London Book Fair 2015

This week, the London Book Fair opened at Olympia and I was there on the first day. For the past few years, the fair has been held at Earl’s Court, but the very first book fair I ever attended – all the way back in 2001 – was at Olympia so it was great to be back at this fabulous venue although the great glass roof acted like a massive greenhouse on the hottest day of the year so far! IMG_2463IMG_2467A few years ago, the fair wasn’t a great place for an author to visit unless you had arranged to meet a publisher or agent, but now there are lots of interesting talks and panels and I managed to catch the end of a talk by writer Deborah Moggach.

IMG_2469In fact, authors are so welcome at the fair these days that we have our very own HQ!

IMG_2472But the main reason I visited was to meet my new editor at Amazon Publishing and I took a very special ‘limited edition’ box of chocolates in for the team to thank them for all their hard work on my new book, The Rose Girls, which comes out in a few weeks.

IMG_2460I was especially excited to meet team members who’d flown in from Luxembourg and Seattle to attend the fair. It made my little trip in from rural Suffolk seem very tame.

IMG_2476Of course, no author goes to the book fair without catching up with a few author pals and here I am with fellow Amazon Publishing authors Mel Sherratt and Freda Lightfoot beside a fabulous poster of Mel.

It was then on to a lovely pub in Notting Hill for Amazon’s author party where I met thriller writers Mark Edwards and Casey Kelleher, and chatted to my wonderful pals from Notting Hill Press, Matt Dunn and Talli Roland.

Now, it’s back to the keyboard and Chapter 4 of the new novel …

Summer at Mulberry Cottage – out now!

I’m really excited to launch Summer at Mulberry Cottage, the third book in the Mulberry Cottage series, and isn’t the cover just perfect for summer? Featuring our dear spaniel, Molly, and our entire flock of hens, it’s the first cover to feature a certain writer too!

SAMC cover 600It’s been lovely to record the long, warm months of summer in this little book and over thirty photographs capture just some of the beauty that the Suffolk countryside has to offer. I really hope you enjoy the latest installment in the series.

Mulberry Cottage series banner webYou can read more about the Mulberry Cottage series on this page.

 

Recording an audio book

I’m delighted to welcome Jan Cramer to my blog today. I’ve been working with Jan on several audio books over the last few months including The Secret of You, Christmas at the Cove and A Dog Called Hope, and I thought it would be interesting to find out exactly what goes into making one.

Jan trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama and has worked mainly in the theatre, but finds herself nowadays in and out of studios doing voice overs and reading books. All of which she loves doing.

What job description do you give to yourself: voice-over artist, narrator…?

I’m an actress who does voice overs and narrates audiobooks.

Are there genres you most enjoy narrating and are there any that you’d sooner avoid?

I’ve found that narrating books that I don’t usually read become the more interesting ones, as they’ll take me on a journey that I wouldn’t normally go on. For example, I read a lot of fiction. I don’t really read non-fiction. But narrating a journalist’s memoir of her travels in Indonesia was fascinating.

A Dog Called Hope Cover Audiobook webAmazon UK Amazon US iTunes Audible US Audible UK

Describe a typical working day.

I’m quite disciplined when recording a book. I’m very aware of diet as it really affects the way you sound. We are working with very sensitive (very expensive) microphones that pick up everything. And I mean every lip smack, every tummy rumble, every breath…..so to try and minimise this, a lot of voice artists will eat a Granny Smiths apple first thing. The pectin helps reduce mouth noise. Coffee and tea are out as they dry the mouth. Water is best. No yoghurt for breakfast either.

I often walk before a recording. If I’m in London, I have a pair of walking shoes and get to the studio on foot and out of breath. It clears all your sinuses and gets you breathing. If I’m nearer home, I have the Sussex Downs on my doorstep and will walk at a terrifying pace (according to my husband) before recording.

I stand (rather than sit) in my vocal booth when reading, as it helps the vocal energy. (that’s a personal choice not everyone does) and I take breaks so that I’m not rooted to the spot for hours on end. My vocal booth is connected to the main studio and is a completely insulated, isolated environment, built as a room within a room, to let in no sound whatsoever.

I do a lot of preparation for each book. I would have read it a few times before recording. I also check pronunciation constantly when it comes to names, places, etc. I have a few pronunciation dictionaries at my fingertips and check them all the time.

Christmas_at_the_Cove_Audiobook_webAmazon UK Amazon US iTunes Audible US Audible UK

What are the most common misconceptions about what you do or how you work?

Everyone likes to read out loud, and lots of people are used to reading to their children. But try reading a complete novel out loud and it’s a different story. Literally. And lots of people are told they have lovely voices, which they do. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they know how to use them.

