Thursday, 26 April 2012

A Deep Breath in London

BREATHE Welcome Thank you for coming out tonight Thank you to Tim and Simon for having me Lovely to see you all I’ll just get used to being up here, talk a little about my book, then it’s prosecco time BREATHE My daughter said that as I’ve written a funny book about sex in Italy that I should be able to give a funny talk about sex in Italy. I don’t know that it’s going to be so easy. This is my first published novel and my first book launch, so please excuse my shakiness. BREATHE I’ll speak briefly about three things: confusing the narrator with the author and how not to do this; working with an independent publisher at a time when everybody is writing about vampires or sugar-free erotica; and then I’ll read a little and send you off to have a drink. BREATHE My name is Catherine, I am Australian from Sydney. I ran away to Paris when I was 21 thinking I was Simone de Beauvoir. I WASN’T. I ended up babysitting and writing my first novel above a sweatshop, then hanging out in the square listening to the Congolese ladies, and pushing a pram all the way around Paris so I wouldn’t have to do baby things. I think I was the worst babysitter in the world. I married young and spent the next 15 or so years between Europe and Africa, with nine years in Accra. I don’t talk about any of this in the book. Although it is throughout my book of short stories which is coming out next year, so maybe if we don’t spill too many drinks I’ll be here again next year.
My character in The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy is not me at all. The book is written in the first person and my character is called Marilyn Wade. But she has curves AND I DO NOT. She is half-Hungarian and English and I am a total mongrel like most colonial-descended Australians. Like my character, I also lived in Milan for a year and a half BUT I was a young fiancée pretending to teach English, whereas Marilyn is a faded divorcee who has been dumped. BREATHE WHY DOES MARILYN COME TO ITALY TO RESET HER LIFE? There is a rumour in her neighbourhood that a divorced woman called Jean Harper went on a singles tour to South America and met a Milanese solicitor who swept her off her feet. The rumour was that she’d had a love child and had moved to Milan. Marilyn takes off to Milan, leaving her ex-husband with his new lover, her teenagers in school, and starts her kinky transition involving ESPRESSO AND LINGUISTICS. She comes across a cheeky Australian and her virile agronomist lover, a bi-sexual benefactor from Hong Kong who gives her an unlikely job, a Swiss model agency director with an obsession for waif models, a Nigerian immigrant who sells Vietnamese socks. It is a romance for TIRED MOTHERS OR LATE BLOOMERS or people who are curious to see what it’s like to live in today’s Italy – where there are naked dancing girls on television and in parliament, and the country has been turned into a modern day Fellini film by Mr. Berlusconi.
WHY DID I END UP WRITING THIS BOOK AND TELLING THIS STORY? About four years ago I was bogged down in the revisions of a big novel set in Ghana and a friend suggested I write something set in Italy, something funny. I’ve not read many funny books and had hardly read any chick lit at all, but Emily set my wheels turning. I drove back to my place from hers – from Treviso to Albettone about an hour and a half on a white-hot summer morning – and by the time I reached home I had a title and a first line. I set myself up in the chicken shed next to house with my laptop and extension cord, so I couldn’t hear my kids. I wrote until it was too cold to stay outside and I think I was finished by winter. The title and the first line stayed the same. BREATHE WORKING WITH AN INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER AND HOW BLODDY HARD IT IS TO GET PUBLISHED IF YOU DON’T WRITE ABOUT VAMPIRES When I was young I assumed I would burst onto the literary scene and become another Simone de Beauvoir. It didn’t happen, as I told you. So I went to Africa and had babies. BREATHE When I came back to Europe nine years ago I took a while to get back to writing. A novel – even a bad novel – really takes YEARS to produce, then there are years of rejection, depression, divorces, kids, boyfriends AND SKIING LESSONS. When I finished The Divorced Lady’s Companion I thought it would be easier to publish women’s commercial than a literary work, BUT IT WAS JUST AS HARD! Many books in the chick lit category are written ABOUT thirty-year-old career women BY thirty-year-old women with careers. I read a few and couldn’t help thinking that there was a cut-off point in what was being published. There were less stories about over40s – which is when I think things get really challenging. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE TODDLERS START GETTING TATTOOS, what happens when you have wrinkles galore, and your prime is behind you rather than stretching out into the sunset? At one point I was thinking of the Eat Pray Love market without the praying and the self-analysis (I saw it in the aeroplane to Australia). I was convinced there would be an interest in an older woman’s story about teenagers, ex-husbands, new lovers and finding A DECENT WAY TO GROW OLDER without resorting to botox or finishing up on an ashram. BREATHE And so I submitted and submitted and submitted.
I was lucky that when I submitted to my publisher they were just starting out with a fiction list after establishing themselves in the poetry field. They were enthusiastic from the start and it’s just like those articles you read – they are warm and friendly and working together has been completely pain-free. Being a smaller company it’s been up to me how much I want to try to market the novel beyond the indie book scene and I’ve tried hard online and hope it brings some results. Independent books don’t always make it into the newspapers, and independent books don’t always make massive sales. And in a market that’s always hungry for the next-best-thing A LOT OF THEM run on love and belief and not economics. I say all this because I want you to think about the people who write, produce and sell ODD REWARDING books that don’t talk about vampires or provide sugar-free erotica. BREATHE
Lastly, DO REMEMBER TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOPS! The bookselling industry is changing rapidly at the moment with the expansion of ebook publishing and online book buying. I’m guilty of it too – I live in the Italian countryside and I love receiving my used Amazon books and I have a 10kg luggage limit with Ryan air, so I won’t be bringing many books home with me. But if you’re here tonight you’re probably a book lover anyway so do continue to savour independent bookshops. Hang out in them, order your copies from them. Go inside and order my book! Thank you I’ll now read two short excerpts and then I’ll ask any questions you may have. --- ps: Thank you Downith! AND AN ENORMOUS PROSECCO GRAZIE TO TIM AND SIMON OF THE BIG GREEN BOOKSHOP IN LONDONTOWN!!!

