Five books set over a long, hot summer…

Now that our Summer has disappeared (we know, we know, it’s coming back next week), we thought we’d return to our ‘five books’ features, picking books set over a fateful summer like our July pick, The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon. So – here we go. As ever, let us know your suggestions!

1. Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

The novel (well, novella) that scandalised the French in the 1950’s, this is the story of over-indulged and highly sensual Cécile, who sets out over the course of a hot summer in the south of France to unseat her father’s mistress. Think sailing, beaches and casinos, high fashion and low morals.

2. The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan

No hot air balloons and beautiful beaches here – The Cement Garden was the gritty first novel of McEwan’s, about some children whose father dies, followed swiftly by an odd and terribly disturbing summer (it’s hard to know how much to give away). Fourteen year old Jack is our narrator, his distinctly normal voice at odds with the behaviour of him and his three siblings…

3. The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley

Famous for its first line (‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there), The Go-Between is a novel of loss of innocence, and an introduction to the world of adult lust, love and illicit behaviour. Young Leo, staying with a friend over summer, is recruited as the messenger between a farmer, Ted, and Marian, the beautiful young woman living in the hall. His awakening comes as he is pulled deeper into their romance – with, of course, a final, superbly crafted finale. Glorious writing.

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

There was a debate as to whether we should put Tender is the Night instead, but you can’t do a list of summer books without including The Great Gatsby. Another novella, this is the story of Jay Gatsby, the most skilful of party givers and long time admirer of Daisy Buchanan. Set in the Jazz Age, this glitzy love story (or is it?) is set over just a few days on Long Island. You’ll be transported.

5. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Quite a departure from the previous, this is an American YA story, set over a summer (with flashbacks) on Beechwood Island. The characters – predominantly a group of teenagers – are from complicated homes, and this complex family background is all too present on their summer holiday, surrounded as they are by sparring parents, grandparents and aunts. The four teenagers – the Liars – become grouped together in the intense way that only teenagers can, but the twist at the end of the novel will damage their bond irrevocably. A close, hot, clever novel.

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I Think This Book Will Get Under Your Skin…

The Summer of Secrets is our July book of the month, and next week we’ll be discussing it in our book group. In advance of that, we asked Sarah’s editor, Bella Bosworth, to tell us about the book from her perspective…

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing finished copies of The Summer of Secrets land on my desk. In publishing, we tend to talk about things landing on our desks – manuscripts, submissions, ideas – when actually nearly everything appears on a screen. But a finished book is the exuberantly physical exception: something to be picked up and admired as soon as it arrives. And The Summer of Secrets is one of the books that I’ve worked on that has drawn the most admiring glances: the haunting, beautiful cover tells a whole story in the split second you look at it.
And what a story it is. In sixteen-year-old Helen, Sarah Jasmon has created a character whom I know many readers will identify with as I have. Her small, lonely world is turned on its head when the Dover family move into a nearby tumbledown cottage in a whirl of colour, charm and eccentricity – but they bring a darkness that’s just as compelling as it is dangerous. So when, thirty years later, we see Helen is once more alone, we must trace back what happened to one tumultuous, heady summer’s night . . .

But I shall stop myself before I tell the whole story! After all, it’s easy to talk at length, to say and then, and then excitedly, to extol the qualities of your author’s writing, her characters and insight. Much harder is to express, in a pithy line or two, why you love the book – what it is that makes it stand out.

So while I can tell you that it’s a story that gripped me and moved me (and that I feel extremely lucky to have had the chance to edit Sarah’s powerful novel), and that we’ve had incredible early reviews from authors like Carys Bray, Vanessa Lafaye and Claire Fuller (and an equally enthusiastic reception from countless bloggers), as an editor, I need to make sure this book gets under your skin, and make you – and many more readers out there – want to read it, too.

And it was when I was rereading the manuscript earlier this year that I came across a line that, I realised, I had been turning over in my mind for months.

