Out of my comfort zone

You may remember that I am writing a historical trilogy, based on the lives of three generations of women and their attempts at getting published, as well as facing all the other trials and tribulations that women experienced at that time. A Teller of Tales tells Lizzie’s story and is set in the 1820s. A Keeper of Tales tells Harriet’s story and is set in the 1880s. These two books are with a literary agent but despite her efforts she has not been able to find a publisher, although their rejections have been very positive. I was in the process of writing the third book, A Seeker of Tales, which will tell Imogen’s story and is set in the early 1900s. I have it all planned out and had written the first four chapters when my literary agent rang me and suggested I hold fire and, based on feedback from the publishers, write a standalone set in the mid 20th century. She is still confident she will find a publisher for the trilogy but thinks we might be able to hook a publisher with something that is more what they are currently looking for.

I loved writing the trilogy because I have a story I want to tell about the lives of women I care about. I know they didn’t exist, but they are real to me. Having got over the shock I decided that I would take on this challenge and move out of my comfort zone and see if I am as good a writer as I think I am!

My initial thought was that I would tell the story of my mother, who was born in Egypt of Maltese parents (so she was British), married an RAF officer in Alexandria and came over to England after the war. I soon gave up that idea as I don’t want to be constrained by facts but I want to retain the setting of Egypt, a place for which I have always had a soft spot and which plays a big part in my first novel, The Jewel Garden. I also decided to make use of a character I was going to use in the last book of the trilogy, who was brought up in a children’s home in Birmingham. I had to discard this idea as the timings were wrong but I think she will make an interesting and feisty protagonist. I soon had the three characters I wanted to include: Rosie, a young runaway from the children’s home who ends up in Egypt; Evelyn, a diplomat’s daughter living an easy life in Cairo until she starts to help out in a girls’ reformatory (another favourite theme of mine which again appears in The Jewel Garden); Darius, an Egyptian policeman. These three characters made themselves known to me just before I moved to a small estate in the middle of Herefordshire and they have stayed quiet whilst my head has been filled with cardboard boxes, finding new suppliers and workmen to do the myriad of work that is needed. But as I walk Annie, my lovely Border Collie, around the beautiful countryside, they are starting to speak to me again and their personalities and traits are becoming clearer. I know where the story will be set but I still don’t know when and I’m not sure what the conflict will be that unites them all. The stealing of ancient artefacts? A murder? A robbery? Mistaken identity? I’m hoping one of my characters will tell me what it is in due course.

Another element that I am interested in and which plays a major role in most of my novels, is the fairy tale. I’m trying to think how I can include one or two in this book that perhaps act as a trigger.

I also don’t have a title, which worries me – I do like to have one that acts as a sort of guide for me to remind me what I’m writing about!

My literary agent also said I need a one-liner to attract and pull in publishers. This is my initial attempt:

“Seek and ye shall find” – but not always what you are looking for.

Of course, everything I have just described will doubtless change.

I am excited about this new project and look forward to closeting myself away in my new home with Annie curled up at my feet.