It has arrived at last: publication day for The Lost Book of the Grail. I am looking forward to getting out there on the road and sharing my thoughts about the book with you and of course I’ll be excited to hear your reactions when you have read it. But on publication day, I make a tradition of saying “thank you” to all those who helped make a book possible. I do this by reprinting the acknowledgements from the back of the book. I hope this will not only express my gratitude to so many who help and support me, but also will encourage you to always read an author’s acknowledgements. We put a lot of thought into those words and they, perhaps more than any others in the book, are truly spoken from the heart. Thank you for reading my blog and (I hope) for buying and reading my book. And a special thanks to those below.
This continues my series of blogs on my favorite English cathedrals—buildings and communities from which I drew inspiration for my novel The Lost Book of the Grail, published by Viking on February 28.
This week’s choice is a complete departure from all that has come before—Durham, Winchester, Salisbury, and Wells were all fine medieval building, whereas Coventry Cathedral was built between 1956 and 1962, but therein lies a tale. Coventry was the site of a medieval cathedral, built as a parish church in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries and raised to cathedral status in 1918 when the Diocese of Coventry was created. But that St. Michael’s Cathedral, created during wartime, would only last until the next war.
My fictional cathedral city of Barchester (and yes, that’s the same fictional city created by Anthony Trollope in the 1850s) needed a founder. In my novel The Lost Book of the Grail, the reader encounters bits and pieces of the history of Barchester from the beginnings in Saxon times through invasions by Vikings and Normans, the upheavals of the Reformation and the Civil War, and even the Nazi bombings of World War II. But through all that history I wanted the spirit of the founder to permeate, and I wanted the founder to be a woman.
Many English medieval cathedrals, originally built in the Norman style, were eventually rebuilt (owing to fire, earthquake, or just the generosity of some fashion loving bishop) in later more light and airy styles like Decorated or Perpendicular. Not so for large chunks of Durham, which retain their Norman weightiness. Some would call it gloom—the Normans had not yet mastered the building technology that allowed for large windows—but I love it. There is an ancient feel to Durhams massive columns and rounded arches that exceeds the soaring gothic masterpieces of later centuries.
This is the second in a series of blogs inspired by book clubs’ asking me questions about my writing process. Last week I wrote about the thinking process that goes on before I actually sit down to write—a process that can take several months or longer. Today, I’d like to address a particular part of that process—research. Many of my books have a historical element and some characters based on real people (William Shakespeare in The Bookman’s Tale or Jane Austen in First Impressions, for example). Before I write these people and the places they are associated with, I want to find out a little (but not too much) about them.
I was standing in the office of my wonderful editor Kathryn Court at Penguin books when I first saw the mock-up for the cover of First Impressions. Apparently several previous designs had been rejected before my arrival and this one had just arrived a few minutes earlier. Everyone in the room immediately sensed that it was right. There are wonderful details in the design that one might not fully appreciate until reading the book—but I’ll let you find those for yourself. I did not ask where the painting of the English country home at the bottom of the dust jacket had come from. I assumed it was just a stock item from an image bank. It worked well in the design and that was all that mattered . . . or so I thought.
It’s publication day for my second novel with Viking Press, First Impressions; A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen. Before you read this blog, run out and buy a copy! Have you bought it? Good. Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—please read the acknowledgements. Writing a manuscript might be a lonely solo endeavor, but creating a book is a team effort and the acknowledgements are where the author gets to thank some of the members of the team. Of course, lead time being what it is, there are names that I do not learn until after it is too late to include them, so to the list below I would add Kristen Haff who designed the beautiful dust jacket as well as book designer Sabrina Bowers. To thank the rest of the team, here are my acknowledgements as they appear in the book you just bought (no spoilers, I promise).
Last week I wrote a little about my inspiration for my upcoming novel about books, love, and Jane Austen, First Impressions. Now I’d like to point out that, just because you see and event or a house in the text that reminds you of something from my life, it doesn’t mean I am writing about you in the book. Case in point. In the early pages of First Impressions, Sophie’s mother hosts a sculpture show in her garden. The show is described like this:
It’s one of the questions I hear most often when I speak at bookstores, schools, and festivals: Where did you get the idea for your novel. It’s complicated, because there is no one idea that makes a novel. A novel is built from hundreds or even thousands of ideas, and they don’t all come from the same place. But let me try to field that question as it pertains to my upcoming novel, First Impressions. I can at least tell you about the genesis and some of my process.
It seems that Jane Austen was always in my house. My father, now retired, was an English Professor at Wake Forest University for the first forty years of my life, and his specialty was the eighteenth century. True, Jane Austen’s novels were not published until the early nineteenth century, but her work was very much a part of his syllabus and he often talked about her.