Sunday, 9 April 2017

Fab Firsts - Q&A with Lily Graham - Blog Tour

Fab Firsts is my new regular Sunday feature, that is going to be highlighting books that are firsts. When interviewing authors, it will be about their first book, as well as other firsts in their lives. When reviewing books for this feature, there will be a mix of debuts, first books in a series, the first time I read an author, and possibly other firsts depending on what I can think of!

If you are an author wanting to take part in Fab Firsts then please do email on gilbster at gmail dot com and I'll whizz the questions over to you.

I hope you enjoy this look at a variety of hopefully fabulous firsts, while making some sort of dent in my review and paperback TBRs which are my current main focus!

Lily Graham grew up in Johannesburg, but now lives in the beautiful Suffolk countryside with her husband and her slobbering bulldog Fudge. She is the author of The Summer Escape  and A Cornish Christmas.

1) Can you tell us a bit about your first book?

It’s a story of having the courage to learn to live again after tragedy and how sometimes running away can help you find yourself. When journalist Ria Laburinthos runs away from her life after suffering enormous tragedy she goes to Crete, here she begins to heal and in the process she uncovers a ten-year-old mystery regarding a burnt down vineyard and the young man who is trying to restore it against all odds. 

2) What was your original inspiration to become a writer, and to write your debut?

I’ve always wanted to write – since I first learned that people wrote books and they didn’t magically appear from somewhere. I was about nine when this truly dawned on me. The story behind my first book came when I was going through a rough time, my mother had stage four breast cancer and my job was awful, and I wished in some ways I could run away from it all, writing it was a kind of therapy. Though the book it ended up only being finished years later didn’t resemble the original in any way. 

3) How long did it take you to write your first book?

I started writing it eight years ago but I abandoned it as it was really awful. Then around two years ago, while I’d done the same thing to around nine other novels throughout the years – start, get distracted, go onto the next one, repeat – my best friend challenged me to write a book which I could put up for sale on Amazon – she was tired of reading half finished stories. I took up the challenge and gave myself a year. It took around seven months in total – I spent three months before those seven procrastinating as usual – but by October of that year I had my first finished book. Finishing things was the biggest lesson I ever learned. 

4) If you could do anything differently in retrospect, what would you change about your debut, or how you went about writing it?

I think it was as it should have been. My first completed book taught me so much about being the writer I am today – like why a finished book beats a ‘perfect book’ any day of the year. If I could change something it’s that I wish I’d learned that earlier. I have so many stories that now I have had to abandon as I lost my enthusiasm for them, if I’d learnt that you can always edit a bad page but not a blank page I could have saved a lot of time. 

5) Was your first book self or traditionally published, and how did you go about making that decision?

It was self-published. It was so much fun. Before I wrote that book I got half way with a children’s book under a different name, and had sent it off to publisher’s to see their response and received a few rejections and some encouragement too. I’d also written quite a few humorous columns for women’s magazines and would frequently be getting the highs and lows of acceptance and rejection. Self-publishing was about me taking control, having no gate-keepers, and finally finishing a book, testing out my skills and building my self-esteem – at the end of the day even if no one liked it, I figured the experience was great for me as I’d done something that I had been talking about for years – writing and finish a novel. I even called it The Lily Graham project! I was lucky enough that my first two self-published books did well though, and so I wondered if perhaps I should take it further. I sent my first novel to Bookouture and was absolutely gobsmacked when a week later they offered me a three-book deal. They have since republished my first two books and my third, original story will be coming out later this year. I wouldn’t have been here though unless I hadn’t been challenged into finishing a book for once and making the decision to self-publish. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

6)    Do you have any tips for other first time authors?

Write. There’s only so much reading about writing you can do. Just go for it. If you need to plan first – do that – but give yourself a cut off period – say a day – a week- a month – whatever you need to get the idea down if you are that sort of a writer who first needs a plan but don’t let that plan take over or take long than say a month or two at most. 

You can research as you write. Then give yourself another deadline to finish the book.  This is a sacred rule. Whether you are someone who, like me, writes at the seat of her pants with barely any plan besides the initial exciting kernel of an idea, or someone who needs to write a book of notes before they can start – you need a deadline for when you will finish. A year is a good place for a beginner – maybe make it your birthday present to yourself. Make it fixed in stone – you will finish it so help you, even and especially even if you think it’s a pile of rubbish.  You will hate it at some point most likely. 

You may think it’s just complete rubbish – it’s fine you are just too close to see it for what it is yet. Keep going. Make the goal having a finished book. You can always fix an edited page, you can’ fix a blank one.  Then when it’s done, celebrate. Then go and write another one. You will only get better by writing regularly. I’ve read some early drafts from books I started ten years ago and I want to laugh.  Not all was like that though, some had lots of potential, and it’s how you grow. People always think that writing should happen magically but it isn’t so – surgeons become great because they practise- it’s the same thing for writers. Just go for it. Put fear in the backseat – pretty soon you’ll be having a blast. It’s okay to suck in the beginning. If you want a secret handshake that says you are now part of the club – here it is. 

Writers are writers because they write, forget all the other crap, people who say anything different are often critics who write books on writing, not ones who write books. All writers have to begin somewhere. If you have a burning desire to write, I think that it means you are a writer, end of story.  Also on that note: be SUPER careful who you show your work to, especially in the beginning. Choose kind souls who will offer a ratio of say four parts praise to one part tiny, sprinklings of constructive criticism. Give it to people who like the sorts of things you write. A literature purist just won’t appreciate your sparkly vampire book but millions of others might. 

