dialogue. The conculsion to the murder mystery was weak, too. Do I think it was better than Tainted Tree? No.

We met up with Diane and Bob from Birmingham, who we last saw two years ago. Diane had borrowed my copy of The Moon's Complexion and then wanted one sent to her, together with A Bottle of Plonk. She telephoned earlier in the week, and when she heard I had a new book, asked me to bring a copy. She's reading it at the moment, having temporarily put aside her copy of Atonement.

Thursday: A holiday is not just for lazing in the sun. Part of it is to benefit from amd enjoy facilities that are not normally at your disposal. In the hotel, there are flowers on all the tables in the Reception area, and in the Ladies' room, adjacent to the bar; each towel is used only once and then thrown in the towel bin. I love that sort of luxury. I hasten to say that they have their own desalination plant, so not as wasteful as it sounds. I visit the gym for half an hour each day, trying to burn off the effects of good eating and lazing. Ten minutes each on the cycling machine, rowing machine and treadmill. And last night, I dragged M onto the dance floor to do a bit of stomping around. Most of the other guests were watching Man U. beat Chelsea. Not my scene.

At lunch the waiter mimed a penalty kick and said, 'Chelsea?' M did not follow, instead querying, 'Chelsea Flower Show?' What a wimpy response; he had to rectify it by explaining he liked rugby.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Talks and Amazon Reviews

It’s been a busy week, though I’m winding down now and doing mundane things in preparation for our holiday next week.

Last Sunday, we went to M’s Auntie Bessie’s 90th birthday party. She’s a great character and you would imagine her to be about 70. Though of course these days, it seems quite appropriate to take 20 years off anyone’s age, for we are so much more youthful than a few decades ago. Anyway, we had a lovely birthday bash, with lots of family chats and good food. Lovely desserts of course. And once again I was tempted into chocolate roulade and just a smidgeon of strawberry Pavlova. I’ve given up on the diet. And no doubt things will be worse once we’re on holiday. I just hope I can fit into my swimsuit.

On Tuesday, I gave a talk on self publishing to the Creative Writing class at the Guildford Institute, which seemed to go down quite well. Stella has asked if I’ll talk at one of her other classes and maybe I will, though I have to get M to chauffeur me - I’m such a wimp about driving out of my territory.

We, the Goldenford girls, also gave a talk on the following day - also at the Guildford Institute, which has a regular weekly slot. Irene couldn’t make it, but Anne substituted for her. It all went very well and we had a lot of interest and appreciation and sales too.

Irene and Anne have both put great reviews of Tainted Tree on the Amazon site. I hope you don’t mind my including your words here:

Irene’s review: ‘Jacquelynn Luben's major new novel is everything one would expect from this wonderfully readable writer. American Addie has arrived in England to take possession of the house that she has mysteriously inherited. Her story is sometimes heartbreaking sometimes full of hope, passion and suspense, always compelling. The novel is well researched, absorbing and wise. Give yourself plenty of time to read this as once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down. A highly recommended read.’

And Anne says: ‘This is a fabulous romantic saga, focusing on American Addie's search for her UK roots and the family secrets she's determined to uncover. Addie herself is a strong and very appealing character and the reader is quickly drawn in to her world, her search and the decisions she makes. Throughout the novel, there are moments of laughter alongside scenes of incredible poignancy. The story never fails to grip and the ending is wonderfully satisfying. I can thoroughly recommend it.’

Thank you, girls, very much. Typically, Amazon still hasn’t managed to get the front cover on show, despite having had weeks to get it sorted. They probably have a grudge against me because of the rude things I’ve said about them.

I finally finished the VAT and the cheque is ready to go off. So I can go on holiday with an easy conscience. I shall take some paper with me, and perhaps managed to dissolve the writers’ block that has been with me for some time. I also have North and South to read for the readers circle.

In the last few months, my thoughts have been with many friends and relatives who have or who are facing problems. Two friends who have had operations in the last week; a friend’s husband who has also had an operation; two women who have lost their husbands in the past month; two relatives who have potential cancer related problems; people who I know only via the internet who have had health problems or whose loved ones are in that category. Each of these events is a major one in their lives; when we are faced with a dramatic event like this, it fills the whole of our lives, leaving no space for other thoughts. And yet - in China and in Burma tens of thousands of people are dead or dying after natural disasters. It’s impossible to take in that number of people or to recognise that they are a hundred thousand individual tragedies. A news presenter reminded listeners that because of the one child policy in China, when a school is obliterated, a generation of children is wiped out. And as I listened a day ago to the sound of one woman who had just identified her own dead child, her cries of anguish represented for me all those anonymous people.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Food, fruit and Tainted Tree

