Thursday 26 June 2014

A Night at the Opera

It was just a coincidence, as tickets are booked many months in advance, but I celebrated publication day with an evening at Glyndebourne with Rob and old friends. For those of you in America who don't know our English ways, Glyndebourne is a country house in Sussex where a summer season of opera is held each year. To say it's a gloriously eccentric occasion is an understatement: we all dress up in formal eveningwear in the middle of the afternoon and hurtle towards the South Downs with picnic hampers and bottles of champagne.
If you're lucky, the weather is wonderful - and so it was when we arrived at four o'clock to set our table in the garden. (This being England, the sun is never taken for granted, and so when it does shine on a special occasion it is all the more magical.) The sublime gardens at Glyndebourne are all part of the experience; tended to a pitch of perfection, they roll down from the old mansion and the modern theatre to the fabled ha-ha which keeps the sheep in the distance, picturesquely separate from the lawn. 

For an hour or so before curtain up at around five o'clock, the spectacle is of the great and the good, rather self-consciously at play. Famous faces drift past, champagne glasses in hand. Camping chairs and rugs on the grass are eclipsed by white linen tablecloths and candelabra here and there among the peonies and roses. The wine is left to cool in ice buckets while we take our seats in the theatre for the opening act of the opera.

The point about Glyndebourne is that it may be deep in the countryside, but the productions are world class. This time, we were seeing Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. The wide open spaces of Russian provincial life in the 1820s were rendered by sky and thicket fence, light and shadow, stunningly subtly. The music and singing tugged on the heartstrings, and every scene was beautiful lit to give the impression of a painting. It was quite breathtakingly beautiful.

As Tatyana, Ekaterina Scherbachenko (Cardiff Singer of the World in 2009) captured the yearning of an inexperienced teenager, and Onegin was played by Andrei Bondarenko as a posturing popinjay - a "Prinny", the Prince Regent, thought Felicia.

Most of the cast were, aptly, Eastern European, leading to some mischievous speculation over dinner during the long interval that there was some moonlighting going on, with quite a few also playing at Wimbledon. "Ah," said Rob, "That would explain the wailing and other noises on court - vocal exercises!"

Tuesday 24 June 2014

The Sea Garden is out now!

The Sea Garden is published today in the US. It feels rather unreal, after all the months leading up to it, and the couple of years since I set the first words on paper. Each book is an adventure from that moment onwards. What can I say? I hope you like it. A huge thank you to everyone who reads and comments on this blog for your curiosity and enthusiasm on the journey.

There have been some other important people involved, too. Jennifer Barth is my editor at HarperCollins in New York, and she has been simply superb, everything a writer dreams of: a beacon of fine judgement and subtlety and care for the text. My literary agent Stephanie Cabot at The Gernert Company is brilliant and incisive, and without her, no one in America would be reading anything I'd written. I'd also like to say a special thank you to David Watson and Katherine Beitner at HarperCollins.

I've been racing against time to get my website redesigned to showcase The Sea Garden, and thanks to Judy Barrett it is all up and running. If you would like to read the opening of the novel, it is there now, along with a reading guide, though it might be an idea not to look at that too closely beyond the first page or so before reading the book, as there are a few spoilers.

So, it's over to you now! Do let me know what you make of it.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Six days to go...

Six days until The Sea Garden is published in the United States, and the nerves are kicking in. It's always the same, each time a book is sent out into the big, wide world. Some readers will like it, some won't. Some who like it the most will stay the quietest, while those who didn't will be ferocious in letting others know.
Either way, the novel won't come to life until a reader starts reading the words on the page and joins in the creative process by allowing the sparks to reach the imagination, to form pictures and soundtrack in the mind. It won't be exactly what was in my mind when I wrote them, but that's the magic of reading: when we read, we make the scenes suggested by the words personal to ourselves. With any luck, the experience will take you to somewhere you never thought you'd go to, touch you emotionally or unsettle you in the delicious safety of your chair in a the sun.
All I can do is to give you some pointers to the background, like the picture above of the garden at the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, quite rightly considered one of the most beautiful hotels in the South of France, "a tranquil retreat amid secret gardens and fragrant pines". It's the blue, blue sea beyond that gives it that edge of excitement and cachet. The fictional Domaine de Fayols on the island of Porquerolles in the first section of the novel has just that quality, though hidden under dilapidation. 
The light and the colour of the sea is captured in this picture. The turquoise seems unreal, but it isn't. 