You have to be very aware of what’s going on technically. For example: if a character is required to shout or scream, you can’t actually do that (if you do, your engineer will have words in no uncertain terms) but you have to be able to convey the drama of the situation without hurting the listeners’ ears. The same applies to whispering and quiet intimate moments – you can’t have the listener suddenly wanting to turn the volume up.

All acting disciplines have their technical requirements whether its theatre, film television, radio. Narration is no different and you learn your craft.

How can an author make life easier for you?

The Secret of You is the first time that I’ve worked directly with an author. I know that my voice has been asked for by authors via their publishers, but I know that they don’t listen until it’s a fait accompli.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s been a joy to work with Victoria, as she has gently nudged or suggested slight changes in perhaps the nuance of a line, or the thought process of a character, just as a director would do in the theatre.

I think an author needs to give the narrator a bit of artistic licence with the characters and rein them in gently when we get too carried away.

I love the variety of voices you’ve conveyed in The Secret of You from young Toby to old Meg. How do you go about finding the right voice for a character and is this a long process?

I see an audio book as a radio play where I get to play all the characters. But one has to be careful not to confuse the listener with too many accents or voices. It can sound messy. The age of a character can be portrayed by the timbre of the voice (an older voice slightly lower in the register) and also by the pace of the voice and, of course, an accent or dialect. So each character can be identified easily with subtleties. I usually have a visual image of each character too.

If the author is precise about a particular dialect then I do the research to be as accurate as possible.

When I read my first science fiction book, I gave all the aliens (and there were lots of them) different voices and accents. This was a big mistake as I had to keep referring to the voices that I already recorded to make sure I was accurate. It slowed me down and taught me to be more nuanced with my characters in future.

The_Secret_of_You audiobook webAmazon UK Amazon US iTunes Audible US Audible UK

The finished time of The Secret of You is just over eight hours but I’m sure the audio book took you much longer to produce. Just take us through what the job entailed.

If a chapter is 30 minutes in length it will probably take an hour to record. However fluent you are, you stop occasionally to make sure it makes sense, to check on the pronunciation of a name, to think about the character relationships as they progress. Then the engineer will “clean up” the chapter. Which means going through the recording and taking out all the mouth noises, large breaths, tummy rumbles, extra long pauses, in fact anything that shouldn’t be there. That’s another hour. Then the chapter is produced, which entails a whole sequence of technical feats to make sure it adheres to the very precise technical specifications for Audible and that the sound is a pleasing one for the listener. That’s another half hour.

So our 30 minute chapter has taken 2 and half hours. Translate that into an 8 hour book and you have about 40 hours work.

I would always recommend working with a professional actor as a narrator and one that uses a professional studio. The experience of a sound engineer who knows how to work with the voice as well as produce the technical quality required, is something that can’t be replicated with a laptop and a simple microphone.

Thanks so much, Jan! I really enjoy working on my audio books with you and can highly recommend the process to other authors keen to produce their own.

You can get in touch with Jan here.

 

An Amazing 2014!

As this year draws to a close, I have to say that it’s been one of the saddest on the pet front. We lost three beautiful hens and had to say goodbye to our darling spaniel, Molly. But we’re looking ahead to next year when we can rehome some more hens and have the experience of our very first puppy!

2014 has also been my busiest yet on the writing front with 6 books published! And I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of my lovely readers for being there to support these titles. I’ve loved getting your messages and seeing what you think about my new stories.

2014 Releases Banner longAnd there’ll be plenty more stories for 2015 too. Watch out for my second children’s book and the third ‘Mulberry Cottage’ title in the spring, a brand new novel called The Rose Girls in May, and the first three books in an exciting new series in the autumn.

In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas. Eat lots of lovely food and read lots of fabulous books!

Merry Christmas from all at Mulberry Cottage

A Visit to Thrush Green

Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting ‘Thrush Green’ with Jill Saint – the daughter of Dora Saint or ‘Miss Read’ as she’s widely known to her readers.

IMG_1350Where Miss Read’s ‘Fairacre’ is a fictional place, ‘Thrush Green’ was inspired by Woodgreen near Witney in Oxfordshire and it’s still instantly recognisable today from the books which were published from 1959.

IMG_1340The pub, The Three Pigeons, was the inspiration behind Thrush Green’s ‘The Two Pheasants’ as patronised by the irascible Albert Piggot, and the cottages and fine houses in the golden stone of the Cotswolds were home to characters such as Harold Shoosmith, Dr Bailey and Ella and Dimity.

IMG_1346After touring the green with Jill, Roy and I took a quick drive to the nearby town of Witney which was ‘Lulling’ in the books, and was the home of Dora Saint between 1940 – 1945. Like Woodgreen, it’s full of picturesque homes and it’s easy to see how a writer would be inspired to write stories set in such a place.