In the last couple of days, I’ve heard comments on the radio that are very much in tune with my way of thinking. One was from Gordon Ramsay saying something to the effect that we should buy fruit in season in the UK. Now obviously that isn’t always possible. We would never have bananas or oranges if we weren’t able to import them, but as far as strawberries are concerned, there is a vast difference between the ripe English strawberries in May/June and the tasteless stringy things that are sold in the supermarket for the ten months of the year. I have to admit that I do buy the out of season ones every now and then - sometimes when the grandchildren are visiting; they like red fruits and sometimes just to see if they’ve improved. A couple of days ago, I saw some in a local cake shop. They were in a papier mache carton, and I suspected they were the first English - maybe brought on in a poly-tunnel. They were delicious; they reminded me of how strawberries ought to taste. The following day, because were low on fruit and I was passing the Co-op, I bought a carton in there. What a difference. Back to a Spanish tasteless variety.

The other thing I heard related to the amount of food wasted; thrown away and a criticism of young people who have never put up with food shortages and who feel that anything left on one day should be thrown in the dustbin. I often cook with a view to freezing part of a meal. I have sliced cooked meats in the freezer, and if part of a casserole or soup is left over, I freeze that too. I keep small plastic cartons and I really appreciate them when I can’t think of anything to cook. And I sometimes recycle yesterday’s vegetables.

I’ve had the first comments about Tainted Tree from my brother-in-law, who telephoned to ask me to send a second copy for someone who’s interested. He said he was about one third of the way through and enjoying it.

However, Janice Windle, the artist who designed the cover has written a fantastic critique on her blog. I hope she doesn’t mind me reproducing it here, because I’m thrilled with it. Thank you Jan, so much.

‘Well, I know you'll say I have an axe to grind, and I have to declare an interest because I designed its cover, but I have to write this to anyone who will listen - Jackie Luben's "Tainted Tree" is a real humdinger of a book (excuse my American). Jackie was very secretive about the plot and never let me read past the third chapter while I was doing the art work, so I've had to wait till now to read the whole thing. I'd begun it midweek, having had a nice posting at a school that finishes its day at 2.30pm. This morning I simply couldn't put the novel down. The pace of the second half, in particular, is incredible, and you're rushed along from high to low, good news to bad news, from place to place, along with the central character. It had me in tears some of the time and wishing I WAS Addie, the main character, at other points (she does meet some very nice chaps, all very different and all interesting)

And you find yourself sharing thoughts with English people, Americans, people from the past and from the present, and seeing problems of family and love from all kinds of perspectives. OK, it's probably more a women's read than a man's - but who am I to be so sexist as to think that men don't enjoy reading about love and family relationships? At times it reminded me a little of Sebastian Faulkes' "Birdsong" in feeling - though the theme is different - and I know that book has plenty of male readers.

It's one of those books where you get two-for-one, too - a story within a story. Jackie has done her research very thoroughly. With her heroine, we read a diary written by someone who like me grew up in the 1960's, who gives a first hand account of hearing the news of John Kennedy's assassination (I always remember that moment, as most people my age probably do), the problems of sexual mores and contraception issues that we struggled with - and takes us again to the student parties of our far off youth. And that is interleaved with the ups and downs of a modern romance. The cultural differences between Britain and America are in there too, seen from an American perspective. Running through the book like a connecting thread is a puzzle that the heroine has to solve in the near present (the book is set in the 1990's).

Jackie is an author of great sensitivity and she tells a compelling story, with a lot of humour, compassion and a wonderful sense of pace and style. I don't think I've given too much away - you have to read it to enjoy the complex and fascinating plot.’

Monday, May 05, 2008

A brief taste of celebrity

It’s been a busy week, all leading up to my book launch last Saturday. A week ago, we had friends over for lunch. The day seemed topsy turvy, as I’m not used to eating properly at lunch time. So I just nibbled that evening. I was hoping to lose some of the pounds by the launch date, but as it got nearer and nearer, I realised it was a forlorn hope. I just didn’t have the will power to do the right things in terms of food - and there seemed to be too many jobs which required me to be sitting down - not much good in exercise terms. However, there was also a fair amount of washing, ironing and changing of sheets, in preparation for visitors.

I forgot to say that I finished Irene Black’s novel, Darshan, a magnificent journey into the mind of a young Indian girl, with a very authentic feel to it. Irene knows India so well that it’s no surprise that she is able to describe so many nuances of the people and the traditions to be found there, but she also got into the personality of her heroine, so that I almost couldn’t believe it wasn’t an Indian girl writing it. Darshan is to be the next Goldenford novel to be published in a couple of months’ time and will be a great read.

