Most of you probably don’t know, but I was a book reviewer (on the side) in a past life. I am happy to put on my reviewing hat on today to share a great debut novel by a Bay Area author. Here is an excerpt:
“‘I’m not sleeping with her. It was just one time. One stupid bloody time. I’m so sorry.’
‘I don’t believe you. You knew about that goddamn purple wall.’ I was looking around wildly, seeking my escape route. I didn’t want to be in the same room with him.
‘All right, so I happened to see her bedroom! That doesn’t mean anything.’
‘No, it means everything.’ I was sobbing now. ‘It means I’ll never trust you again.’
I wish I’d had the panache to storm out of our apartment in an expensive cloud of Chanel perfume. I wish I’d owned a Louis Vuitton bag to grab on my way to check into a luxury hotel, where I’d instigate a passionate revenge fling with a nineteen-year-old bellboy. Unfortunately, I clambered off the sofa with pins and needles in my legs and tripped over my blankie instead. Then I trailed soggy tissues across the floor and locked myself in the bathroom, where my only company was a dog-eared copy of National Geographic.
I had followed my British husband – and his job – from London to California, but my own attempt at the American dream had flopped. I’d been working crazily, had failed to see my marriage falling apart, and felt like a total fool.
I certainly couldn’t afford to kick James out and stay in our apartment on my own. My so-called business was barely breathing. I had no idea how many months or years of scraping by might be ahead of me, if I attempted to build a list of design clients who weren’t going to thank me by stealing my husband. Did I have the energy to move out, find a job, and rebuild my life in the fast-moving world of Silicon Valley? What the heck was I doing in this country, anyway? All I wanted was to crawl under the bed covers and hide, preferably with a packet of imported Cadbury’s biscuits.
In the small, mocking hours of the next morning, I found myself unearthing a suitcase from the closet. With safety, seclusion and comfort food as my primary motives, I booked a flight home to England.”
I found Saving Saffron Sweeting to be a very engaging debut novel, with charming supporting characters (well, except one) and a well-crafted lead in the form of Grace Palmer. Her world has just come undone and it is a satisfying journey to see her go from being an isolated, emotional wreck to the self-assured and confident woman she is by the end of the book. The transformation doesn’t happen overnight; no magic wand or fairy godmother, instead we cheer Grace on with each small triumph and see her become her own best advocate.
The charm of the village and its inhabitants is plentiful, Ms. Wiles’s writing is polished and doesn’t get in its own way, and I am glad that she is planning further adventures for the people of Saffron Sweeting. If you are looking for a book to read this spring, I highly recommend Saving Saffron Sweeting.
I recently had the chance to ask Pauline a few questions:
1. Was the balance between writing of what you know (being an ex-pat, English vs. American idiosyncracies, etc.) and what was new an easy one to achieve?
For this book, I stuck pretty closely to what I know, although I’m happy to report the cheating husband plot line was fiction. Although Saffron Sweeting itself is fictional, I have visited all the real places in the book at least once and I took tonnes of weird photos on my last trip to England. Nonetheless, the small details still needed lots of research, including oddities such as locations of bio-tech companies, flight times to Manchester, and horse-racing protocol. And naturally, I had to research afternoon tea at Dukes Hotel with great care!
2. Saving Saffron Sweeting is your first novel – how was the writing process, and actually completing a book, different from what you had envisioned?
When I began the book, I definitely saw myself aiming for a ‘traditional’ publishing deal and pitching the novel to an agent. However, as I got further through it, impatience and irreverence took over; I decided that readers should be the ultimate judge of whether my work is enjoyable. My age had something to do with it, too: I needed to speed this career choice up a little! And I love the overall creative control which indie publishing gives the author.
The second surprise was how much the book changed, compared to my original outline. I’m a super-organized person but I now feel a bit more planning wouldn’t have hurt. And the characters themselves came up with some great plot twists, too.
3. What three words (or more!) would you use to describe your main character?
Thoughtful, cautious, foodie.
4. Did you ever have a different ending in mind for Grace?
Grace’s love life was mapped out from the start, but how she would get there wasn’t clear until quite late in writing the process. However, her home and career choices were more fluid in my mind. I don’t like books where everything ends too tidily: life is messy!
5. What can we expect next from you? Are you working on your next book?
Yes: I have a basic plot nailed down but have some more work to do on my main character. I’m pretty sure, though, that she will either live or work in Saffron Sweeting and the action will take place a year or two before the first novel. So, you can expect to encounter some familiar characters and locations. If the Sweeting Bakery isn’t in there somewhere, I’ll be very surprised.
5 Reasons Writing Makes a Great Hobby ~ Pauline Wiles
Aside from the terrible short stories I wrote when I was twelve, my first consistent pieces of writing were for my blog, as a pure hobby. Within a couple of years, I began producing magazine articles to promote my organizing business. The business nose-dived, but my wordsmithing survived… and here I am, with a full-length novel now preening itself on my desk. Writing is a great hobby, and here’s why:
· It’s free. Assuming you can get your hands on a pencil and a bit of paper, ideas are limitless and cost nothing. Between fiction, non-fiction, memoir, poetry and script-writing, there’s probably a style of writing to suit you.
· You can indulge any time, any place, anywhere. Unless, that is, you’re in a dark cave, in which case you might need to add a candle to your equipment list.
· Unlike running, rock-climbing or roller-blading, writing doesn’t get harder as you get older. In fact, it keeps your brain sharp and the longer you’ve lived, the more you have to write about.
· Writing is a form of therapy. Not only can you explore past pain and regret, but if anything embarrassing happens to you, just put it in a story. This insight occurred to me when I panicked that I hadn’t locked the restroom door, directly off a busy hallway at a posh San Francisco hotel. What’s more, once your acquaintances know you are a writer, they will think twice about being mean to you, for fear of ending up in your next book.
· It’s one of the easiest hobbies to turn into a business. Admittedly, you probably shouldn’t plan to retire to Barbados on the strength of your debut novel, but if you enjoy what you do and friends like your work, it has never been simpler to share your work commercially.
With over 2 million books published each year and and an estimated 1 million new blog posts each day, it’s possible that more words are being written than ever before. And I think that’s just fabulous.
British by birth, Pauline Wiles moved to California eight years ago and, apart from a yearning for afternoon tea and historic homes, has never looked back. Her work has been published by House of Fifty, Open Exchange and Alfie Dog Fiction. Saving Saffron Sweeting is her first novel.
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