Don’t fall into a trap thinking that it needs to be hard and painful and that your work needs to be torn to shreds so that you can learn – very very few people actually learn anything besides complete fear and how to feel thoroughly crap about themselves this way. In time you will spot the flaws yourself and a kind, friendly reader can point out potential things in ways that aren’t soul crushing. I’ve spoken to so many writers who were put off for years because of a too cruel professor or writing coach – you don’t need that. 

Tell us about your first…

7) Book you bought: Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree – I still have fond feelings about that gorgeous book. 

8) Person you fell in love with: I was about five, I can’t remember his name, but I remember being devastated that he preferred another little girl to me. I still remember the agony of him explaining why – she had a giant pack of marbles, how could I compete?? 

9) Holiday you went on: I was about four or five, and my family and I drove the eighteen hours from Johannesburg to Cape Town. It was the first time I saw the sea or slept in a hotel. I thought it was the most beautiful place in the world. I still feel that way about Cape Town!

10) Prize you won: a chocolate in grade one for going through the first reader and hungrily wanting to get the next one – I was desperate to learn how to read! 

11) Album you purchased: UB40’s greatest hits. I was about nine, I think, and was obsessed with reggae. It was around the time the single Can’t help falling in love with you came out – loved it!

12) Sport you enjoyed participating in: Sport? Hahahahahahahaha. My sport has always been lying in bed reading and seeing how long I can last before I get up and make something to eat. 

13) Embarrassing moment you can remember: I went to a public co-ed high school in Johannesburg. Typical almost, Americanised culture where the cool kids were rather sporty and the nerds were people who hung out in libraries. I was sort of in the background, my smoking habit making me slightly cooler than would ordinarily have been the case, when my high school principal made a special mention of me during assembly – the school librarian had told him that I had read the most books in the school that year.  I was in my first year of high school so this was even more embarrassing. I had no idea they kept score. The librarian was so sweet but I could have cheerfully killed her. They called my name and I had to go shake the principal’s hand while everyone laughed – especially my friends. I was mortified. I stopped going to the school library that much afterwards, but joined two local ones – I wasn’t going to give up reading, lol. Now, I think that moment was really funny and that librarian a real sweetie-pie, but I still have to giggle at my fourteen-year-old self!

14) Pet: an adorable smelly, farty, snore monster bulldog named Guisho. 

15) Time you were in trouble: The day a naughty friend and I defaced the school bathroom by writing on the walls with lipstick. We used all the bad words we could think of too. Like SEX. I was seven. 

16) ..choice of alternative career if you weren’t an author. I’d love to be an interior designer or a children’s book illustrator.  I was a florist for a while and I loved that.

17) …time you had any independence: when I got my driving licence. The first solo trip I took it out on was to go see a boy I had a crush on he worked at the video store. I rented a lot of movies that summer. 

18) …toy that you recall loving: a giant stuffed dragon that my grandpa gave me.

19) … time you felt like an adult: my first day at full-time work. It was such an eye opener, and not in the best way. 

20) … time you realised you were good at something: age fourteen my English teacher told the class that she’d seen me scribble the poem I was meant to handing in that day as part of an assignment in the five minutes before the class started. The assignment was part of a competition where she’d set all the grades against each other and there was a grand prize where the winner would be in the yearbook and get a whole lot of chocolate goodies to boot. Only I’d completely forgotten about it. She made me stand on top of my desk, then she opened up my messy scribbled scrap of paper, while on the desk behind her were all these beautiful, glitter filled cardboard entries, and she read my poem aloud, and while I was waiting to be told how much trouble I was in, she told me I’d won. It was that moment more than anything that led me to becoming a writer. 

21) Dish you cooked: burnt toast with tomato passata and grilled cheese for supper – I thought I’d give my mum the night off. I was about ten. It was followed by cold lentil soup, I still get teased about it. 

22) … time you were really scared: my parents let me watch IT, I had nightmares for weeks and clowns freak me out to this day!

Thank you so much Lily for sharing about your tips for first time writers and for answering my questions.

Lily Graham's new book The Cornish Escape is out now!

UK πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§ 

Get swept away along the beautiful Cornish coast, where a love story in a long forgotten diary has the power to change one woman’s life forever.

Victoria Langley’s world crumbles when her husband leaves, but she knows exactly where to go to mend her broken heart. The rugged shores of Cornwall will be her perfect sanctuary. 

In the quaint, little village of Tregollan, nestled in the sea cliffs, Victoria is drawn to Seafall Cottage, covered in vines and gracefully falling apart. Inside she finds a diary full of secrets, from 1905.

Victoria is determined to unravel the diary’s mystery, but the residents of Tregollan are tight-lipped about Tilly Asprey, the cottage’s last owner. Just as she reaches a dead end, Victoria meets Adam Waters, the lawyer handling the cottage’s sale. He’s handsome, charming, and has a missing piece of the puzzle.

Tilly’s diary tells a devastating love story that mirrors Victoria’s own. Can Victoria learn from Tilly’s mistakes, and give herself a second chance at love? Or is history doomed to repeat itself?

An unputdownable and gorgeously romantic read about lost love and new beginnings set in the green hills and rocky cliffs of the breath-taking Cornish coast. 

About the author

Lily has been telling stories since she was a child, starting with her imaginary rabbit, Stephanus, and their adventures in the enchanted peach tree in her garden, which she envisioned as a magical portal to Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree. She’s never really got out of the habit of making things up, and still thinks of Stephanus rather fondly.

She lives with her husband and her English bulldog, Fudge, and brings her love for the sea and country-living to her fiction.

Please follow along with the rest of the blog tour for The Cornish Escape.

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