During the week, I chased up non-responders to my invitations. There were people who couldn’t come because of last minute changes of plan, and people who were going to come even though I’d asked them at the last minute. Squashed in somewhere was a meeting with a solicitor about some property problems - you don’t want to know - a Guildford Writers’ meeting, when I read out the first three pages of Tainted Tree, as a sort of rehearsal and a Sainsbury’s trip to get stuff for family coming back to our house on Saturday afternoon. I also updated my website.

The weekend started in earnest on Friday, with the arrival of M’s cousin and husband, who were staying the night with us. This was good, because looking after their needs meant I didn’t get tense about the party the next day. (I have quite a complex about big functions and felt quite ill at my daughter’s wedding and my 25th, to name but a couple of occasions - that is, when I am the person most involved with organising them; not when I am merely a guest.) When we got up next morning, I couldn’t believe how calm I felt, and that was a real treat, because it meant that I actually enjoyed the whole day.

We’d hired the local village hall and my caterer was very organised when we got there; soon the Golden girls arrived and we put all the books on display. At midday, friends, neighbours and family started arriving for drinks and after 40 minutes or so, I read out the extract from Tainted Tree. Then there was a great spate of signing books. I felt quite a celebrity. Unfortunately, my son and family arrived late (Bank Holiday traffic on the road) and M was outside playing with a great nephew on the swings and roundabouts. (Any excuse not to listen to me.) But I think it went well, and everyone chatted all through lunch, and started drifting away after 3.00 p.m. Then close family came back to our house and we sat in the garden with a very naughty chocolate cake and tea.

The Son&Heir and his entourage stayed over that night, and we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant we like a lot. The girls like it, because they can get up and visit the buffet table over and over again, without needing us to help, and without being grumbled at for fidgeting.

I was exhausted by all this entertainment and have been half asleep for the last two days. Alas today, I have had to start bookkeeping. We are going on holiday for ten days and the VAT return is due in at the end of the month. So I have to start working in earnest. After the Lord Mayor’s Show …

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A tree that flowers in May

Publication Day for Tainted Tree.

Actually it feels like any other day. M was going to London to fix a heating problem for a friend. We got half way to the station and he remembered he'd left his rail card behind. So returned, picked it up and then I dropped him there and went off to Sainsbury's where I bought up half the shop. Well, the family's coming back here after the party, so I had to get in some cakes, and extra milk and bagels and smoked salmon, just in case they're still with us in the early evening. (Though I expect for many of them, it will be just be tea and cake.) But we will still be left with close family, including the Son&Heir and his retinue. I have some of my chocolate brownies still in the freezer, so will probably bring them out, and try to add something else for a bit of variety.

When I got back and hour and half later, I opened the front door, and there was M's briefcase. Surely he hadn't left that behind too. But no. He was actually sitting in the kitchen eating a roll he'd bought from the local bakery. (He doesn't believe in making himself a sandwich - too complicated.) He'd sat on the train for 20 minutes and then they'd all been told that the signals at Wimbledon had been struck by lightening. So he got off the train, cadged a lift home from someone he knows near the station, and got our neighbour to let him in the house with the spare key.

In the meantime, my neighbour has bought two copies of Tainted Tree - one for her mother, who enjoyed my last book, and I sold another copy at Guildford Writers, me having read out the first three prizewinning pages. So the boxes are getting a bit lighter and I hope they come back from the party much depleted.

This month's Writers' News arrived, and there was much to agree with in it. The prizewinning letter to the editor complained about the effect on the book trade of discounting. I have long mourned the passing the Net Book Agreement, and would be very happy for books to be sold at fixed prices. What is the effect of discounting. As in the grocery business, the large chains can afford to slash prices. As this now happens in supermarkets, as well as book stores, it gives both the big stores an advantage over independents, but also disadvantages mid-list writers. The supermarkets take only the most popular books. Stores like Waterstone's are obviously in a different league, but nevertheless, their offers tend to concentrate on popular books too. So the modest sellers, or unknowns get squeezed out, just like the small shops. Who makes any money out of it? Not authors for sure; and people working in the book trade don't do too well either.

On the front page, of WN was an article about Amazon (I assume in the US) who are saying that all Print on Demand sales should be carried out by their own printers., will be offering help to authors (in due course - this doesn't seem to be set up yet) by including links to sites where books can be bought, other than Amazon. More power to their elbow. My books can be obtained from my website, or go straight to the order page, or alternatively from Goldenford and then 'Books'.