Tag Archives: Guardian Bookshop

Two Authors in Search of an Audience

Authors: Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell

Stage manager: Marian Lennon

And an audience of hundreds

Place and date premiered: Drury Lane, London. Thursday 12th March 2015

Setting: The foyer of City Lit and room 508

 

Prologue

Eileen made her way down Drury Lane on a lovely sunny afternoon. She had been attending courses at City Lit for the last 50 years – from movement, speech and drama to art, calligraphy and writing. Her favourite class had been Acapella singing and it was there she had sung with Marian Lennon who was a member of staff at City Lit and whose idea this event was. Eileen was excited about her new role of co-author and meeting up with Caroline to sell their book and promote their course*.

161 City Lit1Meanwhile Caroline and Marian had prepared the stage. A massive table in the foyer had been laid out with the books, posters and flyers – all in bright red and yellow it looked really eye-catching. The backdrop was a huge electronic display of the book – very impressive. The only concern had been whether the props would arrive on time but phew Retiring with Attitude published by The Guardian had arrived.

Act one: The foyer of City Lit

161 CityLit 2Excited crowds gathered to talk with the authors and declare they had either retired last week, last year or were just about to. Some spoke about the joys of retirement and that were having the time of their lives. Books started selling. Caroline and Eileen were thrilled at all the interest.

Act two: room 508

Five characters turned up to meet the authors: Jenny who had been part time for the last year, Anne who was experiencing the slowest retiring period in history, James a novice retiree who teaches as a sideline occupation, Ashley who was looking for strong role-models and Veronica who wondered if she needs to work for a further seven years. Key themes emerged: considering the process of retiring over time, the concept of retiring zones and the importance of belonging to at least three communities in order to flourish, being busy and finding purpose, making your mind up to retire, the importance of singing to bring joy to one’s life, finding resources within ourselves and outside.

Act three: The foyer of City Lit

This photo was taken at a quiet moment!

This photo was taken at a quiet moment!

More crowds of enthusiastic people, more smiling, more selling and signing. More retiring stories: working in the community, political activity, attending courses, living with loss, writing novels, jewelry making. Bustling atmosphere and movement.

Act four: room 508

Five new characters: June, a novice retiree, Timothy who had set his retiring date, Belinda who was considering her options, and Mary and Fiona who were thinking about retiring. The main themes were worry about the loss of identity in retirement, taking control of one’s life, stopping running around like a headless chicken, the importance of inter-generational living, the role of ‘carer’ in the family, maintaining self-esteem after work, where to live and rolling in the hay!

Epilogue

101 RWA pile19 books were sold during the day. Two men had signed up already for the one-day course in June and many more people said they were going to apply. At the end of the afternoon one person came back to show how much of the book she had already read! She was beaming. Caroline, Eileen and Marian were delighted.

Reviews

Really useful and fascinating.

That really cheered me up.

It was nurturing.

The ‘Attitude’ is great.

This is really a good thing that you are doing.

Brilliant marketing to be here at City Lit for this perfect demographic.

The themes are so relevant.

Although the groups seemed on the small side it was richer for those who came.

I found the session very helpful, inspiring and timely.

The course at City Lit is PG732 Retiring with Attitude, on Saturday 6th June 2015, 10.30 – 16.30 at City Lit, Keeley Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 4BA. On-line details can be found here.

101 RWA coverRetiring with Attitude: approaching and relishing your retirement by Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell (2014) published by Guardian. Available from the Guardian Bookshop (at reduced price) and all good bookshops.

Thanks to Eileen Carnell who was the guest blogger for this post.

 

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Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Why is this book so popular? And what has it to say about older women? The judges of the Costa First Novel Award in 2014 said of Elizabeth is Missing

This outstanding debut novel grabbed us from the very first page – once you start reading you won’t be able to stop. Not only is it gripping, but it shows incredible flair and unusual skill. A very special book.

151 E missiing cover 3It’s doing really well in the best seller charts: #9 in the Guardian Bookshop list and #6 in the London Review of Books list. 17,443 copies sold to date and #3 in overall paperback fiction chart.