She pauses, takes a deep shaking breath. “Helen, what do you remember about that night?”

Because imagine knowing that everything you loved fell apart on one night – but you can’t remember what happened. Something terrible went wrong and you might have had something to do with it – but you can’t remember. Now imagine spending thirty years thinking that it was your fault . . .

That’s the thought that’s been under my skin ever since I first read The Summer of Secrets. Whether it’s this idea, the beautifully intriguing cover or the incredible early reviews we’ve received, I think this book will get under your skin, too.

The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon will be published by Transworld on August 13th and is our July book of the month. 

Sarah Jasmon on The Summer of Secrets

Sarah Jasmon“It all started with my divorce. Before that, I’d been a writer who just didn’t write much. There’s a short story, I can’t remember by whom, in which a writer sits in his study and thinks about the stories he’s going to write. He plans them in great detail until it doesn’t seem worth putting them on paper, as they’re so perfect that he wouldn’t be able to improve them in any way, so moves on to the next. He’s supported in this by a wife who deals with all of the prosaic parts of life. When he dies and she finds no trace of his marvellous works, you’d think she’d be pretty angry, but instead she tries to get him a spot in Westminster Abbey, such is her belief in him.

I had nothing in common with him except the lack of actual, physical output. I was a home-educating stay-at-home mum without the discipline to sit down for odd half hours and make myself get on with it. At least my responsibilities gave me an excuse, one that was harder to believe in when I was given the time. Two mornings a week when my first daughter went to nursery. A whole summer when my husband had a sabbatical and we lived in a campervan in the grounds of a derelict house in France. The year when I had every Monday to myself. Didn’t finish a thing. Didn’t really start anything either.

This would have gone on forever if my marriage hadn’t broken down. I wouldn’t actively recommend it as a writing aid, but facing separation gave me space to consider what I really wanted to do with my life. At some point during the whole long, fracturing process, I picked up a newspaper on the train and read an interview with someone who’d taken an MA in Creative Writing and was about to get her book published. That, I thought, was something I could now do.

There’s a lot of talk around the effectiveness of CW courses, but mine gave me some very important tools. For the first time, I was spending time on a regular basis with people who took writing seriously. I had deadlines, both in the short term (essays and workshop contributions) and the long (a 60 000 word novel to complete for my portfolio). It gave me the incentive I needed to grab at odd half hours and just write. It also gave me a toehold within the local literary community.

My agent once told me that I was ‘just shameless enough’, which I took as a huge compliment. Gaining my MA and finishing the first draft of my novel only took me so far. Some part of me realised I had to get out there and build a network. I volunteered for Lancaster LitFest and realised that writers, even quite successful ones, will talk to you, so I started interviewing them for my blog. The following year I blogged for the Manchester Literature Festival, as well as volunteering for at various events. I joined the Notes into Letters project with the Royal Philharmonic Society, writing stories in response to music. I went to book launches and open mics and networking events. Some of this was displacement: my novel needed work before I sent it out to agents, but I just couldn’t see where to start. Being involved with and becoming part of the writing community, however, also meant I still felt like a writer, even though the MA had come to an end.

One other thing that the MA gave me was a boyfriend. His novel, A Kill In The Morning, was shortlisted for the Terry Pratchett First Novel Award and, of course, I went along for the party. A party involving a whole bunch of publishing professionals… It turns out that editors are just as lovely to talk to as writers. Graeme didn’t win, but he did get a publishing deal. And I, as a direct result of those conversations, was put in touch with Carrie Plitt, who is now my agent. Too good to be true? Haven’t finished yet.

I’d swapped emails with another editor with the idea of keeping in touch for review copies from her list, and messaged her the next day to say how nice it had been to meet up. She replied, saying she’d been on my website and noticed I’d written a book but couldn’t find it anywhere. Yes, I admitted, because it was still just a file on my computer.

