Press release about ‘Fallout’

Below in italics is a press release about my new book.  I didn’t write it myself: it was a gift from a very kind friend who works in PR and does this kind of writing all the time. I told her a few things and she did the rest. We’ve sent it out to ‘the usual suspects’ and wait to see if anyone bites. Maybe they will, maybe not – I’m never sure how things like this work. Is it luck, or timing, or skill, or the compelling story? The first reaction on Twitter was from a nuclear interest group in Oregon, USA, who must have picked it up with a key words search or something similar. A mystery. Anyway, here it is – everything you’ve ever wanted to know about ‘Fallout’ – the last in the trilogy – and my thoughts as it was completed. Enjoy, and if you feel inspired to order a copy right now, go through the website and order a copy at a special price. The ebook will be out before the end of June.

Woohoo!

“The final part of an epic Cumbrian saga which is set against the backdrop of a nuclear disaster will be published at the end of May.

Fallout by Ruth Sutton is the third novel in the trilogy Between the Mountains and the Sea which has traced the life of a feisty single woman living near the Cumberland coast. It brings to a conclusion the story of Jessie Whelan, a character who has won admirers throughout the county and beyond.

At the start of this third book Jessie is working at the Windscale nuclear plant on the Cumberland coast, fretting about what’s happening there, and trying unsuccessfully to stay on good terms with her son John and Maggie his ambitious wife.

A tragic accident creates an opportunity to change her life, and in ways she could never have foretold. A stranger arrives, representing the threat as well as the promise of the nuclear age. Jessie invites the stranger into her precious new home, confident that she is now in charge of her life, but indiscretions undermine her yet again.

As her independence is challenged, deep-seated problems at the reactor threaten the future of the whole community. Jessie’s personal crisis intensifies, and her story twists towards a moving resolution. The story is set at the time of the reactor fire at the nuclear plant since renamed Sellafield.

The first two books, A Good Liar and Forgiven were critically acclaimed and followers hope that the second, Forgiven, published last summer, will make an impact at the Lake District Book of the Year competition.

Ruth, a teacher and educational advisor who still travels widely to work with school communities, notably in Canada and New Zealand, lives at Waberthwaite near Millom in the western Lake District.

She has mixed feelings about the completion of the trilogy: “Jessie Whelan’s story has been part of my life for six years. When I first encountered her as a character she was interesting, but gradually I felt her become deeper and darker, with flaws that sometimes threatened to overwhelm her.”

She added: “I love Jessie but sometimes she’s her own worst enemy. I watched her make important hard choices about her life and survive, both personally and professionally. But we all age, and in the third part of her life, heading into her sixties, I wondered about how things would be. Part of me wanted her life to end early, avoiding a sad decline into loneliness and illness. And part of me also wanted her to be happy for a while at least, after struggling for so long.”

Ruth said that as the final part of the trilogy unfolded in her mind, driven along by the drama of the reactor fire in the Windscale nuclear plant, she changed her mind a dozen times about bringing the trilogy to an end. “Various versions of the denouement were written and abandoned, and finally I settled for ambivalence. Uncertainty is part of life: I could not bear to wrap up with a tidy ribbon the story of someone so important to me.

“On the day when the final proofs went to the printers, I felt as if I’d lost a close friend, bereft. I also hope that the story of Jessie’s life will be widely read, as a testament to women like her, as well as a fascinating account of the momentous changes in our lives in this beautiful place over the past century.”

Fallout is published by Hoad Press on May 27.”

 

 

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Looking for recognition

I have two places to work. If the weather’s really good, or if I want to immerse myself with no distractions at all, I pack up the laptop and whatever materials I need and walk the 50 metres down the garden to the writing shed, the one I blogged about earlier. If it’s hosing down or very cold and windy and I don’t want to venture outside I use the alternative indoor space, facing into a cupboard in my bedroom that I’ve arranged as an ‘office’ with a computer table and book shelves. It’s where I’m sitting now. Behind me is a spectacular view across the Esk valley and west towards the sea. Facing into the cupboard I can’t be distracted by the glory of the Western Lake District – or at least that’s the theory.

Pinned on the wall of this tiny space, directly behind the monitor, is the only letter I’ve ever received from a famous author. It’s quite old now and the ink is beginning to fade from black to brown, but it’s important to me, not just for what it says but more for the fact that the famous author took the trouble to write it.

