Tuesday, 24 November 2020

My Year of Being Brave


My latest book, A WINTER’S DREAM, tells the story of Liberty who feels her life is stuck in a rut – so she challenges herself to say yes to everything for the month of December.

“Every opportunity, every invitation, I’ll accept. Every difficult dilemma, I won’t let myself go for the easy option. I’ll do the opposite instead. And every day I’ll do at least one thing that takes me out of my comfort zone.” 

A Winter’s Dream by Sophie Claire.

Since the story is about being brave and overcoming your fears, I decided that the best way to research this was to have a year of being brave myself. Gulp.

I needed to feel the fear exactly like my character would, I needed to experience how it felt to dig deep and find the courage to overcome difficult hurdles. So I began by thinking hard about what we find scary, and a quick poll on Facebook made me realise that it’s different for everyone. Yes, the obvious ones are heights and parachute jumps, and spiders and insects featured heavily too, but my biggest fear is getting up to speak in public. 

It terrifies me.

I chose not to make a speech at my wedding, I was a nervous wreck when I had to give presentations for work, and I would do anything rather than find myself on a stage, tongue-tied with a room full of faces all watching me.

So that was obviously going to be my first challenge, then!

I booked myself on a course for honing your presentation skills, and although it was fun (especially the bit where I had to read aloud whilst having socks thrown at me!) and I learned some useful tips, I was still nervous. 

Then I won a short story competition and was invited to read my work at the awards ceremony. It would have been so easy to say I wasn't available – but just like Liberty I made myself do the opposite and accepted the invitation. I followed the advice I’d learned of practising, and speaking slowly and loudly. I also printed my story in an enormous font so I could read it easily. I was really nervous beforehand. Would I mess it up? Stumble over my words?

ddd
Chester Prize for Literature 2019

The big day came and I was even more nervous when I discovered there was no podium to hide behind and no microphone either. My legs were shaking so much I was sure everyone would see. 

But I did it.

I read clearly and didn’t mumble or get tongue-tied, and afterwards people came to tell me how much they’d enjoyed my story. I was by no means the best speaker – one lady read with such expression it was liking watching an actress at work and I was full of admiration – but I did ok.

The relief was overwhelming. And the sense of achievement too. I’d surprised myself and I was elated. If I could do this, what else could I do that I’d never dared try before? Suddenly the world didn’t seem such a frightening place after all.

What else did I do in my year of being brave? Well, on a research trip to Provence I drove a hire car in France for the first time. Driving on the right-hand side was the trickiest part, and getting used to the gearstick on the right took some time. I also left the Sat Nav in French mode rather than English because this was not the easy option, but great research. And I managed, even if I did drive up one particularly windy mountain road in 2nd gear all the way! (I used that experience in the book).

My year of being brave brought some great memories, and my confidence really grew as a result. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone was fabulous research for my book, and the sense of achievement when I accomplished something I hadn’t thought possible was unbeatable. 

But it's not over yet. 

For the month of December I'm going to follow Liberty's example and say YES to challenges set for me by friends and family. There'll be around half a dozen, and they will include:

  • running 10km
  • a sewing challenge (Liberty's a keen quilter)  
  • a baking challenge to make the 13 desserts of Christmas (a Provencal tradition mentioned in the book)

You can follow my progress on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And perhaps you'll be inspired to challenge yourself too? (Let me know if you do, and I'll cheer you on!) 

I must admit, I'm quite daunted by the prospect of facing these challenges: there will be nowhere to hide if I don't succeed in them. But I've learned that half the battle is being willing to simply have a go.  So here's to a month of being brave. Wish me luck!

Sophie.x


Sophie’s latest book, A WINTER’S DREAM, is available in Tesco, online and in bookshops.

Amazon

Bookshop.org

Monday, 8 June 2020

What a Difference 5 Years Makes!

Remember this?

I didn’t realise it had been so long, but Facebook recently reminded me that this was published 5 years ago! Which is timely – because today the paperback is out of A FORGET-ME-NOT SUMMER!

Small-town florist Natasha is determined to leave the past far behind her. But when she learns her ex-husband never told his family about their divorce — and that he needs her to accompany him on a trip to the French countryside — could love bloom again between them?

It’s a re-release with my new publisher, Hodder. The same book, but not the same.

Let me explain.

You might recall that I signed a 3-book deal with Hodder last year (read about it here) including this book. However, it was 55,000 words long and the norm in women’s fiction is 80-90,000, so they asked me to make it longer.