When night begins to fall, the setting sun still casts unexpected patches of brightness, while leaving secluded corners unexpectedly dark. If you want to take that as a metaphor for the mood of the book, please do. 
Then there's the water, with its effortless evening glamour: shades of lilac and texture of chiffon. 

The Sea Garden is on blog tour very soon with TLC Book Tours running through into July. And it's no good any writer telling you they don't care or even look to see what readers are making of their work; I wouldn't believe them if they did, because a book without a reader's reaction hasn't fully come into existence.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Win a copy of The Sea Garden!

Would you like a chance to win a signed hardback copy of The Sea Garden? To celebrate publication in the US on June 24, I'm offering three of copies of this very beautiful edition from HarperCollins. It's open to all, and I will send to wherever the winners are.
I'm running the giveaway over on my Facebook page partly because it's easier - and partly because I'm trying to get my "Likes" number up as I've been rather reticent about unseemly self-promotion to those who haven't already expressed an interest. So please do join in by following the link to Deborah Lawrenson Author. I will appreciate it - and any lucky readers in the UK and Europe will have the book a whole two months earlier than the UK publication date of August 28.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Myrtle liqueur

‘Eau-de-vie – flavoured with myrtle,’ said the old woman. ‘Try it!’ She watched
intently as Ellie raised the glass to her lips. ‘Myrtle from the garden. I steep the
berries with honey in the local firewater, but the secret ingredient is the flower,
added for the final day. Such a pretty white flower it is, drowned in purple for
just one day.’
     The liqueur tasted of stewed plums. Not unpleasant but very strong.'

                                                                                    from The Sea Garden

Some very encouraging words from bookseller Nicola Rooney in Ann Arbor, as publication draws closer - thank you, Nicola! - inspired me to investigate more closely the possibilities of myrtle liqueur...

"I am an admirer and handseller of The Lantern and I shall be even more so of The Sea Garden. You may feel almost as though you have sipped a little too much of Madame de Fayols’ homemade myrtle infused liqueur as you read this book. A startling suicide in the opening scene presages further unexplained events to come. Curiously connected, three intriguing narratives are braided into one unforgettable story of love, betrayal, memory and murder. World War II French resistance fighters and their convoluted connections to British Intelligence leave a legacy unknown to Ellie Brooke, a young award winning garden designer. When she is awarded the contract to come and restore a memorial garden on the island of Porquerolles, she has no idea that it is not merely her growing reputation in horticultural circles that has made her the designer of choice. Her unease with the situation is mitigated in part by her connection to the enigmatic man she first saw on the ferry over to the island. A masterfully devised conclusion leaves just enough tantalizing questions to intrigue the reader without being too frustrating!” 
– Nicola Rooney, Nicola’s Books, Ann Arbor, MI

Some artistic licence went into the brewing of the myrtle liqueur in the novel, especially the "secret ingredient", but the real deal I found in a village market recently has a rather more extraordinary taste than stewed plums: it's highly floral - rather excessively so. I tried it neat but it was like sipping a medicinal perfume, so I added some sparkling wine. I would say even this myrtle kir royale was an acquired taste, with rather too much scent and eucalyptus bite. Quite fierce in alcohol content, too. Definitely better in the anticipation than the reality! Luckily, Madame de Fayols' recipe in the novel contains honey which makes it "not unpleasant" to drink.

I couldn't swear that the plant I found in the garden for these photos was myrtle, either - if anyone can tell me exactly what it is, I'd love to know. But the white flowers and blue berries make plausible stand-ins. And the purple-tinged red of the concoction in the glass has just the right hint of risk...

“Lawrenson’s settings are spellbinding and all three stories move along at a languid pace, allowing the reader to absorb the sumptuous historic detail.” Publishers Weekly

Tuesday 3 June 2014

The finished article

Look what just arrived all the way from New York! Not matter how sure you are that you know what's in a package, it's still a thrill to open the find finished copies of a new book.

I think it's gorgeous - my editor Jennifer Barth and everyone at HarperCollins US have done a magnificent job on The Sea Garden. I've said before how much I love the cover design. What you can't appreciate until you pick up the book is the loveliness of the quality of the paper, and the elegance of the chosen font for the words on the page - and the lustrous sheen of the dust jacket. There really is nothing like the feel and scent of a new printed book - though I know lots of readers adore their Kindles and Nooks, too.
Over and out from me for now (I am deep into the writing of the next one, and its pull is strong...) but watch this space for a giveaway of some signed copies from this very box coming your way soon.

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