Since my last post I have spoken at the Cheltenham Literature Festival with Sofka Zinovieff, another writer inspired by her “Inspirational House”. This was to a packed audience with loads of books sold. The buzz of Cheltenham is amazing. There is a huge tent for authors and you are given a wristband allowing you entry into any of the talks. I have to say it was wonderful being amongst some of the most creative writers in the world.
In December I was flown to India to speak at the Times Mumbai Literature Festival. My talk here was under the title ‘House as Hero’ and it was to a large and I think interested audience of Indians who, like so much of the world, adore Downton Abbey. Esther Freud, the actress, writer, and daughter of Lucian Freud read the poem by TS Eliot ‘Burnt Norton’ so it was a two-woman act! India is an extraordinary, vibrant and intriguing country. I will certainly be going there again.
With several festivals, and talks in between, one of the highlights of my year was to have been Jeremy Irons at Burnt Norton. First I gave a talk about the history of Burnt Norton. I hate to sound like a lovestruck teenager but Jeremy Irons actually asked me questions. Then in his exquisite, melodic voice – looking and sounding just like his character Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited – he read the Four Quartets.
I have done several episodes of ‘Flog It’ talking about the history of Sandon Hall, my husbands Staffordshire home, and last month I was interviewed for an American Travel programme, both of which will be aired this autumn.
Nearly up to date but last weekend I spoke at the Curious Arts Festival. It was a combination of music and literature, with so many amazing artists. My favorite had to be Lynn Barber, a journalist who started her working life as a journalist for Penthouse. She was quite happy to divulge her own quite steamy secrets, and considering she is in her seventies it was quite a reveal. Brilliant.
So a more detailed blog will follow but this is just to keep you up to date.
Debut novelist Caroline Sandon talks to BBC journalist and presenter Gwenan Edwards about her historical novel inspired by the home she lives in and the tragic events of 1741 when its then owner Sir William Keyt set fire to himself and the house in a fit of madness…
The Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 3 – 12 October
“Inspirational Houses” with Sofka Zinovieff (Book: The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me) Tuesday 7 October 8pm
When “Books by Women,” suggested that I should do another blog I was cautious. What should the subject be? It was suggested that I should write on the pleasure of getting an option for a three part TV series, but there are many options taken out each year on many books. Some of the options get taken up and are made into that wonderful series or film, and others stay on the table causing much disappointment. Some books are treated with sensitivity, and the final film is true to the original, while in others, the book, your baby, has changed beyond recognition. No I must not write about this, for though I hope that quite soon Burnt Norton will be a glorious adaption on Sunday night TV, I must not tempt fate and relegate it to a sad script that languishes eternally on the producer’s table!
Another option for this blog was to show how my own personal experiences have influenced my writing. I believe and hope I speak for authors generally, that much of our writing is shaped by our own lives. Most of us have known triumph and tragedy, and I have had my share of both. I am not sure that I want to do a blog on my lost baby son Charlie. He is immortalized in Burnt Norton and for me that is enough. No, I have found my subject, honesty. I am going to tell you the truth about my experiences of getting my first novel to the bookshelf and everything it entails. It would be lie to say it has been easy and always exciting, It has actually been a journey of highs and lows and that journey continues. Perhaps some authors have that rare confidence that gives them the ability to focus, knowing their work is brilliant, for most it is not like that.
Once a month I meet with two other writers, and we call it our A.A for authors group. One of us has had at least six novels successfully published, but she had ground to an emotional standstill, unable to put pen to paper. She is now writing again and I would like to think our support has helped. Another is an ex policewoman with an extraordinary insight into people’s minds. She will soon be on the best-seller list, I am sure of it. Our meetings are something we all look forward to, because not only are we friends with the same goals, but we are able to understand the loneliness and insecurity of writing. These insecurities are usually the same: are we any good? Are we writing something people may want to read, and after all the sweat, pain and excitement, will our books get sold?
It is a bit like a roller coaster, one minute you are thrilled because you have been booked to do a radio appearance, the next you have sunk to an all time low because your book has been rejected by a publisher and you are not sure if it is good enough anyway.
