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 !!!!

christmas-2016

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