I’m on the blog tour today for Blue Troat Morning by Jacqui Lofthouse and have a Q&A with the author to share with you.
Blue Throat Morning will be published on the 22nd May in ebook. The ebook price is 99p at the same, you can pre-order your copy here here.
Before I share the Q&A with you, here is a little about the book.
Alison Bliss, celebrity model and critically acclaimed writer, walks into the sea one ‘bluethroat morning’. In death she becomes a greater icon than in life, and the Norfolk village where she lived is soon a place of pilgrimage. Six years later her husband Harry, a schoolteacher, is still haunted by her suicide and faithful to her memory. Until he meets Helen and they fall in love.
Harry and Helen’s relationship initiates a return to the scene of Alison’s death where they meet ninety-eight year old Ern Higham, and a tale is revealed that has been generations in the making. As Harry pieces together a tragic history and finally confronts his own pain, he discovers that to truly move forward, first he must understand the past …
Q&A with Jacqui Lofthouse:
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m the author of four novels including ‘Bluethroat Morning’ which was first published by Bloomsbury in the year 2000. On 22nd May this year, I’m delighted that Blackbird will be publishing the first digital edition. It’s a literary mystery, set on the North Norfolk Coast. I’ve written three other novels including ‘The Modigliani Girl’. Writing is a huge part of my life, but I also love to act. I’m married to the cartoonist David Lewis and we have two grown children (aged 17 and 21).
What do you do when you are not writing?
My first love was drama and I’ve recently taken the plunge and started drama school at Identity School of Acting in my early fifties! I’m often to be found in the drama classroom doing voice lessons or movement classes. I’ve begun taking parts in student films too. I find that there’s a great crossover between drama and writing – and acting is making me a better writer. I find my training as a writer also feeds into my performance work.
Do you have a day job as well?
I’m a trained life coach and in 2005 I set up a coaching and mentoring organisation for writers The Writing Coach. I love to work with other writers on their manuscripts and to support them in the process of writing their books and I have a team of freelancers who work for me too, so we cover all genres. Being an entrepreneur definitely keeps me busy! I was interviewed with my friend the writer Louise Doughty here about my tendency to do many things rather than focus on one:
Louise Doughty and Jacqui Lofthouse: Tortoises Rather Than Hares
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I began writing in my late teens when I entered a journalism competition in Cosmopolitan magazine and began writing fiction whilst studying drama at the University of Bristol in the late eighties. I used to write really bad and melodramatic short stories. I began writing my first novel, a dystopian story, in my early twenties and shortly afterwards I learned about the MA in Creative Writing at UEA which I applied for. I ended up studying under Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. At the end of that year I wrote to agents and one liked my first novel. In the end it was the second idea that she sold however and I was incredibly lucky to be commissioned by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin to complete that novel ‘The Temple of Hymen’. I had a six month deadline and wrote like a demon…
How did you choose the genre you write in?
You might say I don’t really stick to one genre, although my fiction might loosely be called ‘literary’ (though the meaning of that term is open to debate!). ‘The Temple of Hymen’ is historical, ‘Bluethroat Morning’ is a mystery, ‘Een Stille Verdwijning’ (only published in Dutch) is also mystery, but ‘The Modigliani Girl’ is a satire/comedy. I’m now writing a YA novel! The fact that I’m more of a ‘literary’ writer in style is, I think, just my personal voice, influenced by my reading over the years. I’m drawn to ideas and stories rather than particular genres. I guess I’m not particularly market-led in the way I write.
Where do you get your ideas?
I often start with strong images, paintings I’ve seen in art galleries – or a sense of place – somewhere that sticks in my mind. I allow myself to dream and write fragments and to research based on those first insights. I’m what you’d call an organic writer, though over the years I’ve developed a much keener sense of how a good plot functions. Rose Tremain calls those initial insights ‘the first mystery’ and I agree with her here – that one should allow those insights to unravel in your imagination. A story never comes to me whole but evolves.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
To be honest, not really. But as I also act and run a business, I don’t spend so much time at my writing desk as I would in an ideal world. Being part of a writers’ group really helps too as they help me to unpick problems when they emerge and to find solutions.