By the end of the summer, Transworld had made a pre-emptive offer and I’ve had the unmatchable experience of working through the editing process with exactly the right amount of support, guidance and input. It’s so exciting to be here at last, on the actual verge of publication. My ex used to say that at least he was giving me material to write about. What he actually gave me was the freedom to get out there and make a go of it, for which I am pretty grateful. And all that material? It’s composting nicely, thanks. Watch this space.”

The Summer of Secrets

The Summer of Secrets will be published in the UK by Black Swan on 13th August.  Follow Sarah Jasmon on Twitter at @SarahontheBoat and find out more about Sarah and her writing by visiting her website. 

July Book of the Month

Welcome to the Curtis Brown Book Group part two!

We’ve got our members, our books are all lined up, and we’re ready to announce our first book group pick, which is…

The Summer of Secrets by Sarah Jasmon.

We think this is a brilliant book to ease us into the second round – secrets, hot summer days, art and boats combine in a perfect book club read.

Sixteen year old Helen is a lonely teenager living with her dad since her mum left them earlier that summer. Lazing her holiday away in their garden by the canal, an empty summer stretches out before her – that is, until the Dovers move in next door and her golden summer begins. However, as an adult Helen looks back on her time with the Dovers with fresh eyes. As she begins to unpick the story of that summer – and one fateful night – and realises that perhaps the Dovers were not quite all they seemed…

Parcels are going out today to our book group members, and the book is officially published on August 13th by Black Swan. 

Paths to Publication

Several of you have said you’d be interested to hear how our book group authors made it to publication, so we caught up with a few of them to ask…

Antonia Honeywell 

Just as a fairy tale has to include wicked witches and evil kings and multifarious ghastly thwartings and end with everyone living happily ever after, so the story of achieving publication must involve any or all of the following: unpublished novels, rejections, sneering doubters, financial hardship as a result of pursuing the dream, relationships strained ditto, and/or a helpless sense of all-pervading futility – but must end with a shiny proof that solves all problems and justifies all sacrifices.

I can oblige. From completing my first novel to signing my first publication contract was almost exactly ten years. I wrote five novels; I had an agent until she moved up North to open a B&B; I developed an allergy to the phrase, ‘You can certainly write.’ I gave up a career. And it was worth it. The Ship is out there now, in a beautiful hardback with my name on the front, and I could not be prouder of the book, or more grateful to those who put their professional faith in it, or to those who’ve read it. But it’s not an ending. It’s barely even a beginning.

And so my publication story ends with a plea to the as-yet unpublished. Enjoy this time. Publication will come if you persevere; perseverance is the only way, the only secret. Your publication story might be a real fairy tale – I hope it is. But it’s more likely to be another step on a long, long road with no concrete destination. The more incidental publication is to your writing dream, the more likely you are to achieve it, and to live happily ever after when your dream comes true.

The Ship is published by W&N.

Tim Glencross

The progression of Barbarians to publication sounds straightforward enough, at least when summarised in a few sentences. Not long after finishing the Curtis Brown writing course in 2011 I signed with a Curtis Brown agent, the wonderful Karolina Sutton. We worked on the manuscript together for a shortish period after which Karolina sent it out (along with a synopsis for the half of the book yet to be written) to a number of editors, a few of whom expressed some interest. The only slight complication occurred when the editor who ended up buying the book then moved to another publisher: he took Barbarians and me with him, which involved a bit of contractual shuffling between HarperCollins and Hodder & Stoughton.

That of course is the ‘official’ version of events involving things like legal documents and other human beings. The private and much more painful aspect of the process consisted of staring at sentences and paragraphs in a state of glazed despair, and then re-writing them, and then wondering if vodka at ten in the morning might help (repeated for three years).

Barbarians is published by John Murray.

Louise Candlish

It was 2004 when my first novel came out, practically the classical era in publishing terms. Back then, when hunting for an agent, authors were only supposed to approach one at a time (which, since it took six weeks for the rejection letter to come, meant the process could conceivably go on for years). Offers of a book deal were faxed. People chose to have difficult conversations on the telephone or even face to face – imagine! There was almost two years between my book being bought and being printed and when it came out I was able to walk into any number of book chains on Oxford Street and see it in tall towers, the shops aswarm with in-the-flesh book buyers reading first chapters in their lunch hour and happily messing up the piles.

