There’s great excitement in the Walker household because we’ve been invited to the Horse of the Year Show VIP gala evening on Sunday 9th Oct, before which I’ll be signing copies of Kiss and Tell in the retail village at the Equestrian Bookfair stand (010A) at 5pm. If you’re going to be at the show that day, please stop by and say hello. I’ll be dressed up to the nines, although I should hastily point out that’s far from normal. The evening is black tie which threw us into a panic because, whilst I’ll can sport the one party frock that still fits me, Sam doesn’t possess a dinner suit and we’ve left it too late to hire one. Several begging phone calls later and my old local amateur theatre group have kindly opened their costume store to dig out a range of suitable satin-piped finery. These won’t be with us until just before we set off, so Sam’s now convinced that he’ll be striding into the NEC with massive flares flapping six inches above his socks and a jacket with collars wider than a Boeing’s wingspan.
My writing wardrobe is a far cry from the marabou-trimmed sequin glamour I once imagined lady novelists selected as day wear. Most often, I’m found in riding gear, particularly when I’m in the early stages of a book and still imagine I can get away with a pastime outside marathon writing sessions. This is alternated with school-run casuals in a vague attempt to look less like a horsy bag lady and more like a Boden-tastic yummy mummy at pick up time. As the book I’m working on progresses, all pretentions of elegance get jettisoned in favour of comfort and superstition, particularly in the end stages when writing all night is the norm. I used to have an ancient denim shirt that I always wore for the last few chapters of the book; I saw this threadbare coffee-stained rag as an artist’s smock meets magician’s cape, the fact that I actually looked like Bruce Springsteen’s butch drag-queen twin quite escaping my attention. When this finally fell apart, I adopted a lucky jumper which my family kindly tell me makes them think of a dead sheep. Matched with odd socks, uncombed hair and specs in place of contact lenses to enable my eyes to stay open for eighteen hour stretches at the computer, and the result is frightful. Typically, I reach this stage of the book just as another is published and needs promoting, so this swamp monster has to have an extreme make-over to go on show. In the days immediately leading up to shooting the promo video for Kiss and Tell (as seen this website), I was writing The Love Letter around the clock in the dead sheep jumper.
Thankfully that’s not yet the case as we head for HOYS, although I have been beavering away excitedly at the plot for the new book all week, and simply can wait until I really start to bring the characters to life, that magical moment in any writer’s working life when a group of imaginary friends suddenly feel real. I always know that’s happened when I can be reduced to tears of laughter talking about scenes that I would love to write them into, but in which they would be entirely out of context (my editor and I are both guilty of weeping with glee over something I threatened to do to Lough in Kiss and Tell). Once I know the characters inside-out, it’s deliciously uplifting to make fun of them; it makes them more real somehow, and stops me taking myself of the book to seriously. Right now, I’m at the shy stage where I’m still making introductions and trying to find out what they have in common, like an over-eager hostess at a party. Give me another month or two and I’ll be mentally putting them in mankinis and leotards and making them play pass-the-orange-between-your-knees.
Another focus this week has been book jackets. Sphere have now shown me the new visual approach for The Love Letter which has led to a few lively conversations as we seek the perfect ‘Fiona Walker’ look, summing up warmth, humour, romance and fast-galloping plots. Like most authors, I have a mental picture of the cover I would love, which undoubtedly goes against all the flow charts and market research demographics that the publishing industry has at its disposal of how popular women’s fiction should be packaged. One really has to take all those statistics on board, particularly in the current climate, so I’m well aware that I’m a small part of a large team who creates the finished ‘look’. However, it would be fascinating to know what readers who like my work would envisage on the book jackets if you had carte blanche? This could be something entirely original, or a look that another author already has. And which of my covers do you like/dislike most? Please do drop me a line or leave a comment if you have time. I promise to post our findings in a forthcoming blog, and to pass on any winning ideas to the dynamic Little Brown creative team.