02 Jul 2013 / My Arvon Week
Ginny Vere-Nicoll on her writing journey from Arvon to self-publishing
I came to Arvon, to Totleigh Barton in Devon, on a cold winter’s night in November 2006, I think, or perhaps it was 2007. It seems so long ago and so much has happened since but – that ‘achieving’ week was one of the best experiences of my life.
There were sixteen of us, a diverse mix of literary students, plus our two lovely published authors teaching us – Maggie Gee and Julia Bell. The friendly welcoming Arvon staff did everything they possibly could to help us and – to make our course so rewarding and so much fun.
I had two manuscripts, with both story lines finished, but I had no idea how to ‘polish’ them ready for publication. It took three days to fathom out, exactly, what I was being taught. On the fourth I went for a long walk and suddenly I got my head around the seemingly insurmountable problems. I remember that moment so well and I was so excited to be able to enlighten my patient teachers, with this small triumph. ‘I’ve got it – now I understand what you are telling me’, when next I had my ‘one to one’ tutorial!
Every one of us, on that course, was writing something completely different and at a different stage along the ever changing, difficult journey to getting published.
When I left after that great week Maggie Gee’s words came with me and they have nourished and sustained me ever since. ‘You write a good story Ginny, it may take a long time but – you will be published’.
My first book, The Smile, a mystery love story set mostly in Italy, was published by a company based here in Oxford, in June 2008. Just as my book was due out, it became known that they were in trouble, the company were then taken over and the new outfit cleared off to the US pretty much washing their hands of all their responsibilities to us horrified authors! So – best foot forward and I was lucky enough to have been given a wonderful launch at One Tree Books in Petersfield, (in spite of the fact that the book was still being printed in Canada one week before our celebratory date!) From then on I had to learn to do everything myself, networking, marketing, shipping – all of it. The company in the US still print my book and it sells online at amazon – I see it, even as far afield as in the mountains of Switzerland, but receive next to nothing in the way of royalties. ‘Put it down to a bad experience Ginny’, said Tim O’Kelly from One Tree Books, ‘and learn from it’. I did.
My next book Under The Olives followed in 2010 – Random House took a positive interest and then said that ‘Unfortunately, although we liked the book, we have now decided that, given the world situation, we are not now taking on any more ‘unknowns’ at present’. So, onwards ever onwards – having learnt a lot, been let down so badly with The Smile and with much encouragement from Tim, and Darren at Kerrytype Printers in Midhurst, I decided to do it all myself and created ‘Feel Good Books’. My graphic designer daughter creates eye catching covers using only our art own work and how important this has turned out to be. I had another great launch at One Tree Books and they won the ‘Best Book Shop Of The Year’ award the following week! I had a second launch in the Ionian islands; in a restaurant on a beach! The lovely Greek people covered the whole area in olive leaves and branches. They even gave me an olive tree to take home, with some difficulty, but its here and flourishing! To this day the tourists are still buying the book out there and the Greeks hum the alluring song of ‘Under The Olives’.
It’s been a huge learning curve; the ups and downs have been frequent but the ups progressively more rewarding and I think that I now know my own limitations. I have met many interesting people, along the way, who have been extraordinarily generous with their help and virtually all my readers’ feedback has been reward in itself. My third novel The Coldest Night Of the Year set in the snow clad mountains of Switzerland, was published last year. The jacket of this one is from my own water colour – the location of the most dramatic happening in the book, as I see it in my head! It was in every window of a twelve shop chain in the south of England this last Christmas, which was an amazing and much appreciated boost, particularly as it was followed by Under The Olives this last Easter and indeed again now for the summer season. I so well remember the day when I said to a friend, as we walked past a certain bookshop, ‘I would be so thrilled to see my creation in a shop window’! This friend, Tobiah, has since composed songs for three of my books, two which you can also hear on my website.
Doing the research for my books has been both stimulating and enriching. I have just returned from Scotland where I was working on my next novel Loch Island. In the book there is a scene set on the night sleeper train. I was thrilled that, with the help of my friend/editor, who is frequently on that train, and the generosity of ScotRail they actually very kindly gave this struggling author a first class, return sleeper ticket! I hired a car in Aberdeen and travelled two thousand miles in six days! The new novel is set on and off the north Western coast and on the beautiful Island of Skye. Both the seals and Dunvegan Castle with its mystical legends, surrounding the ‘Fairy Flag’, were irresistible and I fell in love with it all.
My journey overall has been a positive, creative and enjoyable experience, full of hope and excitement for an ‘author/self publisher’ person such as me. We have a great future. There are so many choices out there now that technology has advanced so far. I personally don’t want to take on the world. Were I younger I might – no, I do realise my capabilities and I know that I’d need a team to get out there further. But what I have now achieved is enough and I wouldn’t want to lose control of what I have built. I pay off my costs and seem to always have enough for the next print run. I have a lot of fun at diverse and interesting events and have made many friends in my writing groups – The East Hampshire Writer, the brand new, online The Writers Room and in the book world in general. Also I do have a fairly large, time consuming family to consider!
Writing is my escape to another place. I strive to take my readers with me, to that place; to introduce them to my fictional characters in the hope that, by the end of the book, they too will feel better for the experience.
Arvon was a great beginning and if Maggie Gee and Julia Bell; or the cheerful Arvon staff of my year, should ever get to read this – then I’d like to say a big ‘Thank You’ again – for a brilliant week and – for helping make it all happen for me.
Ginny Vere Nicoll – author/publisher
Ginny Vere Nicoll’s three ‘feel good’ works of fiction are available online at amazon; at all the ‘Between the Lines’ chain of shops in the south of England, in many bookshops and to order everywhere. Her fourth novel ‘Loch Island’ will be available in the autumn of 2014.
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