Plenty of people have read my books over the past two years. Those readers who’ve spoken to me about them have been very positive, but the feedback has usually been about the overall impression, ‘couldn’t put it down’ and such like, which is gratifying but non-specific. The letter in the fading ink is more of a critique, and not all of it complimentary. The author was someone I had heard of and read, and who lives locally for part of the year. I got her address from a friend and wrote to her, unsolicited, asking her to read my first book and to say what she thought of it. And she did, good and not so good. It was my first novel and I knew that it wasn’t good enough, but after four years I had to decide to ‘finish it’ or throw it away, and finishing it meant getting it into print, which I did, and I’m glad I did, even though I still wish I could have managed yet one more draft.

The author’s letter was dated May 2nd 2013, less than a year ago, although it feels much longer. Since then I’ve written and published a second novel – which was much better – and the third goes to the printers tomorrow. There have been ‘reviews’ in the sense of articles in the local press about the details of the plot how the books came to be written, but nothing that could really be called a ‘review’, written by someone as knowledgeable as the author of my fading letter. It’s rare and difficult to get a self-published book reviewed, or so I’m told. Local media say they don’t have the time or the staff to do it, and national media seem to focus only on conventionally-published books.

I suppose what I really want is recognition from a professional writer or reviewer who is prepared to read my books and take them seriously, not just as a slice of regional life but as a literary work – or is that too pompous? There is a person, another writer with northern connections, who has said that she will read and review the whole trilogy, which would be wonderful, but it’ll be a while yet before that can happen, and I’ll just have to hope that she follows through.

The ultimate frustration came in a conversation with the books editor of a national magazine who said she couldn’t review the forthcoming book because it is part 3 of a trilogy, and she couldn’t review the trilogy because the other two parts aren’t ‘new’ publications. Maybe I should give up yearning for any professional feedback and be content that so many people have read and enjoyed the books so far. I wish that was enough, but I fear not.

Promotion – a problematic puzzle

‘What’s your budget for promotion of your new book?’ There’s a question I didn’t know how to answer. I was enquiring about getting help with a video, but quickly realised I would have to plan, film and edit it myself or do without. And if I do without, what achievable strategies do I have for promoting the new book ‘Fallout’, the last in the Jessie Whelan trilogy that has the overarching title ‘Between the Mountains and the Sea’? For the second in the series – ‘Forgiven’ – which was published in June 2013 I arranged a ‘launch’ on the first day of a local festival, thinking that the regional media who would be in town anyway for the festival might be tempted to make an appearance. Wrong! Family, friends and neighbours turned up and we had a jolly time, but as a press launch it was a dismal (and quite expensive) failure. I admit I was disappointed, and decided that I probably wouldn’t do it again.

So here we are with the new book due out in about a month and no clear idea about a ‘promotion strategy’. One difference from last year is that I now have over 400 Twitter followers, and through Twitter’s exponential reach I can get the book details to people who might want them. Word of mouth will count for something too: the success of the first two parts of the trilogy means that there’s a fair head of steam around the publication of the final part. It’s hard to guess how many readers, many of them Cumbria locals, will beat a path to the bookshop door or my website to snatch their copy hot off the press, but it could be quite a few. Most of the paperback sales over the past two years have been in Cumbria bookshops, supplied through Hills of Workington who sell to almost every bookshop and tourist centre in the county. And sales have been seasonal too, with summer visitors looking for something to read which features the people, places and history of this great place where I live.

Once the paperback is out we’ll focus on the conversion to ebook and Kindle. My book designer John Aldridge will make sure the ebook looks as good as the hard copy – which is by no means automatic – and I hope I remember what to do after that. I’ve made it work twice already so that should be OK. Ebook sales have been steady but unspectacular. I know I could shift more if I dropped the price, but I do have a problem with selling something of merit, that took me a year to produce, for less than the price of a latte.

In the meantime, the height of my promotional activity today has been to design a poster for some of the local bookshops, which has taxed my Word skills to the uttermost. Once it was done, I took a photo and posted it on Twitter. I’m not expecting as many RTS as a selfie at a funeral, but who knows?

 

A sense of achievement – almost!

Everything’s coming to a head: final proofs, back matter, acknowledgements, they all have to be thought about, generated, discussed, revised and checked while the printer’s deadline looms closer. And still the iterations of the front cover continue, back and forth, as we consult about an image that will grab the readers’ attention, please the eye and intrigue the mind. John Aldridge my book designer visited West Cumbria while I was away in Canada and took some stunning pictures of beaches and sunsets, and this is the first chance I’ve had to see them. Then Kevin Ancient the cover designer got to work, aiming to combine beauty and message. ‘Don’t be too specific about the message,’ they say, but I want a sense of threat, because it pervades the book. Threat to the community, and then a different, more personal threat to one of my beloved characters. Beauty alone, however striking, will not be enough, hence the debate, and now I think we’ve finally found what I want.

