Downton Abbey in Modern Dress?

February 4, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

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Image 18Authors write sequels for many reasons, but That Summer in Cornwall, just published January 31 as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes/iBook, (print version available in March, 2013), came about because I always wondered what happened to the Anglo-American couple, the former Blythe Barton Stowe, and the life peer, Sir Lucas Teague after they joined forces to save the slightly down-at-the-heels Barton Hall from financial ruin at the end of my bestselling A Cottage by the Sea.Ciji in front of Caerhays Caslte nr. Mevagissey - Version 2

When a storyline “ten years later” began to percolate in my mind, I set off last October to reacquaint myself with the original “Barton Hall”—the wonderful Caerhays Castle perched on a cliff in mid-Cornwall overlooking the moody English Channel where Blythe had escaped to Painter’s Cottage to rid herself of the paparazzi chasing one of Tinseltown’s juicier scandals.  Soon, I began worrying what life would be like—now– for the almost-illegitimate child, Janet, born to Blythe’s first husband, the “cinematic genius” Christopher Stowe, and Blythe’s sister, Ellie Barton—the pair who blew Blythe’s marriage to smithereens in the first book.

 

IMG_6526It was so wonderful to be back along the coast of Cornwall, which stretches as far as the eye can see some one hundred miles across the water from the French coast of Brittany. This region is actually the land of my own Ware forebears, so there was an added incentive to return to the territory I’d visited several times in the last fifteen years when researching A Cottage by the Sea.IMG_6352

For the new novel, I was now able to “book in” at Caerhays Castle in the wonderful Bottom Lodge, the gatekeeper’s cottage across from Portluney Beach, a smugglers favorite landing spot in days of yore.  I was also there to research the remarkable world of volunteer search and rescue teams in Cornwall, including the amazing “air-scenting” dogs who find people who plunge off cliffs, down deserted mine shafts, or get lost on the moors.

The surprise more than a decade later was to see how beautifully the model for the fictional Barton Hall depicted in both novels had been cared for since my last visit, now that “paying guests” helped keep the coffers filled at this eight-hundred acre estate whose village church is some seven hundred years old!IMG_6478

Faced with the same problems confronting Julian Fellowes’ characters in Downton Abbey, the owners of Caerhays grappled with the notion of offering members of the public the opportunity to come to shoot pheasant in autumn, see the glorious Rhododendron gardens in spring, and pause for a nice “cuppa” in the castle courtyard when the weather is fine.  The owners appear to have made a wonderful transition from “To the Manor Born” to “Open for Business”—and I wish them every success as they, like the Crawleys of Downton, seek–and find–new ways to make these enormous houses “sustainable.”IMG_6404

Booksellers, Historical Fiction, & “Hand-Selling”

October 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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I remember walking into the (now) 83-year-old independent Tecolote Bookshop in Montecito, California–seen here hosting Thomas Steinbeck at a signing–to show them the galleys for the first edition of A Cottage by the Sea.  My favorite member of the small sales force peered at the title and then suddenly clutched the Advanced Reader’s Copy to her bosom and said with a sigh, “Oooooh, a cottage by the sea…every woman’s fantasy!”

I was extremely gratified to hear this as I was in a fierce battle with the book’s original publisher about the title.  “They” wanted to change it, and I loved it and wanted to keep it.

I immediately sent an emergency fax (that’s how long ago this was) to the editor, recounting exactly what I’ve told you.

I knew this anecdote would have some weight because the scuttlebutt was that Tecolote was one of the up-market independent booksellers out West that the New York Times Sunday Book Review called to measure sales for its bestsellers’ list.  I have no idea if that is true, but it was an accolade from an important store and, bless the hardworking staff there, it carried enough clout with the editors and marketers in New York to retain the book’s title!

Every since that time, I have done my best to support and get to know the booksellers at both independent bookshops, like my local Habitat Books seen here, as well as the chain bookstore staffs in my area.

Historical novels, whether made of paper or downloaded onto  an electronic reading device, are successful in great part due to this “hand-selling,” and I’ve been grateful for the fifteen years that A Cottage by the Sea has been in print in its various editions that booksellers have apparently given it a personal boost and created that “buzz” that can really make a difference in sales.

Just this morning I was walking with a friend down our main thoroughfare where the tourists stroll as soon as they step off the ferry from San Francisco, and lo and behold, there was the beautiful edition (and new cover) of Cottage–out since June of this year from Sourcebooks Landmark–up-front-and-center in the window of the store!  I’ve met the owner, but hadn’t had a chance to go in and try to twist her arm to stock the book, to say nothing of begging her to put it in the window.

I handed my dog-walking pal my iPhone and said, “Quick! Take a snap, will you?  I want to prove to the world how the independents are truly independent!”  The owner chose to feature the book with no prompting from the author or publisher.

Books are sold by hand by these wonderful people who own bookstores…one book at a time. And now that the new edition of  Wicked Company, about a group of women playwrights whose works were produced to great success at London’s Covent Garden and Drury Lane theaters, is about to debut this month, I guess I should get busy, go into Habitat Books to show them the new cover, and introduce myself again….

I’ve done that recently at a local gift shop, It’s Out of Hand, whose owner, Christine Butler, I know well. Since we live in a maritime village facing San Francisco Bay, she put Cottage near the cash register with a sign “Signed by Local Author” and sells several copies a month talking about the similarities between Cornwall, England, where Cottage is set, and the California coasts along Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur.

Another lesson in “books are hand sold, one book at a time.”  Words to live by, I’d say.

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