If you’re under thirty, it probably sounds like I’m describing the 1950s, doesn’t it?

Now most of the bookshops have vanished and (almost) everything is digital, which is both more impersonal and more dynamic. Books are experiences rather than material objects to hoard or cherish, which is good in a way because no one can afford a home big enough to hold bookshelves. There is less money for authors but more choice and more entrepreneurial scope. Publishing is no longer the closed circle it once was.

What remains the same is the love of stories that motivates every single person in the process. I visited a library book group recently and the way the discussion fired up, revealing an interpretation of plot and character personal to every reader present, well, it was so real, so spirited, it could have been 2004 all over again.

The Sudden Departure of the Frasers is published by Penguin.

Anthony Trevelyan

My journey to publication was very, very slow – then very very quick.  About ten years ago I wrote a novel that almost got me an agent; a couple of years later I wrote another novel that did get me an agent; then a couple of years after that I wrote a third novel that lost me my agent and set me back at the start of the road, with my optimistic whistle and my Dick Whittington bundle.  Only, you know, six years older.

The fourth novel I wrote went out into a void that gave no echo.  The fifth, The Weightless World, I tossed despairingly into a couple of inboxes and online crevasses, one of which was the Curtis Brown submissions portal.  A couple of days after this submission I heard from Emma Herdman of the Curtis Brown New Writing Team.  Emma said she would like to read more of the book than the sample chapters I’d already skimmed her way, so I sent her the rest of the manuscript, complacently assured that that would be the last I heard of that.

A couple of days later Emma contacted me to say that she’d enjoyed the book and would like to talk about it.  We talked about it on the phone, then later in person.  At this point Emma said she would like to represent me and have a go at finding the book a publisher.  Good luck, I thought – though I was also insanely grateful.

And she did it.  She hand-held me through the deadly drip-drip of rejections I already knew so well; and then one thoroughly banal weekday morning Emma phoned to say that Galley Beggar Press wanted to publish my book.  ‘No,’ I said, ‘they don’t, do they?  No…’  ‘Yes,’ Emma said.  ‘They do.’

The Weightless World is published by Galley Beggar Press.

Curious Arts Festival – Ticket Giveaway

Next weekend the Curious Arts Festival, one of the UK’s top boutique festivals, according the The Times, returns to Pylewell Park for a weekend of books, music, stand up and curious goings on. To celebrate, we’re giving away one pair of tickets to someone based in the UK, and three discount codes for specially priced tickets. Head over to our Twitter account and RT our tweets today to win these exciting prizes, but in the meantime, here’s some more information about the weekend…

House-7

The Curious Arts Festival takes place in the twenty-six acres of glorious grounds of Pylewell Park for the weekend 17th-19th July, deep in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire. The weekend kicks off with the Authors X1 Cricket match and there follows three days of music, literary events, garden walks, snail-racing, poetry workshops and an extravaganza of curious and interesting experiences, from breathing lessons to hedge-foraging to puppet theatre-making; and there’s lots for children to do too.

Artists appearing include David Nicholls, author of One Day and Us, SJ Watson author of Before I Go to Sleep, Lynn Barbour author of An Education and Esther Freud author of Hideous Kinky and most recently Mr Mac and Me. Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music plays on the Friday night, John Illsley from Dire Straights plays on Saturday night, George the Poet, Britain’s foremost up and coming radical rapper plays on Sunday night. Surprise guest is Josephine de la Baume and Singtank.

If you’re not lucky enough to win our pair of tickets, we also have three special offer rates to give away. You can book tickets on the festival website on www.curiousartsfestival.com. Camping is free, and Glamping is available to book. The winners will be announced on Wednesday 8th July.