At first I found it a daunting prospect. I wanted the story to carry the reader along and keep the ‘will they/won’t they’ romantic tension, so I definitely didn’t want to pad it out with unnecessary scenes or description. Also, my editor and I agreed that we didn’t want the story to change too dramatically because it had previously sold well with good reviews.

But as I read the book again, I realised there was so much in my head which hadn’t made it to the page the first time round. Backstory about Natasha and Luc, and memories of their brief relationship in the past. Scenes with Luc’s family which revealed more about him, his qualities and flaws. I added all this, and it was great to give the secondary characters more room on the page too. One of the young children rather stole the show with his desire to teach Natasha how to speak French, and Luc’s father showed himself to be a mischievous devil!

Several Provencal dishes were mentioned in the story too, so I included my own family recipes, some of which were passed down to me from my French Grandmère.

I also added more twists in the plot: complications and obstacles for the characters to overcome.

But the essence of the story is the same.

Natasha and Luc have a shared history and so much pain to work through. However, they’re older now and Natasha’s success as a florist has given her a confidence she never had before. Luc is surprised by this, but he respects her all the more for it. And spending time together in France brings flashes of tension – but also of understanding. Of connection and chemistry that never really went away. Neither of them wants to risk their heart again, but what if they can’t help it?

Extending the book turned out to be a really satisfying experience. It was like revisiting old friends in that dreamy chateau in Provence surrounded by vineyards and fields of sunflowers in the shimmering heat of summer.

If you read it the first time round, I’d love to know what you think of this new longer version. And if you haven’t read my books before, this is the perfect place to start. My books can all be read standalone, but they’re linked by the heroines who are friends and chronologically Natasha’s story in A FORGET-ME-NOT SUMMER happens first.

In a year when most of us are unlikely to travel overseas, I hope my readers will enjoy being transported to the heat and sunshine of summer in Provence.

Happy reading!

Sophie.x

www.sophieclaire.co.uk 


Sophie’s latest book, A FORGET-ME-NOT SUMMER, is available from your local bookshop, Amazon & Tesco stores.

 


Friday, 5 July 2019

Publishing Process Part 3 – Proofs & Cover Artwork

This is the third in my series of posts about the publishing process (you can read the first and second here) with a traditional publisher. As I take you through my journey, I hope to demystify the process and give you an idea of the work which goes into getting a book ready to hit the shelves.

Proofs



Checking the proofs is the final stage in getting the text of a book ready for the printer's. The manuscript was sent to me and a proofreader simultaneously, and by now it was all laid out like a book rather than the word document we’d previously been working from.



Hodder sent me a physical copy as well as digital, which was really handy because I find it’s much easier to spot mistakes on a printed page. I picked up some little errors: missing speech marks or commas, the occasional word which had accidentally been left in after the copy-edit stage. Previously, these are the kinds of things that would have irritated me as a reader, but now I’ve seen how extensively a book is amended and tweaked, I understand how easily they can slip through. Hopefully, having been through the rigorous process of being checked and double-checked by different professionals, the text will be perfect.

The proofs were about checking the fine detail of the text, but meanwhile another team of people were working on a more creative element: the book’s cover...

Cover Art


This is the initial black and white sketch which my editor sent me, along with colour samples showing the wintery blue colours and warm glowing lights the team were proposing for a colour scheme. This layout was the work of the designer, Natalie Chen, and I was delighted to approve it.


An illustrator, Giordano Poloni, was then commissioned to produce the scene on the front and back of jacket. It focuses on the fictional English Cotswold village of Willowbrook, where my story begins, with the main characters depicted as silhouettes at the front. Again, I was thrilled with the design. My only request, when this came through, was would it be possible to incorporate sewing elements, since the main character, Evie, owns a patchwork and quilting shop? Sewing plays an important part in the story, and Evie’s quilts and handmade creations are woven into the plot, so I was keen for this to be included in the artwork somehow. The designer came back with this:


Isn’t it beautiful? My book is described as ‘cosy women’s fiction’, and I think this cover encapsulates that perfectly. And the buttons and sewing needle were a stroke of genius!

Here’s the back cover:


What do you think? Can you see how already a whole group of people have worked closely on preparing my book for publication? Their expert contributions have all helped to refine it and package it in the most compelling way possible, and I feel privileged to be part of the Hodder team. I can't wait to hear what readers think of it when it's released in September.


Sophie.x


The Christmas Holiday will be published 19th September 2019 and is available for preorder here

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