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I’d say that at first I ‘just write’ but the further I get into a book, the more I start to plan. I ensure that any plans I have are open to change. I advise the writers I work with to ‘write with a sense of direction’ – never to write a scene without knowing where it is going, to keep the scene dynamic. One has to allow for the magic of the moment however – the sudden insight that changes everything.
Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. So it’s probably not surprising that I ended up writing about a man investigating the suicide of his wife in ‘Bluethroat Morning’ – there are definitely echoes of the Plath/Hughes story in that book. I remember finding a little original edition of Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Waves’ in my school library when I was in my late teens. I had never heard of Woolf, but I loved the feel of the book and just began reading. I was transported to another world and I think that book was hugely influential on me becoming a writer. I also loved reading Sylvia Plath’s ‘Letters Home’ to her mother, as it taught me the importance of persistence as a writer – and of submissions.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
To be honest, I was very fortunate. I did submit the dystopian novel to ‘Faber & Faber’ when it was unfinished, before I went to UEA. I hadn’t even heard of literary agents. It’s funny thinking about that now.
With ‘The Temple of Hymen’ I was lucky to have a very established agent representing me. I still remember the call to her in a telephone booth from the British Library, just before Christmas, when she gave me the news about Penguin. I walked down Oxford Street beneath the Christmas lights in a daze.
I’ve had more challenges getting later novels published to be honest. The journey to first publication was pretty smooth for me. But as a mid-career novelist, the challenges are deeper in many ways.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
I remember visiting the North Norfolk town of Cley in very oppressive weather. I’d already decided to set the novel there (though it’s called Glaven in the book) – and it was my response to that landscape at that particular time that influenced the dark mood of the book. But the events are all entirely fictional. My third and fourth novels use aspects of my experience more. In ‘The Modigliani Girl’ I satirise some of my own experiences of literary life – but it’s only very loosely used!
What was your hardest scene to write?
It was difficult to write Alison Bliss’s notebooks in ‘Bluethroat Morning’ as they were the diary of someone who would go on to kill herself by drowning off the Norfolk coast. Her notebooks also needed to convey a lot of historical story, so it was a challenge. I worked hard to focus on my role as a storyteller, to remain objective, whilst also knowing that I had to understand her mood if I was to make it real to the reader.
How did you come up with the title?
The novel was originally called ‘The Smile of Accomplishment’ – a phrase from a Plath poem (‘Edge’) but Bloomsbury didn’t like that so we looked for a phrase that was already in the book. ‘Bluethroat Morning’ describes a particular kind of weather when that bird is most likely to be spotted – and it was on such a morning that Alison Bliss killed herself.
What project are you working on now?
I’m now working on a YA novel about a girl coming to terms with the death of her father, a war photographer. I’m also working on my first play.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I try to keep a sense of humour about bad reviews. It makes me laugh sometimes to think of the discrepancy between my reviews. The Daily Mail wrote “A thriller full of twists and turns that keeps the reader guessing. Every word is magical, almost luminous.” Whereas one reviewer on the German Amazon site called it “a book that the world could do without”. Really, one has to laugh!
I was particularly thrilled with a review by Tracy Chevalier (before she was famous). She wrote: “There are many elements to savour in this novel: the intertwining of past and present; the struggle to write and the responsibility of writing about others’ lives … Best of all, Lofthouse has a fine eye for the bleak Norfolk landscape and how it both reflects and affects characters’ moods.”
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
If you plan to read ‘Bluethroat Morning’ I’d suggest not going in with expectations. This is not a ‘genre’ novel or a typical psychological thriller. It’s not written to any kind of blueprint. But I hope that reading it will transport you to another world and reward you in unexpected ways. And thank you for taking the time to read my books. I always appreciate contact with readers.
About The Author:
Jacqui Lofthouse began her career in radio production and media training. In 1992 she studied for her MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia under Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. She is founder of The Writing Coach and the author of four novels, The Temple of Hymen (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin 1995/1996), Bluethroat Morning (Bloomsbury 2000/Blackbird 2018), Een Stille Verdwijning, (De Bezige Bij 2005) and The Modigliani Girl (Blackbird 2015). Her novels have sold over 100,000 copies in the UK, the USA and Europe and have been widely reviewed.
You can find out more about Jacqui’s novels here:
Follow Jacqui on Twitter @jacquilofthouse or on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/jacquilofthouseauthor or on Instagram @jacquilofthouse