Once all the bits and pieces are agreed, off it all goes to the printers in Cornwall and we wait. Only three weeks and then the pallet with its precious cargo, the outcome of countless hours of work, will be delivered and we start the distribution to bookshops and tackle the long list of pre-orders. The trilogy is almost done: I can’t quite believe it. When I thought about the possibility several years ago I had no idea whether I could pull it off, but here it is. Amazing. Quarter of a million words about a West Cumbrian family in the first half of the twentieth century. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere, and it will still be there long after I’m gone, hopefully enjoyed by visitors and locals alike as a testament to this wonderful place and the people who live here.

 

About ‘noticing’

In the past few days I’ve met many new people, re-connected with friends I’ve not seen for years and heard so many stories, told in many different voices. Half my mind has been on the content of our conversations, but I’ve also been noticing habits of speech, how people walk, all sorts of things about them that I’m storing away to use in future. People won’t reappear in my fiction as complete replicas of those I’m seeing around me. I’ll take a turn of phrase here, a posture there, an over-heard snippet of conversation and many other apparently trivial observations, stir them up and leave them for a while. Then I’ll discover which details bob to the surface when next I’m creating a fictional persona. My memory may need a jog, so I’ll make a few notes:  just a hint – a smell, a hand, a scar, a voice – an impression to spark a later response.

It’s clear to me that these observations have always been part of my fascination with people, but I’m now more specific and intentional in my ‘noticing’. And I’m more curious too, about the backstory and how and why someone’s idiosyncratic characteristics have developed. Give your imagination space to play and you can capture so much interesting stuff. Even if I’m not sure yet about the plot and shape of Book 4, I’m beginning to find some of the characters, and consider how they may react and behave in challenging circumstances.

I think I already have the central character. She is someone I already ‘know’, with a rich backstory already in place. Now I have to find the people around her, or against her, and provide the circumstances in which all them can reveal who they really are. Once the final painstaking stages of publishing Book 3 are behind me, then I can let the fun part of Book 4 really start. It won’t be long.

 

 

Plotting with a purpose

When I first thought about writing fiction several years ago, I imagined that I would do some ‘research’ and then spend all my time writing and revising, busy at the keyboard, tapping merrily away. I started writing the first novel this way, long before I was really ready to do so, and the result was a hopeless tangle with more hours of wasted time than I care to think about. What I hadn’t realised then and I do now is that that the writing phase has to be preceded by many, many hours of thought. Before the research, before I even know what research may be needed, I need to think long and hard about the plot.

First you need a central idea or a question, the old ’25 words or less’ nugget that lies at the heart of it all. After that it’ll be a messy process of finding some progression from a to b to c and so on, with possibly some idea emerging of how the action might start and end. In the new book I’m planning now, which will be my 4th, I want to switch genres from historical fiction to crime fiction, still set in the recent past, but with a mystery of some kind at the centre. I’ve bought myself the Arvon book on writing crime fiction and ‘thrillers’ and have started to study it. Clearly plotting will be critical, and will take even longer than I’ve spent on Books 2 and 3, and far longer than I spent on plotting Book 1.

This is where the advice I got from a workshop with Andrew Pyper six months ago will come in handy. In a few hours in the Winnipeg public library he outlined a process that made perfect sense to me, and that I adopted to some degree in plotting Book 3 ‘Fallout’ which is now at the pre-publication stage. His advice was to control the urge to begin writing too soon and keep on thinking about the shape and twists and turns until you have the outline of every chapter clear in a big visual display, which provides the map and the route and guides the writing from then on. That way you can keep up the momentum of the writing once it starts without getting trapped in ghastly dead-ends, or meadering around in circles until you are as almost as bored as the reader will be. Having this overall view of the landscape provides the confidence to take an unusual route sometimes, or to off piste occasionally without disappearing into a crevasse or being swept away by an avalanche of irrelevance.

‘Simultaneous visual display’: it’s what I advocate in my education work when I want people to step back and see the bigger picture with all its connecting parts. That’s what i need to create for myself in plotting Book 4. I think I’ve made some decisions already. The heroine is someone I already know from the earlier books; the time will be the 1970s; and the location will be somewhere in the west or south areas of my beloved Cumbria. From there on, who knows? It’ll be fun finding out, and I mustn’t rush it.