It’s included in the list for the Richard and Judy WH Smith Book Club and the Radio 2 Book Club.

Congratulations to Emma Healey.

(This is the 12th in the series of Older Women in Fiction reviews that I post every two months. For the full list see here.)

The Older Woman

Maud is old and becoming very forgetful, suffering from dementia. She is the narrator, which is an ambitious aspect of the novel: the ultimate unreliable narrator? At the start of the novel she lives on her own, cared for by her daughter Helen and a professional carer, Carla.

She [Carla] picks up the carers’ folder, nodding at me, keeping eye contact until I nod back. I feel like I’m at school. There was something in my head a moment ago, a story, but I’ve lost the thread of it now. Once upon a time, is that how it started? Once upon a time, in a deep, dark forest, there lived an old, old woman named Maud. I can’t think what the next bit should be. Something about waiting for her daughter to come and visit, perhaps. It’s a shame I don’t live in a nice little cottage in a dark forest, I could just fancy that. And my granddaughter might bring me food in a basket. (3-4)

The forgetfulness is evident from the first chapter when she buys yet more tinned peaches to cover her memory lapse in the local shop. Her condition worsens as the novel progresses. She moves to live with Helen. A strategy to cope with her growing confusing used by Maud is to write herself notes. However, these accumulate and she is unable to make much sense of them.

The thing is to be systematic, try to write everything down. Elizabeth is missing and I must do something to find out what’s happened. but I’m so muddled. I can’t be sure about when I last saw her or what I’ve discovered. I’ve phoned and there’s no answer. I haven’t seen her. I think. She hasn’t been here and I haven’t been there. What next? I suppose I should go to the house. Search for clues. And whatever I find I will write it down. I must put pens in my handbag now. The thing is to be systematic. I’ve written that down too. (22)

The dominant thought in Maud’s head is her friend Elizabeth. She repeatedly tells her daughter, ‘Elizabeth is missing’.

We also come to see Maud as a young girl, through her memories (more reliable) and of the tragedy in her teenage years when her sister Sukey disappeared. This second disappearance is Maud’s concern and shapes the novel’s narrative.

Maud is an interesting character, therefore: a forgetful old woman but also a lively teenager.

The Story

The title suggests that the mystery to be solved is the disappearance of Maud’s friend Elizabeth. But it becomes apparent that she is still bothered by the unanswered question of what happened to her sister. Was she murdered by Frank, her spiv husband? Or did she disappear to escape some problem? And why has half of her compact case turned up in Elizabeth’s garden after all these years?

151 E missing cover 1Maud can remember all the clues she uncovered when she searched for her missing sister. Eventually both mysteries are more or less resolved, but not before Maud has got into trouble for her inappropriate behaviour, especially towards Elizabeth’s son. It is revealed that she has been told several times that her friend Elizabeth had a stroke and is in hospital, and that she has even been to visit her.

The early part of the novel is concerned to establish Maud’s limitations. I found that it took some time to move further into the story and for the twin problems of the two missing women to emerge. In some ways this reconstructs Maud’s understanding of events, fragmentary, disconnected, illogical, always just out of sight. The first person narrative carries this well.

What we find

We get a good look at the importance of memory in managing everyday life, in learning, how change affects people, and the experience of dementia. It also reveals the generosity of Helen, and of her daughter Kate who treats Maud with respect. Some of the muddles are amusing, and reveal that dealing with Maud can be frustrating while other responses are abusive and abrupt.

Brain picture via Wikimedia. This illustration is from "The Home and School Reference Work, Volume I" by The Home and School Education Society, H. M. Dixon, President and Managing Editor. The book was published in 1917 by The Home and School Education Society. This illustration of the parts of the Brain can be found on page 368. The parts are A. Cerebrum; B. Corpus Callosum; C: Medulla Oblongata; D. Arbor-Vitae; E: Cerebellum, F: Pons Varolii

Brain picture via Wikimedia. This illustration is from “The Home and School Reference Work, Volume I” by The Home and School Education Society, H. M. Dixon, President and Managing Editor. The book was published in 1917 by The Home and School Education Society.
This illustration of the parts of the Brain can be found on page 368. The parts are A. Cerebrum; B. Corpus Callosum; C: Medulla Oblongata; D. Arbor-Vitae; E: Cerebellum, F: Pons Varolii

Despite losing her memory and becoming increasingly confused, Maud is not a figure of pity. Rather we admire her determination to get to the bottom of both mysteries and to deal with her difficulties with determination and good spirit. But it is in the way she behaves that she implicitly claims the respect that is due, and the dignity of her age.