There are of course wonderful, incredible moments. I remember when Sheila Crowley from Curtis Browne rang me to tell me she loved my book and wanted to represent me–I was actually up a ladder hanging curtains for a client. (I am also an interior designer.) I believe my tears ran over the cream linen fabric, not ideal for my client but a great moment for me! I remember when she rang me to say that Head of Zeus wanted to publish my book, and I remember that marvelous moment at the launch when my books were stacked on the table and I was doing my first signing! But there were other moments when I read a review on Amazon that was really unkind. No one had prepared me for the hurt. It is after all so utterly personal. Emma Fellowes told me that she still takes Julian’s reviews away so that he can’t see them, unless of course they are glowing!
So you see that writers on the whole are an emotionally unstable bunch, and we are always at the mercy of the reader!!
On Saturday I went to watch three publishing giants talk on the future of the industry. It was both interesting and inspirational. The three men were Nigel Newton, head of Bloomsbury publishing, who on the advice of his eight year-old daughter bought the rights to J.K .Rowling’s Harry Potter. The second was Tim Waterstone who started Waterstone’s in 1982 with his £6000 redundancy packet from W H Smith, and who not only sold out to Smiths, but finally in 1998 joined forces with HMV Media Group to buy them back.
The third publisher was the remarkable Anthony Cheetham, the founder of Orion and Century, afterwards chairman and chief executive of Random House and co founder of Quercus the publishing house that bought the worldwide rights to the Millennium trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson. Anthony Cheetham has made several fortunes but has now founded his latest publishing house, Head of Zeus. He is my publisher and I happen to be biased, but I truly believe his latest project is not because of financial gain, but because of a genuine passion for publishing and the desire to help new authors find a window for their work. Each speaker gave an impassioned and amusing talk concluding that the book is as strong as ever. It has survived for several thousand years and will continue to amuse, teach and enthral for centuries to come.
On Sunday it was my turn to be interviewed. The charming BBC journalist Gwenan Edwards interviewed me in Festival Room 2, in Christchurch College. The moment the door closed and the microphones were turned on, the adrenalin kicked in, and I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment. The questions were interesting, and I believe I answered them without straying too far from the point. “Mummy you must always answer the question.” The words of my daughter Clemmie rang in my ears. The biggest and happiest surprise was the arrival of various nieces and nephews who were on school half term. Their support was a huge added bonus.
Afterwards I signed lots of books and when an aspiring novelist rang me the following day wanting advice, I was able to give it gladly. In this business a helping hand is a great asset and I have had many. I am so happy to be able to give just a little bit back.
Christmas at Burnt Norton was as usual chaotic but wonderful. This year the turkey did not get burnt and the kids were exemplary. Eddie agreed to be vegetarian because cooking for nine, when you have two pescarians, two vegetarians and one vegan is a complete nightmare!!
The book is going well and I have done various talks at different festivals, book clubs and hotels. Last month I was asked to stand in for a famous actress/ food writer who had cancelled her talk at the Chipping Norton Food Festival at the last moment. I was delighted to be considered, but as a former model I had spent half of my life avoiding calories rather than eating them and I found their choice unusual !! I read a passage from my novel about a gala evening given on the opening of Sir William Keyt’s new mansion, and by a very fortunate coincidence I found a menu from a dinner party actually given at Norton by the first Baron Harrowby, my husband’s ancestor in the 18th century. I was able to explain that the eight endless courses would have been a nightmare to most 20th century women but even more so to fashionable 18th century woman who would have been dressed in stays and stomachers! No wonder women carried smelling salts to prevent themselves from fainting. I was relieved to be told afterwards that the audience had enjoyed it and did not want their money back!!
The paperback of Burnt Norton comes out next week and here is a sneak preview of the cover. I will be talking at the Oxford Literature Festival and the Kempsford Lit festival . Do please come and support me.
All being well the book is being signed for a three-part television drama. This is an extremely exciting prospect. Keep your fingers crossed!