I am handing over ‘Meet The Authors’ pages this week, to Jane Cable, whose book ‘The Cheesemaker’s House’, was one one of the first I acquired from NetGalley, to which I am now well and truly addicted.
I am however, simply unable to resist getting to know the author a little better before I start reading, especially if they happen to be a new author, with a debut novel to talk about.
I therefore took the step of contacting Jane, where I asked her to talk about herself and the book in a bit more detail … here’s what she had to say!
Over to you Jane ..
Perhaps writing is in my blood. My father, Mercer Simpson, was a poet; my cousin, Roger Hubank, a novelist; Roger’s uncle, John Hampson was also a novelist and fringe member of the Bloomsbury Group. It is even rumoured that John Keats is somewhere back there in the family tree.
It is therefore no wonder that I have always scribbled. But it took me until I was in my forties to complete a full length manuscript. And then another, and another… Writing stories became a compulsive hobby. I could lose herself in my characters, almost live their lives, and I started to long for readers other than my mother and a few close friends to be able to do the same.
I have a degree in Communication Studies and worked in PR in my twenties, although my career now is nothing to do with writing. When I was almost thirty, I retrained as a Chartered Accountant, meeting my future husband in the process, and for the last 13 years I have run my own business. Apart from being very rewarding, most of the time it means I can squeeze a few hours into every day to write.
It was reaching the final of The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition in 2011 which made me take my writing seriously. I was signed by a big name agent straight away, but after a while realised he wanted ‘The Cheesemaker’s House’ turned into a thriller, so we parted company. Another agent was seriously interested but wanted the book re-written as a pure romance – and that was something I wasn’t prepared to do. Slowly I realised that however good my book was, unless it fitted neatly into a genre, it was never going to be taken up by a mainstream publisher. I went to a self publishing conference organised by the Writers & Artists Yearbook and was inspired by the speakers to publish independently myself. It seemed the only way for the book I had written to reach a wider public.
What is important, are the character’s personalities and although as I wrote the book I got to know them very well, there were times when they still surprised me, times when they wrote their own lines as we went along. It’s a wonderful feeling when that happens – you know you are really under their skins.
‘The Cheesemaker’s House’ was inspired by a framed will found in the dining room of my dream Yorkshire house. The previous owners explained that the house had been built at the request of the village cheesemaker in 1726 – and that the cheesemaker was a woman. And so the historical aspect of the story was born.
INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING: putting the reader centre stage
I’m writing this shortly after the WH Smith website (one of the UK’s largest chain of book-sellers), came back on line after removing the self-published ‘filth’ berated by the Daily Mail (one of the largest UK national daily newspapers). Was my independently published book, The Cheesemaker’s House, still there? Yes. I have to say I breathed a sigh of relief. Not all the babies had been thrown out with the bathwater.
If it is a hard choice for an author to go it alone, then it’s even more difficult to come out of the closet and say so in public. Present company excepted, of course. Because here’s the rub; the virtual world of book bloggers and avid readers understands – in the ‘real’ world life is somewhat different.
I published The Cheesemaker’s House through Matador because I couldn’t find an agent who could sell the book. I found two who were prepared to represent me, and I could paper my study walls with rejection letters saying “you write well, but…” but the fact of the matter is that the novel is, within the strictures of the mainstream book world, unpublishable. Because it doesn’t fit into any particular genre.
Even from my current position I can understand this is a problem. To take Amazon as an example, the paperback is classified as contemporary fiction and the e-book (more precisely) as romance and thrillers / suspense. If I manage to persuade a local branch of Waterstones to stock it, which shelf will they put it on? And if it’s on the wrong one, then how will the right readers find it?
Here is the book on display in the window of my local gift shop ‘Present Surprise’ in Chichester.
When contacting potential agents, writers are always advised to be specific about their market and to name authors their books would sit alongside. Barbara Erskine? Oh, so it’s historical? Well no… not exactly. Kate Mosse? Well she’s from Chichester too and ‘The Winter Ghosts’ is one of my favourite books, but I don’t write like her in the least. So, to a degree, I can see what the big ticket publishers are saying.
But that doesn’t mean it’s right. By taking the low-risk-square-boxes line they are depriving readers of a great deal of excellent fiction. By assuming that if you enjoy chicklit then you’ll only ever read chicklit, they are dumbing down the whole business of publishing and frankly insulting a large number of book lovers. Many readers are crying out for something different and this is where independent publishing comes into its own.
Because anyone can self publish any book – and quite cheaply too by using Amazon and the like for ebooks – the quality is going to vary hugely. And I’m not being snobby about it; I just mean that poorly formatted books or those peppered with spelling mistakes turn many readers off. This is where the online review world is so important – to help readers sort the wheat from the chaff. And thankfully this world has embraced the independent author with open arms.
My contacts with bloggers and the comments following the ‘New on the Shelf’ post about The Cheesemaker’s House have made me realise that the independent publishing world has caught onto the online reviewers too, leaving them bombarded with material and having some tough choices to make. I am therefore doubly grateful that so many have read the book and taken the time to write about it; mostly favourably too.
Publishing is changing and the huge companies which dominate it will need to change too. Some are; some of the best self published novels have already been taken up and hit the mainstream. Some of the best self published writers have been given this option and refused. Slowly, authors are beginning to claw back some of the power in the industry and give readers a wider choice. And at the end of the day, the reader is who this business is all about.
It would be good to meet and speak with you, meantime why not check out …
‘THE CHEESEMAKER’S HOUSE’
The novel follows the life of Alice Hart, who escapes to the North Yorkshire countryside to recover after her husband runs off with his secretary. Battling with loneliness but trying to make the best of her new start, she soon meets her neighbours, including handsome builder Richard Wainwright and kind café owner Owen Maltby. As Alice employs Richard to start renovating the barn next to her house, all is not what it seems. Why does she start seeing Owen when he clearly isn’t there? Where – or when – does the strange crying come from? And if Owen is the village ‘charmer’, what exactly does that mean?
Thanks for stopping by Jane, it was such an interesting take on a much discussed topic and one which I am sure will rumble on for some time to come. I certainly never realised that setting a genre for a new book, was all so complicated (or made so by the powers that be!).