Hidden – a memoir

Here at Blue Door Press we’re delighted to be publishing our first memoir, Hidden by Annabel Chown, a beautifully written, thoughtful book, scheduled for Spring 2018.

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Aged 31, Annabel was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time a successful architect with a busy London social life, this came as tremendous shock. In Hidden, Chown charts each stage of the treatment and her growing understanding of different kinds of architecture – those of her own body and the structure of the life she’d built up. Is this what she wants?

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Annabel Chown, in the Swiss Alps, 2017

As Annabel recalls, “It was a very challenging time, but also – in a strange way – an intriguing time, as I was catapulted from my familiar worlds of architecture deadlines and dating into the hinterland of cancer and its treatments. I wrote Hidden because I wanted to create something meaningful out of the devastating diagnosis.”

Fast forward almost a decade and Chown makes another startling discovery about her illness which has meant having to make more choices.

This is not a gloomy book. It’s one woman’s story about learning to accept what life throws at you, learning how to make positive changes. Now she’s ready to share that story, “I’m excited to be putting my book out, and I hope it can support and inspire others in the same situation. Recently, I’ve been revising the manuscript as I prepare it for publication and it’s been interesting to realise how much I’ve changed and my life has changed. Life can actually be better after cancer, something I would never have believed at the time.”

You can read more about Annabel’s story in the November issue of Red magazine, but do come back in Spring 2018 when you can read the full story in Hidden.

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Summer Solstice Readings for National Writing Day at the Word Bookshop, New Cross

I had a very enjoyable day at Goldsmiths on the summer solstice to celebrate National Writing Day. The summer solstice is:

“the time at which the sun is at its northernmost point in the sky(southernmost point in the South hemisphere), appearing at noon at its highest altitude above the horizon.”

It is midsummer; the heart of this glorious season, a time when Vikings used to resolve legal disputes, when the sun would align with the Wyoming’s Bighorn medicine wheel and magnificent Aztec architecture, and the Ancient Chinese would honour the earth which embodied the feminine force known as yin. It’s no surprise then that storytellers, poets and writers have been drawn by its power. In 1987, myself and a group of students from Sussex university put on a play on the summer solstice to honour the trees that fell in the 1986 hurricane. I wrote a fictionalised account of this night in my novel, Who Do You Love, and this prompted me to see if I could celebrate the solstice again. The fact that it was also National Writing Day meant that there were many people interested in getting involved. The following things happened:

First, Goldsmiths English PGCE students hosted a writing workshop in the Goldsmiths allotment. You can find the excellent worksheet they produced on Scribd here.

 

English PGCE students in Goldsmiths allotment, June 21st 2017
English PGCE students in Goldsmiths allotment, June 21st 2017

Second, although she could not be at Goldsmiths, Ursula Troche wrote these two poems to celebrate National Writing Day and the solstice.

 

Third, myself and a number of other writers, including Ian McAuley, Helen Bailey, Peter Daniels, Julie Hutchinson and Magda Knight read at the Word Bookshop. Here are the videos of their readings. They are audible, but the noise in New Cross can be heard at times; it was very hot and we had to leave the bookshop door open!

Who Do You Love by Francis Gilbert

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‘I enjoyed Who Do You Love a lot. It’s beautifully-written, very funny about sex and the excruciating confusion of being young and single then middle aged and trapped. I think you’ve captured something about a generation in a way that will touch a lot of readers…. Really, a terrific novel.” Amanda Craig, literary journalist, and author of A Vicious Circle and Hearts and Minds.

Nick is cracking up. In his mid-forties, he has just been sacked as an arts journalist, with little prospect of getting such a well-paid, prestigious job again. Even more worrying for him is his suspicion that his wife, a Deputy Head at a school, is having an affair with a much more successful person: does she want to trade in Nick for a better model?

But most devastating of all is the fact that he learns that a former lover, Ellida, has died. Unable to find a new job, Nick miserably fails, despite his best attempts, to be pro-active and positive, and retreats into memories of the past.

By turns comic, tragic and romantic, Who Do You Love is a stirring novel which explores the big issues of passion, death and grief; a fast-paced contemporary love story but also moving exploration of what it means to be alive today, which should appeal to fans of writers like David Nichols, Ann Tyler and Nick Hornby.

Why I wrote my autobiographical novel ‘Who Do You Love’…

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J. had died, and the news shocked me. Our relationship had been intense when I was at university, but we’d parted on bad terms. Learning of her death nearly twenty years later from a mutual friend made me feel desperately sad that I had not said goodbye.

At the time, I was working on an education book – I had successfully published several – but I was blocked after hearing this news. I fell into a writerly depression: what was the point?

I ruminated about our passionate but difficult affair in the late 1980s. It was still the last gasp of the analogue age – a decade before laptops, pre-digital cameras and smart phones – and I had no photographs, videos, Facebook status updates, only a set of dog-eared spiral notebooks in which I wrote my diary in my loopy italic handwriting. Digging out my notebooks from the attic jogged my memory, and I began writing a memoir about knowing J. all those years ago. My depression lifted a little but then returned when I felt that I was not communicating the energy, the joie-de-vivre of our time together.