IMG_1354From Witney, we drove on to the Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water through which flows the beautiful River Windrush which Dora Saint called the Pleshy in the Thrush Green books. Even on a bitterly cold day in November, it was breathtakingly lovely and the surrounding countryside certainly made this writer want to reach for her pen and paper!

IMG_1474Did you know that there is a new Miss Read book out now?  Mrs Griffin Sends her Love is a gorgeous collection of essays and short pieces of fiction collected together for the very first time. With a lovely foreword and insightful introductions throughout from Jill Saint, I can highly recommend it.

 

Sweet Agnes

It’s been a very sad time at Mulberry Cottage. We had to say goodbye to our darling spaniel, Molly, last month and, last week, we lost Agnes – the ex-bat hen. Agnes came to us in May with three of her sisters. She was tiny and pale and missing quite a lot of feathers but she was a courageous little girl and was the very first to venture into the big outdoors when we let the new flock free-range for the first time.

Agnes arrives homeAnd she soon got the hang of life in a country garden…

Free-ranging girland enjoyed many sunbathing days over the summer. I’ve never seen a hen enjoying the sunshine quite so much as little Agnes.

Our little sunworshipperBut our sweet girl was having problems in the egg-laying department which left her feeling exhausted. Warm baths helped alleviate some of the side-effects:

Bath timeAnd cuddles in the sunshine too:

Sunshine cuddleBut, despite several of these setbacks, she grew all her feathers back and turned into a most glorious hen!

Glorious girlI just wish that her retirement had been longer then those seven months.

AgnesGoodbye little Aggie. We miss you so very much.

The Hardest Goodbye

Last month, we had to say goodbye to our dear spaniel Molly. I’ve not been able to write about it until now because it’s been too painful. I miss her terribly and our cottage feels so empty without her.

Molly was our first dog and I remember seeing her photograph on the website of the Diana Brimblecome Animal Rescue Centre. She was chained to a gate on a farm and had spent the first few years of her life in this way, left out in all weathers.

I’d been desperate to rehome a dog for years but, on the day we went to collect her, I was full of nerves. What if Molly didn’t bond with us? What if she was a wrecker and ate all my books? What if I couldn’t handle her? I didn’t dare tell my husband my misgivings in case he called the whole thing off. Sitting on the backseat of the car with her, my hand on her back as she looked in every direction other than at me, I couldn’t help wondering what was going through her mind and if she was as nervous as I was.

Molly HomeWhen we took her for her first walk in our local park, she barked at every single dog who approached her and, when we went to a training class, she barked for a full sixty minutes! It was obvious that she’d never been socialised properly and that we had a mammoth task ahead of us.

Molly was such a steep learning curve as our first dog but she repaid us with so much love and we always had a lot of fun with her. She was very much a member of the family and she went everywhere with us…

To stately homes on research trips:

Molly at ChatsworthTo the beach:IMG_1242On summer outings pottering around country churches:

Molly ChievelyAnd to windswept Cornish stone circles:

IMG_8857Holidays were arranged very much with her in mind and we only ever booked pet-friendly cottages, and I’m intensely proud of the fact that, in the ten years she was with us, she only spent four nights away from us, staying with friends of ours. It was very important to me that she shouldn’t experience life in kennels after having been put through the stresses of the rehoming system.

Molly even graced the cover of our first Mulberry Cottage book, illustrated by the wonderful Liam O’Farrell:

Escape-to-Mulberry-Cottage-225x300And she didn’t hold it against us when we filled her garden with hens:

IMG_4505

She also survived three major operations to remove life-threatening tumours, and an incident with an out-of-date pot of cream that I’d rather forget!

Words simply cannot do justice to the intense joy that a dog gives you nor to the crippling grief you feel when you lose them. Molly will always be remembered as our very special first dog – the complex girl who taught us so much and who gave us so much too.

Goodbye our darling girl. We will miss you forever.

Molly Feb 2012 P1000001

Christmas at the Cove – out now!

I’m thrilled to tell you that my new novella, Christmas at the Cove, is published today by Notting Hill Press as an ebook. I loved writing this story which was inspired by a trip to the north Devon coast where I saw the very cottage which appears on the cover of the book. I really hope you all enjoy Millie and Niall’s story. Let me know what you think of it!

Christmas at the Cover Cover MEDIUM

At Home with Mr Darcy – out now!

I’m delighted to announce the release of my brand new novella At Home with Mr Darcy which is out today in paperback and ebook. This is the sixth story in the Austen Addicts series and the Janeites are off on a little holiday – to Pemberley no less!

I can’t tell you how much fun it was to return to this little group of characters and find out how everyone was getting on and to see them enjoying a trip to Derbyshire together. I really hope you all love it too!

AHWMD