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.

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.