The purpose of fiction is to take us into new worlds and Emma Healey has done this. We hope for more books from Emma Healey.

More (some links)

Annethology reviewed a number of novels related to dementia in one post: Literary Dementia.

Emma Healey on the Alzheimer’s Research UK blog

Simon Savidge on Shiny New Books.

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (2014) published by Penguin Books. 275pp

Have you read this book? What was your view?

 

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Holding Our Nerve and Finding a Publisher

It’s hard to remember – now that publication is upon us – how long it took to find a publisher for our book about retirement: Retiring with Attitude. It was frustrating, emotional and hard work. One of the blessings of writing collaboratively is that when one of us is ready to give up the other stays optimistic and we both go on having ideas about who to approach next.

photo by Robert Taylor

photo by Robert Taylor

Our first contact with a publisher was informal, asking for advice. She was very encouraging, even considered the book for publication, but decided it didn’t quite fit her list.

Another publisher advised us to find an agent. Using personal connections and the listings in the Writers and Artists Yearbook, we began to send out our proposal and chapter examples. BUT agents either did not reply – so rude – or said they didn’t want to represent us although they said it was a good book and worth pursuing. Then one told us, ‘you have a strong proposal for this book and you are published writers. I advise you to approach publishers directly. ‘ So we did.

The publishers were not as enthusiastic as we were. One problem was that there are plenty of books about retiring already on the market. Some publishers who had these in their lists did not want to publish a book that they saw as competition. They could not see how different our book was from the rest. And other publishers told us they didn’t take that sort of book. ‘Not for us,’ they said.

One publisher suggested a tie-in with a national newspaper. So our final idea for a publisher was the Guardian. If this approach failed, we decided, we would rethink our strategy. In anticipation we attended workshops on e-publishing and self-publishing. However, we did not need to go down this route. We heard from an editor at GuardianBooks:

I’m really interested to see more, as it looks like a really strong idea. It’s great to see an intelligent book about retirement; it would resonate really well with our readership.

Would you be able to send me some sample chapters? 

We did and although it was not all plain sailing after that, it was the start of the publication story. (More about the later stages in a subsequent blogpost.)

During the long period – two years – when we had to hold our nerve, believe in our project, write the chapters and keep on sending out the proposals, these were the things that helped us:

  • That initial favourable response from a publisher,
  • The advice from the agent to go direct to publishers,
  • Our belief in the book,
  • Our experience as published writers,
  • Our mutual support, courage and humour,
  • The response of people in our circle with whom we discussed ideas,
  • Encouraging responses from publishers even when they declined the book,
  • Redrafting the proposal for each submission in the light of comments received,
  • Publishing articles in niche magazines on the way,
  • Feedback and encouragement from our reader, Marianne,
  • Having an alternative strategy for publication in case we needed it, and
  • Repeating our Mantra: Hold Your Nerve! (Caroline had been to an Arvon fiction course, and this had been the advice from the agent to the aspiring writers who attended. He had reminded us that the publishing business needs our books!)

That agent was right. We needed to hold our nerve. On the eve of publication of this book, we are beginning again with another book. We’ll have to say Hold Your Nerve! again to ourselves. Marianne, our reader, has joined us as a co-author, by the way. It’s great!

101 RWA cover

You can pre-order Retiring with Attitude at the Guardian Bookshop or at Hive and other on-line stores. It will be available from bookshops from 24th July.

Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell

Do you have advice for writers seeking a publisher for their book? Or useful experience to share?

 

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Filed under Publishing our book, Writing