Eventually I gave myself permission to start inventing, turning my own life into a story. It was only then that I found I was writing my way out of the gloom. A new character formed, Ellida (pronounced El-leada), a composite of people I have known and J. The situations that I described were heightened amalgamations of events in my own life. I recast my friends from university as characters, and conjured up a “real” time when I penned a mime play on the summer solstice on a wooded crest of the Sussex Downs, written in response to the terrible hurricane of October 1987. Hundreds of people flocked to see the play; it was both a moment of triumph and humiliation for me as I swallowed a lot of magic mushrooms and had a bad trip. In Who Do You Love, Ellida rescues Nick — the version of myself who appears in the narrative — in a way that echoes, but doesn’t duplicate, what happened in my own life; but Ellida makes the lanterns for the play in the novel, just as J. did in “real life”. There’s a mingling of the truth and fiction which I hope gives a sense of my feelings at the time.

Nick and Ellida visit his grandparents in Northumberland — just as J. and I visited my grandparents in Northumberland. Writing these sections of the novel was the most emotional of all writing experiences I’ve had. I found that writing about them and their dilapidated farmhouse in Northumberland and roaming that incredible wild landscape with its ruined castles and sand-duned coast with my lover was intensely cathartic.

The novel went through many versions as I tried to perfect it for publication. Pam Johnson of Blue Door Press read it in a late draft and was very helpful in suggesting some key motifs that might be threaded through the novel. She was concerned that the wife in the novel, Hadley, was not sympathetic enough; she suggested some ideas which really helped with building a more rounded character. She also pointed out to me the importance of Thomas Hardy’s “At Castle Boterel” in the novel, and showed me how I might emphasize this more clearly. Jane Kirwan pointed out that I needed to illustrate the grandmother’s formidable intelligence more subtly. Both Jane and Pam have been very supportive in helping me find a good cover for the book: working with Sam Sullivan at http://newingtondesign.com/ has been great. The latest cover idea is posted at the top of the article. Being part of Blue Door Press has been a revelation; I have worked with several publishers before, but never had this sense of working with kindred spirits. After 7 years of working on it, Who Do You Love is now ready for publication; it’s truly been a psychic journey for me, taking me through a whole gamut of feelings from despair to joy.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS !!!!

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To all Blue Door friends, have a wonderful book-reading holiday! We’ll be using this time to catch up on The Crown and mainlining mulled wine … and reading.

It’s not too late to buy books for presents, Taking in Water and Don’t Mention Her are available from Muswell Hill Books and The Owl, Kentish Town as well as from Amazon.

Thank you for your support in 2016. It’s been an overwhelming if extraordinary year. One reaction to all the horrors is to escape into a book.  We have plenty planned for 2017 so keep an eye on us!

What Makes Blue Door Press Special

I would say that I am something of a veteran when it comes to attending book launches. I have seen the whole gamut: I have snuck into some “media celeb” book launches and seen the likes of Howard Marks, Chris Evans and Plan B. at various populous shing-dings; I’ve briefly clinked glasses with literary luminaries such as Martin Amis and Margaret Atwood in well-thronged, well-upholstered rooms; I’ve been more important at more low-key events when friends and colleagues have given readings and touted their work; and I’ve been largely nerve-wracked when launching some of my own books. I can still remember losing my book launch virginity in 2004, when I’m A Teacher, Get Me Out of Here was first published. That was very exciting because lots of people came along, attracted by the title and the publicity that the book enjoyed: it was serialised in The Observer and I appeared on quite a few TV and radio shows talking about it. I remember drinking too much wine at the launch and not knowing quite what to make of it all. I was even snogged by an admirer!

So, I have seen a few. Nevertheless, the launch of Blue Door Press and two new novels by Pamela Johnson and Jane Kirwan respectively, founders of the press, was very special to me. Unique even. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. There was a very nice ambiance about the launch, which was in a chic venue in Seven Dials, Covent Garden; it really filled up as the evening wore on and even the heat of the day and all those bodies could not dampen people’s enthusiasm and joy, which was very palpable.

However, I have been to events which have had similarly positive vibes. No, it wasn’t quite that which made it so inimitable. It was only after the speeches that I began to realise what made the moment so singular. Then, it hit me like a novel falling on my head from a high shelf: this was the very first time I had felt that authors were really taking control of their own literary destinies. In all the other launches I’ve been to, there was always the sense that the authors needed to bow down before the publishers; tug their forelocks and doff their caps at the “big boys” such as Penguin/Random House etc, and express extreme gratitude at the smaller outfits. This sense of neediness for a publisher was even the case when I’ve been to events where self-published books have been presented; you always got the sense that actually the authors were hoping that one day a “proper” publisher might take them on.

Not so with Pam and Jane. They have done something different entirely in my view. They’ve set up a writers’ collective which has the rigour and high standards of a “traditional” mainstream publisher, but has the autonomy of a self-publishing outfit. It is worth watching the speeches to see and feel this point conveyed:

I spoke to one of the revellers at the launch who made these points in this video:

Above all, BDP is about publishing high quality, readable fiction. I’ve already written rave reviews of both books on Amazon: my review of PJ’s brilliant Taking in Water is here, and JK’s moving Don’t Mention Her is here. These are both writers who are at once literary and accessible. The two things don’t always go hand-in-hand. In a sense, Pam and Jane’s work are the press’s manifesto; they lay out the standards by which other work must be judged. Standards which many people feel are very high. Here are some fans talking about their work:

As you may have noticed at the end of the first video on this blog, I am delighted to have my new novel Who Do You Love accepted by BDP. Pam has proved a brilliant editor and has given me some work to do on the current manuscript, but all being well I hope to publish the novel in late January next year. More on my novel at another time I hope!

Francis Gilbert