Mind Matters of the Debut Novelist

Interview: Liz Fenwick
by Catherine McNamara

Liz Fenwick's debut novel 'The Cornish House' has been a summer hit, recently going into its third edition. