I’m extremely excited to announce that, from next month, I’ll be teaming up with my favourite Liverpool restaurant for the inaugural Maray Book Club. Launching on Thursday June 13, I’ll be the regular host of a new event that combines great food and drink with an appearance by a top author. Our first guest is Catherine Steadman, Downton Abbey actress turned novelist, who I’ll be interviewing at the Allerton Road restaurant about the paperback release of her #1 New York Times bestseller SOMETHING IN THE WATER (which Reece Witherspoon is currently developing into a movie). Next, on July 11, is Louise Candlish, whose superb thriller Our House was one of the big hits of 2018. She will be joining us in Liverpool to mark the launch of her follow up hardback novel, THOSE PEOPLE. Tickets for each event cost £30. The price includes a selection of dishes from the Maray kitchen, a glass of wine AND a book which the author will personally sign for you on the night. I’m so looking forward to what I hope will be a wonderful celebration of new books in my home city. So, what are you waiting for etc etc… Click here to get your tickets now!
In my reader newsletter last month I mentioned casually I’d been shortlisted at the Romantic Novelist’s Association awards, which were taking place at the Gladstone Library in London in March. I didn’t ever expect to win anything and was merely anticipating a lovely night in which I got to catch up on gossip with lots of author friends. Well, I DID catch up on gossip and I DID have a great evening. But I was flabbergasted when You Me Everything only went and won! My 2018 book won the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award and I got to collect a rather lovely crystal trophy for my troubles, which now takes pride of place in my writing room next to the house plants I can’t seem to keep alive. It was a gorgeous evening. I was up against a very strong shortlist including Jill Mansell, Isabelle Broom, Louise Beech and Laura Wood (all pictured with me, above). It was such an unexpected boost to win an award for the first book I’ve written as Catherine Isaac that I’ll treasure it forever. Though my 6-year-old – who was initially fist-pumping at the news that I’d scooped a trophy – was rather disappointed when I got it home and he discovered that it wasn’t the FA Cup.
Come along to one of my events this month
It’s no exaggeration to say that ninety per cent of my working life is spent alone in my writing room, head buried in a Macbook. While I love losing myself in my work and feel privileged to earn a living from writing stories, the one thing I’ve always missed since this became my full-time job is meeting people. I was a journalist before I became an author and loved the buzz of a busy newsroom, as well as getting out and about to interview people. It’s perhaps because of this that I’ve relished taking part in the Read Regional campaign run by New Writing North since it started in earnest in March. My first stop was Prudhoe Library in Northumberland, then it was onto Prestwich in Greater Manchester. It was lovely to see such a great turnout and there was a terrific crowd at both of the events. The next events coming up are at Brighouse Library in Calderdale, on Friday 5thApril at 2pm, then I’ll be at Hull Central Library on Wednesday 10th April at 6.30pm and finally this month there’s Halewood Library on Tuesday 23rd April at 2pm. I’d really love to see you there. If you live in the North of England there will more than likely be a Read Regional event near you coming up – and whether it’s me or one of the other authors that you’re interesting in seeing, they make for a great couple of hours. Click here for a full list of Read Regional events.
I’ve been on my travels again
As well as gearing up for publication of Messy, Wonderful Us, I’m currently in the thick of writing another novel. I can’t tell you too much about it just yet, but I can say I’ve just returned from the most fascinating research trip to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What an incredible place it is.
Drenched in history, the city has a laid-back atmosphere and a real mixture of cultures, especially in the lovely streets of the old town. It still bears its war wounds after being bombarded during the long siege in the early 1990s and bullet holes can still be seen in plenty of walls around the city. But it is a place that is richly atmospheric and I am thoroughly enjoying being able to write about it.
It’s easy to feel welcome in Norway when you’re an author. The country has a passion for books and reading that puts it at #2 in a comparison of world literacy levels (Finland is #1), so it’s not hard to understand why someone who makes their living by writing novels simply loves to visit.
My trip to Oslo this week was the second in recent years. I first visited in 2017, on the eve of publication of my last book, Her Nå Alltid (YOU ME EVERYTHING), where it was making its world debut. It was by definition a special moment, crowned by it later becoming a number one bestseller there.
Eighteen months on, I was thrilled to be invited on a return trip to promote my new book, Et Lite Stjerneteppe (MESSY, WONDERFUL US). I arrived on Monday with my husband Mark, in time for a beautiful dinner with the team from my publisher Bastion Forlag - Anja and André - and to prepare for a day of media interviews starting the following morning.
They all took place in The Grand Hotel, where we were lucky enough to be staying. It’s a gorgeous place, the annual host of the Nobel Peace Prize, which has also welcomed Michelle and Barack Obama as guests. It’s splendid and historic - somewhere Ibsen used to drop in for a tankard of beer twice a day - but with stylish, contemporary touches and quirky artwork too.
I spoke to journalists from publications such as Kamille, KK, Hjemmet and NTB, all of whom wanted to know how I came up with the idea for Et Lite Sjerneteppe, its emotional themes, plot twists and the Italian setting.
The novel is about an academic research scientist, Allie, who makes a discovery at her grandparents’ house that casts doubt on whether the man who raised her single-handedly is her real father. She hires a private detective to try to unravel her late mother’s tangled past and is led, with her best friend Ed, to Sirmione in Lake Garda. But, as the Italian sun beats down, the biggest secrets that emerge don’t merely concern the past, but Ed and Allie themselves.
I’ve already had a wonderful response from Norwegian readers on social media since it was published on Feb 1. This is always a huge relief to an author because, it doesn’t matter if your editor or agent believes it’s good; the only opinions that that really matter are those of readers.
After the interviews, I took part two photo shoots – the first with a news agency, during which Mark was asked to make himself useful (see pic). Then Cathrine from Bastion decided to take us out into the snow to make the most of the fact that Valentine’s day was imminent (as you can see from some of the pics, you can’t be prone to self-consciousness in this job).
Next was a visit to Bastion’s HQ, where I signed so many books that my hand nearly seized up and I made several video messages, attempting every time to improve my Norwegian pronunciation (I was told it was ‘charming’, which I suspect means I failed miserably!).
After a busy day and a quick change, Mark and I strolled down to the harbour in the snow and made ourselves cosy in one of the lovely restaurants, contemplating how much we love Norway and Norwegians for reasons that go beyond the fact that they buy lots of my books. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly and warm, with a dry sense of humour to which any Brit would feel an immediate affinity.
Our flight was early the next morning and I was sorry to be leaving after such a whirlwind trip, although the journey to the airport did bring one last surprise. I stepped onto the train and, as I was finding a seat, Mark tapped me on the arm and told me to look up. There was a big, beautiful poster advert for Et Lite Stjerneteppe – and the best possible end to my stay in what has become one of my favourite cities in the world.
January is supposed to be the cruellest month but the new year has been extraordinarily good to me so far. First, I’m very happy to announce that I’ll be going on the road for a whole load of reader events between March and June 2019. The tour has come about after You Me Everything was selected as one of 12 ‘books by northern writers you MUST read in 2019’ for the Read Regional campaign. The initiative has celebrating books ever since it was launched by New Writing North in 2008 and I can’t wait to begin my library visits, which will be taking place throughout the North East, North West and Yorkshire. Check out my events page to find one near you. I’d really love to see you there.
The next great thing that happened is that You Me Everything was nominated by the Romantic Novelist’s Association in its Popular Romantic Fiction award. I’m in esteemed company, with nominees including Santa Montefiore, Lucy Dillon, Jill Mansell and Isabelle Broom. The winner will be announced on March 4 at a glittering ceremony (all ceremonies are glittering aren’t they?) – so watch this space.
For those who’ve read You Me Everyting you’ll know that it’s an ideal read for a book club, with lots of themes to think about and discuss. It was this that prompted my publisher and I to launch a new, interactive initiative for book clubs WORLDWIDE. Every month, I’ll be giving away FIVE copies of You Me Everything free of charge, to a selected book club or reading group. Once members have had the chance to read the novel, I will make a guest appearance at your meeting, either in the flesh or via Skype. You can be an official, structured group, or simply a bunch of friends who meet on a Friday night to talk books over a glass of wine. Either way, if your club is selected, I’m all yours! If you’re a member of a book club and would like to enter, simply sign up to my newsletter using the form on the home page and all the details will be in my next one. Good luck!
My next book finally has a new title: ‘MESSY, WONDERFUL US’.
I can’t tell you how good, if a little scary, it is to announce that. If you follow me on Twitter you might already know what a palaver it’s been trying to come up with a title for the follow up to ‘You Me Everything’. Hitting on a cluster of words that captures the essence of a book and stands out on the shelves is always tricky, but this time it eluded me for a ridiculously long time.
In fact, the entire novel had been written, re-drafted, edited and copy-edited months ago in time for its UK publication in May 2019, but it still didn’t have a name that felt one hundred per cent right. As it’s a fairly well-established convention in the publishing industry that books need titles this was a bit of a problem. Honestly, if you’d seen my ‘shortlist’ of about 150 possibilities, you’d have howled at some of them. (I suspect my editor did). Still, now we have it: ‘MESSY, WONDERFUL US’. Three simple words that sum up the far from simple relationships in the novel . . .
‘You never know what life will throw at you. You just need to know who to turn to for help.’
My editor at Simon & Schuster, Jo Dickinson, came up with that lovely strap line, as well as a blurb for the back cover. As I’m pretty sure I can’t top this, I thought I’d shamelessly reveal every word of it to you right here:-
One morning in early summer, a man and woman wait to board a flight to Italy.
Allie has always lived a careful, focused existence. But now she has unexpectedly taken leave from her job as an academic research scientist to fly to a place she only recently heard about in a letter. Her father, Joe, doesn’t know the reason for her trip, and Allie can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s flying to Italy to unpick the truth about what her mother did all those years ago.
Beside her is her best friend since their schooldays, Ed. He has just shocked everyone with a sudden separation from his wife, Julia. Allie hopes that a break will help him open up. But the secrets that emerge as the sun beats down on Lake Garda and Liguria don’t merely concern her family’s tangled past. And the two friends are forced to confront questions about their own life-long relationship that are impossible to resolve.
What do you think? Sounds okay? Good? Amazing? (I’m praying for the latter, I’ll be honest). Either way, it’s now available to pre-order in the UK , so if you fancy helping me prove to booksellers that this should be on their shelves, I’d love it if you’d consider pressing hitting that button now. Thank you and I’ll love you forever, promise.
Most authors will tell you that their love of books blossomed during childhood. In my case, my most vivid memories involve snuggling up to read with my mother. She’d been left severely disabled by a car crash two years before I was born; both legs had been shattered from the pelvis down and, although surgery had been attempted, in the early 1970s the results were far from miraculous.
At the time, I never thought about the fact that she couldn’t line up for the mums’ race on sports day, or run alongside as I made my first, tentative attempts to ride a bike. This was partly because I was never happier than when reading – and we’d do that for hours, spending endless days in the garden, where I couldn’t get enough of The Hungry Caterpillar, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, or a burgeoning collection of Mr Men books.
Once I’d exhausted those, it became apparent that my insatiable appetite for books could get expensive. Fortunately, our local library was an early adopter of ramped access for wheelchair users. On a practical level, this was a clear boon, but it also cemented the important idea that this was a place where everyone was welcome. In this modest, architecturally uninspiring building, I’d lose myself in those shelves, scouring them for my next read or six. I’ve been prompted to think about this, and the role of other libraries, by the fact that it is currently Libraries Week here in the UK .
While that small library served me well over the years, in my mid-teens, I made a rather special discovery. The Picton Reading Room in my home city of Liverpool was a grand, late-nineteenth century circular library, with a canvas of shelves and projecting book cases on its galleried walls, the upper levels of which were reached by iron spiral stair cases. I first visited before anyone had heard of Harry Potter, but it could have been straight out of Hogwarts. I fell instantly in love with it.
Over the next few years, when exam time came around, I’d take the bus into the city centre every morning and cocoon myself at a desk to study. I loved the smell of the place, of old pages and creaky leather, and the way whispers would echo from the domed ceiling. I’d stay there all day among the silent ebb and flow of visitors and, when home time came, would borrow a book to read on the bus - my reward for a hard day at ‘the office’.
Now I’m an adult, with three children of my own, the library I visit regularly is more like the first one I ever went to. There are no ornate staircases or Corinthian columns; it’s just a small, unassuming building with a stark exterior and frayed carpet tiles. But, when I step through the doors with my sons, it is filled with the greatest of all riches: words.
It’s always lovely to receive feedback from readers, even if you do have to accept the rough with the smooth (as one person who rated a potato peeler on Amazon more highly than my book proved recently). But I’ve been more touched than I can possibly say by some of the messages about ‘You Me Everything’ from readers whose own families have experienced a life-changing illness, like the novel’s protagonist Jess.
The grain of the idea for the book followed my discovery back in 2011 that the mother of someone I know well had been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. I’d heard of the condition but, until that day, wasn’t fully aware of all the facts; that it is a fatal genetic disorder whose symptoms present in middle-age and which causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. It deteriorates a person’s physical and mental abilities and has no cure.
I was struck by the ripple effect of a diagnosis and how it affects entire families, because every child of a parent with Huntington’s disease has a 50/50 chance of carrying the faulty gene that causes it. I did a great deal of research for the novel, read extensively and watched scores of YouTube videos depicting patients in every stage of the condition. I then worked closely with the Huntington’s Disease Association throughout the writing of the book, before they finally fact-checked the completed manuscript.
It was crucially important to me to ensure every piece of medical information in the novel was correct. But it was seeing first hand the love and support of HD families that determined my ultimate ambition for the novel: To accurately and realistically depict this terrible disease, but with a message of joy and optimism at its heart.
I've received lots of emails and messages since the novel was published, from those who’ve tested positive, or whose parents are in the late stage of the disease, or who’ve chosen not to take the genetic test at all. Some weren't specifically about HD, but had suffered the torment of having a family member with a life-threatening illness and found that reading the book helped them.
What shone through in all these messages was the strength of the human spirit, and nobody embodies that more than Instagrammer Kelly The Bees Knees, whose inspiring HD journey has been shared by 29,000 followers. You can read what she wrote about 'You Me Everything' on a recent post here. In the meantime, please do keep the feedback coming. It’s genuinely the best thing about being an author.
I consider myself pretty good at keeping secrets. Tell me about your affairs, your face lifts, your clandestine liaisons with Barry in Client Services and it will go no further. But knowing that ‘You Me Everything’had been selected for the latest Richard and Judy Book Club and not being able to say a word about it for months . . . well, that’s been a challenge.
It was back in the spring when my editor Jo Dickinson phoned to deliver the news that my book had been selected. As I’ve been longing to make it onto this list for years, my first instinct was to shout it from the rooftops. ‘One thing though,’ she added. ‘DO NOT TELL A SOUL.’ That’s the rule, until the day the list is announced by WHSmith, who run the club exclusively. So I’ve spent the last few months only being able to discuss my most exciting book news of 2018 with my agent, editor, husband and the dog.
The Richard and Judy Book Club is a big deal for authors, but the reasons for my own excitement go beyond the sheer number of readers that it can reach. As an avid reader and one-time book club member myself, I’ve been devouring virtually everything the pair have recommended for years. Their picks, along with Simon Mayo’s on the Radio 2 Book Club (RIP), were my go-to choices before any holiday, a stamp of quality and reliability that has never let me down.
Some of my favourite novels of the last five years were ones I first picked up because they were on this list: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. And the book I’ve loved most in 2018 so far: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
Taking part has been a wonderful experience too. I was invited to London earlier this month to be interviewed by Richard and Judy for a WHSmith podcast that will be broadcast in August. I can faithfully report that they are every bit as warm and charismatic as on television, but what I most loved about them is how passionate they are about books - and the selections for their own club.
Every one of the novels that appears on the list has been read and personally chosen by them. As such, their questions felt particularly insightful, they delved into the choices I’d made as an author and made some candid observations about the book’s themes. (As a side note, although my own interview isn’t broadcast until later in the summer, I’d highly recommend the series to anyone interested in good books and writing).
While this has been quietly happening in the background, along with lots of planning meetings with my publisher and agent, I have done as asked and not told a soul. But, now the news is out. I can finally do that rooftop shouting (sorry neighbours) and tell the world that I’m in fine company on the latest Richard and Judy list - with Joanna Cannon, David Baldacci, Rachel Hore, Leila Slimani and Greer Hendriks and Sarah Pekkanen. You can read about their books on the WHSmith Richard and Judy blog. And if you’re discovering my novel for the first time through the club, or any of these authors', may I wish you a fabulous summer and many hours of happy reading.
Beginning a new novel can be a daunting experience. Yet, I read an interview with the novelist Kate Atkinson recently who said that, in the twenty years in which she’s been writing, one thing has changed: ‘I spent more time worrying then. Now, I don’t worry because I think, “Well, I’ve done ten novels, surely I can do another one”.’
I have a similar pep talk with myself at the beginning of every book. And even though I’ve just put the finish touches on my eleventh novel, for me it feels just as necessary, for I’m afraid impostor syndrome is alive and well within the walls of my writing room.
Part of the reason for this is that all authors like the idea that we’re improving. We want every book to be better than the last. We really are our toughest critics, harsher even than that Amazon reviewer who declared my book ‘utter tosh’ but gave five stars to a potato peeler.
Having made the leap and changed both my name and writing style for You Me Everything, I was also conscious that some people would wonder if this was a one-off. The book that came next felt more like that difficult second novel than my eleventh one. The big question was: could do it again?
The answer to that is that I seriously hope so, for reasons that go far because the fact that I have a mortgage to pay and three children to feed. And I am now at the stage of having in my possession a fully, completed novel, one that I’m actually permitting myself to get excited about. It’s provisionally titled A Blanket Of Stars and will be published in the UK in 2019 by Simon & Schuster.
At this stage I can’t reveal too much about it except that I hope it has all the ingredients that readers enjoyed in You Me Everything – namely: a big concept, an emotional storyline and lots of twists. It goes without saying that it’s all set in a glorious location, in this case Lake Garda. And, as you can see from the pictures, that has to count as my toughest research trip to date.
FOR the first time ever, from today I have a book on sale in the USA. For someone who’d been writing for over a decade and had nine bestsellers in the UK, none of which ever made it over the pond, I’d reconciled myself with the idea that this day might never come.
So the fact that You Me Everythinghas an American publisher is special enough. That I got to work with an editor who published some of my favourite books of the last twenty years was pinch-yourself stuff. If you're a keen reader with tastes that are anything like mine, the likelihood is that you’ll own a novel that Pamela Dorman has worked on, whether it’s Me Before You, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Bridget Jones’s Diaryor The Secret Life of Bees. My over-whelming feeling when I learnt that we would be working together was to be flattered, excited and, I’ll admit it, daunted. How would I ever live up to the standards set by the authors of those incredible books?
We spoke on the phone on the day Pam acquired You Me Everythingand she was warm, enthusiastic, passionate about her job and her ambition for my novel left me tingling long after we’d ended the call. Over the coming months, as we communicated via email - and on the phone if a plot query was proving stubborn - she was everything a writer could wish for in an editor: rigorous, insightful, encouraging. That’s not to say the edit I undertook for Pam was a doddle. Far from it. It involved months of work on the original novel – lots of restructuring, tearing things up and adding sections that she felt would enhance the characters’ stories. But while I might have needed a long lie down in a dark room after I’d finished, it was worth every minute. The novel became the best it could be, so much so that the version I produced for her formed the basis of that ultimately printed in other countries, including at home in the UK.
One of the most exciting stages of having a book published is seeing your cover for the first time. And it’s no exaggeration to say that when the jacket for the US edition of You Me Everything landed in my inbox it took my breath away. Just LOOK at it! It’s so vivid, escapist, classy; beautifully presented in every way. Despite this, one of the big questions in my mind was whether an author who was completely unknown in the US would ever catch the attention of book reviewers and bloggers. But the team at Viking came up with an inspired publicity and marketing plan which has generated interest, not just on social media but in the press too. Marie Claire gave You Me Everythinga fabulous review, describing it as: ‘Equal parts wry comedy and touching family drama, it’s ultimately a heartbreaker that’ll stay with you long after you’re done.’ Meanwhile, the New York Post called it a ‘Must read.’
Between this and the Instagram posts I keep seeing – of my book in all manner of glamorous American locations – it’s fair to say that excitement about publication day is running high in my household. But, of course, hype is one thing, now it’s over to the readers. And to those in the US who’ve reviewed or pre-ordered You Me Everything, I’d like to say thank you for generously giving this British author’s work a chance. I truly hope you love it.
The last seven days have felt like the week before my wedding and not just because publication day also involved flowers and quite a lot of cake. I’ve had that similar bubbling undercurrent of adrenalin, when all the detail that’s been in the planning for more than a year finallycomes together.
First came the reviews. It had been months since my publicist Jess Barratt sent out proof copies of YOU ME EVERYTHING to key journalists, reviewers, bloggers and literary editors. This week, the verdicts were in. I’d hoped people would be kind. In the event, they were so kind some brought tears to my eyes. ‘A heart-breakingly real and poignant story of love, regret and second chances,’ said HEAT. ‘This is one of the books that everyone will be talking about. Make sure you’re one of them.’
‘Fans of Me Before You will love this heart-tugging novel and with film rights already sold, You Me Everything is destined for big things’, added Red. The novel was reviewed by Bella, Cosmopolitan, Closer, Fabulous, Good Housekeeping, the Sunday Mirror, Prima ... and to my surprise and delight they still kept coming. Between these and the advertising posters that began to appear on station platforms, by Thursday – publication day – my calm, collected veneer cracked. I was giddy and I couldn’t hide it. THE DAY HAD FINALLY COME!
I woke at 5.30 to find the first ‘happy publication day’ Tweet on my phone and, from that point, didn’t stop all day. After dropping the kids at school (because mum duties don’t stop even on days like this), I headed straight for the BBC Radio Merseyside studios to chat to presenter Sean Styles live on air. You can listen to the interview here. Then it was back home to respond to a mountain of well-wishes on social media… all of which I hope I managed to reply to personally, but please forgive me if I missed anyone.
I tried to do some ‘proper’ work for the rest of the day, honestly I did. But between the Instagramming, preparing speeches, getting my hair done and my general state of high excitement, I didn’t achieve much. And before I knew it, it was time to head to the official launch event at Waterstone’s, Liverpool 1, where I was joined by around 100 readers, friends, family, publishing colleagues, media, bloggers and fellow authors, all of whom had come to celebrate with me.
The evening began as all good events do - with fizz and cupcakes - then I took to the stage to answer questions from my friend, journalist Dawn Collinson (the next Lorraine Kelly, according to my mum). I read from two very different sections of the book, one funny chapter and one sad, then took some fantastic questions from the audience.
After signing lots of books, a few friends and I finished the evening with a drink and a bite to eat in The Club Housein Liverpool One, before I crashed into bed with one final thought in my head: ‘You Me Everything’ is now finally on the bookshelves. And this is where it all really starts.
The ability of books to change lives in subtle but powerful ways has always been a source of wonder to me. The way they take you on journeys beyond the scope of your circumstances or budget; or allow you to see the world through the eyes of others and make sense of events in ways you previously hadn’t considered.
As someone who’s had a love affair with reading since childhood, it’s hard to pick out a single book that affected me most, but I could give you a long list of novels that stayed with me afterwards, by authors ranging from Daphne Du Maurier to Stephen King.
The question of which book had the most impact on me that I wrote is easier. ‘You Me Everything’ is my tenth novel and it’s no exaggeration to say it affected me profoundly, in more ways than the book and film deals, or even my change of name.
I’d been writing romantic comedies under the pseudonym Jane Costello for ten years when I had grain of an idea for the story. The mother of someone I know had recently been diagnosed with a neurological condition and the news had devastated not just her, but the entire family. I couldn’t stop thinking about them, but dismissed writing about it at first. There was no way I could do justice to such a difficult topic within the genre I was known for.
Then my agent Sheila Crowley suggested I should try writing something with more emotional depth, something that would take my writing to the next level. Even though I’d built up a loyal following for my Jane Costello novels, I knew she was right.
Still, the decision to depict a life-limiting condition came with the important proviso that I didn’t want to simply write a book about a disease.
First and foremost, I wanted to write a book about people, about hope and about love, in all its forms. And, even if readers got through a box of tissues on the way, I wanted them to feel uplifted by the time they turned the last page. But it was only as I began writing that the real messages of the book began to crystallise. Messages about living life in the moment, cherishing those you love and not taking anything for granted. It gave me a lot to think about.
I’m as guilty as anyone of letting stress get to me. When the pressures of work and domestic life collide it’s hard not to collapse into bed each night feeling frazzled and fed up. But each morning after I’d dropped my kids off at school and settled in to a corner in my local coffee shop to write, I found myself gaining some precious perspective on everything that had been troubling me. This wasn’t any single great moment of epiphany. Just a daily reminder of what’s really important in life, none of which had been the things keeping me awake at night.
On the weekend when I wrote what turned out to be a very emotional ending, I wiped away tears, walked home and gave each of my boys a big hug (even if my eldest thinks he’s too grown up for them these days).
Of course, the breathless chaos of juggling work and home life hasn’t stopped. My house is the antithesis of zen-like calm. But, if things are ever getting on top of me, there are still moments when I’ll take a few deep breaths and remember how I felt when writing You Me Everything, a book that turned out to be special to me in more ways than I can express here. If a little bit of this rubs off on those reading it, I’ll consider my job done.
You might assume that, if a writer comes up with a brilliant idea for a novel and executes it masterfully, the result will be a guaranteed best-seller. But one of the things I’ve learnt in years since becoming an author is that a great book is merely the minimum requirement for terrific sales. You also need a magical combination of factors that includes, among others, a hard-working sales team, compelling publicity campaign, inspirational marketing and widespread, strategic distribution. You need your book on the shelves in all the right places and glowing reviews from readers who’ve loved it enough to spread the word. All of this takes creativity, passion and hard graft by a whole team of people. And it means that, whether a book ever threatens the top 10 is, to some extent, beyond simply the author’s influence.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that our job is over once we’ve produced the goods in the first place. As publication approaches, it’s time for an author to do their bit to promote a novel – and that’s exactly where I’m at right now. With fewer than two months before You Me Everything goes on sale in the UK and Germany, followed swiftly by the USA and a dozen other countries, I’ve had to come out of hibernation, i.e. lift my head up from the Macbook. Instead of spending each day holed up in my writing room with nothing but the dog and my own brain for company, there have been lots of train journeys, meetings, events and feature writing, all designed to raise the profile of my novel.
One highlight of the last month was a media breakfast with authors Louise Candlish (Our House), and Catherine Steadman (Something in the Water). Aside from a spectacular breakfast at the Riding House Café in London, we met journalists from Red, Cosmopolitan, Bella, You, Look, Good Housekeeping, Radio Four, Marie Claire and Fabulous. A formidable list of publications, I’m sure you’ll agree, but somehow it was a very relaxed affair in which we all got to talk about our passion for books over excellent coffee and scrambled eggs. (As a side note, I must tell you that Louise’s and Catherine’s books are brilliant. I loved both, but Our House is my stand-out read of the last 12 months, so do check it out when it’s released in April).
Next was a trip to Swindon to meet the books team at WHSmith, along with fellow Simon & Schuster author Sarah Vaughan, whose thriller Anatomy of a Scandal came out last month. The WHSmith team were an impressive and friendly bunch, whose knowledge and passion for books really shone through. It was fascinating to hear about the way books are presented and marketed to readers in their stores, and it was a real privilege for Sarah and I to answer all their questions about how we each came to write our novels.
I’ve also been doing a little feature writing recently for my publicity teams in the US and the UK. As someone who spent many years as a journalist before I became an author, I always enjoy this – it feels like a treat to be able to end a piece of work after 1,500 words, instead of the usual 100,000 I write for a novel. For my US publicity department at Penguin, I’ve written my take about blended families in the light of my own experience. I have three sons, two from a previous marriage, and they all live with me and my husband Mark, who is such an incredible step-dad that my two eldest boys actually prefer his company to mine. I’ve also written a piece for YOU magazine about what it was like growing up with a mum who was wheelchair-bound. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that one and it’s due to appear in April, so watch this space.
There was a time around the start of last year, when it felt as though 2018 would never arrive. Despite the fact that I’d written a first draft of ‘You Me Everything’ a century ago (two years actually), my various publishers decided that the best date for it to be released worldwide was Spring 2018. There were lots of important scheduling reasons for this, but anyone who’s ever seen me waiting for my nine-year-old to get his school shoes on in the morning will be aware that patience is not one of my virtues.
It could have been torture. Except that in the interim period, an awful lot has been happening - not least a movie option, a promotional trip to Norway and the writing of another novel (more on that later). I’ve also established new Catherine Isaac social media channels on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, a brand-new website and – after a decade writing as Jane Costello - have had to get used to answering to the name Catherine.
Only now, Spring 2018 is ABOUT TO HAPPEN. It’s within spitting distance. In case I was in any doubt about this, the behind-the-scenes activity surrounding ‘You Me Everything’ has ramped up massively. This week involved a big meeting with my agent Wonder Woman (aka Sheila Crowley) and the team at Simon & Schuster UK. We talked sales plans, promotional activity, book club collaborations, media briefings, the AMAZING book trailer they've made (see above) ... and also where Sheila got her much-coveted handbag from.
I then swept home to Liverpool on the train, where – between my publishers and Waterstones – we are planning the official, publication day launch. I am experiencing a few nervous ripples about this as, despite having written nine published books * whisper this * it’s my first ever book launch. Seriously. I’ve always felt a little uneasy about the idea of celebrating a novel before you know whether anyone’s a. bought a copy or b. thinks it’s any good. As a result, I’ve bottled out entirely before now, which in some ways goes entirely against my nature – usually I barely need an excuse for a party.
This time, however, is different. ‘You Me Everything’ is too much of a big deal to me to not do something wonderful. So . . . The event takes place in Waterstones Liverpool One on April 19th at 6.30pm, tickets are available HERE and I have a big favour to ask. Please don’t let me turn up to my first ever book launch and find only my mum and the dog there.
I’d love it if you could join me to raise a toast, sign a copy or two and let me tell you a little about the book that changed EVERYTHING for me. #YouMeEverything #April19
With three kids, this time of year - for me and every other working mum - involves a long round of nativity plays, Christingles, Christmas jumper days … and so many school events that you’re tempted to dig out a sleeping bag and not bother coming home. But, on the writing front, this December feels like the calm before the storm, as my novel You Me Everything prepares for UK and worldwide publication in Spring 2018.
Despite this, 700 miles across the North Sea in Norway – the only country in the world where the book is already out - it’s a different story entirely. There, there is no such calm; my publisher Bastion Forlag is currently working hard to make You Me Everything, or Her Nå Alltid, THE novel to buy for Christmas. The book debuted there in September and, after a five-star review in VG, Norway’s influential national newspaper, it went straight into the top #5 and has maintained a firm spot in the bestseller lists ever since.
Now, as Christmas approaches, there is a two-week TV advertising campaign, it has been Book of the Month in Norway’s biggest retail chains, it is the subject of a prominent podcast by two female celebrities, is feature book on Scandinavia’s largest online book shop and is still receiving incredibly flattering reviews . . . and that’s just a flavour of what’s going on!
Even from this distance, it was clear that there is a buzz around You Me Everything unlike anything I wrote under my pseudonym Jane Costello. Despite this, it took a message that arrived this morning to really bring this home to me. It was from an old friend called Hege, who I met many years ago through my work as a journalist in Liverpool. She now lives in Oslo and contacted me on Facebook with a photo of a giant stack of copies of Her Nå Alltid, adding: ‘I just had to send you this. ALL the bookshops look like this at the moment – it’s brilliant!’
All of this has added to my excitement about the launch elsewhere in the world in April and May, for which each of my publishers are busily preparing behind the scenes. It’s been fascinating and thrilling to see the work in each country, particularly the different approaches they’ve taken with my covers. In the UK, Simon & Schuster opted for a stylish, striking and clever image whose true meaning only becomes fully clear once you’ve starting reading the book. In the United States, Pamela Dorman Books produced a stunning jacket that depicts the rolling countryside and vivid sunshine of the novel’s all-important French setting. In Germany, Rowohlt have gone for something different again, a look that is modern, warm and really conveys the emotion within the story.
They’re just a handful of the languages into which the book will be translated after my agents at Curtis Brown sold the foreign rights around the world. And with every day that draws closer to Spring 2018, we’re receiving further updates about promotions, outdoor advertising campaigns, early positive reviews, audio book production and social media campaigns. All of which suggests that 2018 could be a very busy year in all the best ways!
Writing books is a pretty solitary endeavour. In that sense, the life of an author is very different from other professions. We have no team briefings or ideas workshops and the closest we get to an HR strategy meeting is texting our other halves to ask them to pick up some loo roll. While publishers do let us out for good behaviour and the odd awards soirée, you basically have to get used to your own company. In the olden days (what my kids call anything pre-2005), an author might have found themselves a muse. Yeats had Maud Gonne, Dante had Beatrice Portinari. But writers these days don’t usually have muses to inspire and provide company. They have Twitter. Which might be a great place for authors to connect, but being online just isn't the same as old-fashioned human contact.
In the past, I addressed this by doing a lot of writing in coffee shops, at least during a first draft. While it’s a stretch to describe my local Costa as inspiring, there is something quietly comforting about being part of the ebb and flow of office workers and young mothers, of couples sharing cakes and the gentle old man who’d come in every day for a cup of tea and chat with the staff. The downside was that my lovingly-decorated home office often felt like a museum piece, a writer’s room without a writer.
But in the last three weeks, everything has changed, because I now have a puppy. Which is arguably better than a muse, even if those aforementioned literary greats probably never had to break off for regular toilet training sessions. Maisie is a 11-week-old Shih Tzu cross breed. We’re not entirely sure what she’s crossed with as her mother arrived at the dogs’ home neglected and pregnant. So technically she could grow to be the size of a Doberman although, as you can see from the picture, that's unlikely.
I’d never really wanted to get a dog, if I’m honest. I’d resisted the nagging of my three boys for years, on the grounds that, with a full-time job and a house full of kids, I had enough on my plate. I couldn’t tell you exactly why I finally gave in. Maybe they just wore me down, which is what usually happens. Either way, we didn’t get Maisie for me.
Yet, it became instantly clear how nice it was to have her around as I write my next novel. She’s someone to snuggle up to when I’m struggling over a plot twist, whose little face is always pleased to see me, who loves nothing more than to snooze by my side while I tap away at my laptop. Playing fetch in the garden feels like a far better use of use of my screen breaks than putting on another load of laundry.
If all of this sounds sappy, then I do apologise, but you’d have to be as hard as the Krays to write about this in any other terms. Because, when the kids have disappeared off to school and the chaos of our house has faded to silence, this little dog is a wondrous thing: company. Which could turn out to be this writer’s best friend.
‘You, Me, Everything’ hits the shelves in most parts of the world in Spring 2018. But in Norway, readers will get a sneak preview – there, it’s out on September 20th. There are various important publishing-related reasons for this, but the best bit (from a brazenly selfish perspective) is that I was invited to jet off on my first foreign trip to promote the book.
I love travelling and Norway has long been on my bucket list. I was only in Bergen and Oslo for 48 hours but, along with the dynamic (and downright lovely) team at my publishers, Bastion Forlag, not a minute was wasted. We promoted, we schmoozed, we presented and, basically, we didn't pause for breath. There were too many highlights to list them all, but a few of my favourites included:-
* Learning to pronounce 'Her Nå Alltid' (You, Me, Everything) without making a moron of myself.
* Travelling on Bergen’s funicular railway to the top of Mount Fløyen, to catch a spectacular view of the city and surrounding fjords.
* Being interviewed for some of Norway’s top-selling magazines.
* Take a selfie in Oslo during one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen.
* Meeting scores of book-sellers who were passionate about fiction, books and writing - and, in the case of those who’d read an advance copy of 'Her Nå Alltid', said some very flattering things about it.
* Dining on incredible seafood in one of Oslo’s celebrated restaurants.
* Signing and dedicating scores of review copies of 'Her Nå Alltid'.
* Zipping along the motorway in a posh electric car (definitely the thing to drive there).
* Answering questions about writing in front of two tremendous audiences in Bergen and Oslo.
* Marvelling at how brilliant everyone’s English was... and how terrible my Norwegian was.
All in all, it was an unforgettable experience, even if I did need a long lie down afterwards.
I was interviewed this month by Sara-Jade Virtue, from Simon & Schuster, my UK publishers about writing, books, movie rights and You, Me, Everything.
Seeing the cover of your book for the first time can be one of the best things about being an author. It can also be one of the worst. Because what makes a cover appealing, original and representative of the story are all entirely subjective matters. A stunning package to one reader can be a turn-off to another. Ditto a publisher and an author. What makes this scenario tricky is that an author doesn't usually get the final say in what the jacket of their book will look like (although I think there's a general acceptance that life's easier for all concerned if they don't despise it). Although I've been lucky over the years with mine, I do know other authors who have been less than thrilled with the cover their publisher ran with.
I must admit I didn't quite know what Simon and Schuster UK were going to come up with for 'You, Me, Everything'. I've been working with them from the start of my career as a novelist. But with my previous books - those written as Jane Costello - I'd had ten years to get used to the 'brand'. So although the cover style evolved and the illustrators changed, they'd always had the ingredients you'd associate with a romantic comedy book. Only this time, I'd given them a completely different kind of novel. I was writing under a new name. It wasn't a romantic comedy. With 'You, Me, Everything', we are making it up as we go along - in the best possible way. I knew we'd all want something compelling and tasteful, something attractive and true to the story; something that hinted at the emotion inside. I knew we all wanted something GREAT. But what was that exactly?
I saw the cover for the first time over dinner with Jo Dickinson and Sara-Jade Virtue from S&S a few months ago. They took me by surprise over dessert, when Jo could wait no longer and produceda proof copy from her handbag like she was doing a magic trick. I am full of admiration for this high-risk strategy because if I'd hated it the rest of the evening could've been awkward, even accounting for the cocktails. Fortunately I did - and do - love it. It is a deceptively simple work of art; in particular, the monochrome images of my heroine and her son walking towards his father say so much about the story in the subtlest of ways. So, yet again, they've done me proud. And I can't wait to see the real thing when it hits the shelves.
Summers are quiet in the world of publishing. But even after the ten years I'd had to get used to this, it's still disconcerting when an author is dying to hear how a manuscript has been received. Particularly one that felt as risky as that which I'd submitted to my agent earlier in the year.
As July and August 2016 passed in a blur of lacklustre sunshine and school holidays, my nights started to become distinctly restless as the phone failed to ring. If I'm honest, I was almost getting used to this low-level anxiety and was stocking up on Value baked beans in preparation for impending poverty (I'm an optimist like that).
Then, one warm afternoon, I was just home from a run, when I took a call Anne Bihan, who was looking after translation rights for my agents Curtis Brown. She had a deal from Germany... but not just any old deal.
This deal had been secured within literally hours of the novel being submitted to Rowohlt; their editor had stayed up to read the book overnight and made a pre-emptive offer first thing the next morning. And although I'm not vulgar enough to disclose details, I will say this: we did not dine on baked beans that night.
A thrilling couple of months followed, in which auctions took place all over the world. 'You, Me, Everything' was sold to publishers in the USA, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Poland, Iceland, China, France, Brazil, Spain, Bulgaria, Russia, Korea, Italy, Serbia, Romania, Lithuania and Portugal.
I was breathless by the end of it all, genuinely struggling with the idea that, after more than a decade of writing, this kind of thing was actually happening to me. And it got better. A few weeks later, my superwoman of an agent Sheila Crowley phoned to deliver the kind of news I'd never allowed myself to dream about (unless I'd had a couple of glasses of wine): 'You, Me, Everything' had been optioned for a Hollywood movie.
John Fischer, Vice President of Temple Hill Entertainment - part of Lionsgate - had bought it for the studio that produced 'The Fault in Our Stars' and 'Twilight'. It was truly a 'pinch me' moment. But then, there have been too many of those to count lately...