26 comments:

  1. You look gorgeous and happy and published !!! Congratulations again - wish I could have made it and thank YOU!! Xo

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    1. Yes Downith wish you'd have been able to make it but your thoughts and warmth were with me! Thanks again. It was a great trip and hope to be back soon for some book signings and summer lit festivals... and better weather of course! Xxcat

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    2. You really do, you look PUBLISHED! And I'm totally stealing the BREATHE inserts if I am ever expected to read in public.

      So excited for you, Cat! Congratulations again.

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    3. Oh Averil thank you! And thanks for having me on your blog. I think the secret is to have a full glass and a big smile. Xxxcat

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  2. Oh no, where did my comment go! I'll try again ....

    This looks like the happiest reading I've ever seen. And next time I have to speak in public, I'm copying your strategy with the BREATHE inserts. Funny how we forget to do that.

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    1. Thanks Teri! Glad you got through to the other side (meaning your comment arrived safe and sound!)

      In the end I was so relaxed I didn't totally keep to the speech, though I needed it for backup! It was indeed a great and warm-spirited night.

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    2. Thanks, too, for the Trastavere neighborhood suggestion. That's where we've decided to stay while we're there in July.

      Looking forward to your book arriving on my doorstep.

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    3. I know you will love it there. I'll be in Rome next month for book promotion but sadly I'll miss you in July. Make sure you try Venice or Milan next time.

      Now that I think of it there is a chapter in the book set in Rome that you might enjoy. Hang on, there are two!

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  3. I love the breath inserts. I may adopt them for every day use.

    Congratulations, Cat! You are beautiful!!!!

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    1. So glad you were able to comment. I even have BREATHE written all over my piano music - must be something I forget to do.

      And today I hooked up with a cool bookshop in town and might be doing a talk/signing in Italian!

      RESPIRA RESPIRA RESPIRA

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  4. Cat,
    Thank you for posting this in full. I wish I could have been there in person, but I know, just know you did wonderfully. Can't wait for the post about how you did, how you felt. Congrats, my friend.

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    1. Thank you Lyra! It was totally Downith's idea to post the speech - I've been too frantic and beery-headed to think. I do wish you could all have come too! That would have been something. But somehow the support and warmth was there you know, it really was.

      Yes I will have a natter next week about the rain, the bookmarks, raspberry cocktails on the skyline and a Japanese room full of male sexual organs at the Tate!

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  5. Congratulations!! It sounds like it was a great night and I enjoyed reading your speech!

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    1. Thanks Sara! It really was fun. I'm ready for more of this!

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  6. It's just like I was there! Almost. Without the being able to whoops and cheer and laugh at all the appropriate moments (oh vampires. It needs to stop. I hear the next things is "angels"? Shoot me now) and beg you for an autograph and then eat delicious things and laugh and congratulate you endlessly!

    I can congratulate you endlessly here, though. And WHEN YOU COME BACK TO AUSTRALIA FOR A VISIT. End caps lock. xoxo

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    1. Dearest Hannah,

      Weren't you the girl at the back with the big glass of prosecco? I thought it was you, nodding along with my Australian accent...I'm sure you were there you know.

      Thanks so much it was a fab and fruitful week, didn't really want to come home. I assure you I will be out to Australia for the Oz release so you will be first on my invitation list!!
      xxxcat

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    2. Oh yes, that was me, you clever woman! I've now added Prosecco to my list of able-to-drink drinks, along with Rose and Chardonnay.

      What a lovely dream... :)

      Teehee, I'm going to hold you to that! First on the list and a backstage pass, right? But we won't tell my mum ;) xoxo

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    3. I promise! But do make sure WG lets you read the copy I sent over. Then you can add caffè corretto to your naughty list! Xxxcat

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    4. Absolutely! I've finally started reading Lolita for the first time and have promised a friend to read Game of Thrones, but I've got my eye on the real prize too! ;)

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    5. Lolita! I read that years ago and it was obsessive. You're right I really think I must read it again. So much to read nd I am such a snail when I'm working. Can't wait for Corsica this summer! Xxcat

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  7. This is so exciting! Congratulations on your successful event. You look fantastic and your presentation was engaging and entertaining. I am so happy for you. Now I need to go buy that book!!

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    1. Dear Lisa,

      I do hope you enjoy it. I'm willing to bet you will have a good laugh. I think your kinky sense of humour and mine could become good friends!

      Xxcat

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  8. A questo punto ti auguro CASCATE DI PROSECCO!!! Perchè a Londra è stato solo l'inizio della tua avventura! Sei davvero in gamba e sei splendida, la tua presentazione è stata un successo...ma è solo il primo capitolo di un GRANDE SUCCESSO!!! AUGURI CAT!!! Complimenti!

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    1. Cara Rosy,
      Appena posso vengo su per un po' di ossigeno che a Londra non c'è! Grazie per le tue belle parole, è stata una serata semplice e calda e - per me - indimenticabile.
      Baci per te! cat

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  9. Yay!! I loved seeing those BREATHE inserts. That's really what it's like, feeling like you're going so fast and have to remember to come up for air. I'm giving a terrifying presentation next week and will remember this. Congratulations to you, you're an inspiration!

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    1. No YOU are an inspiration! My copy of Living Arrangement has arrived and is sitting pleased on my bookshelf. Looking forward to reading your short stories!

      Good luck with the big presentation. I realise I have a long way to go but this was a good, enriching start.

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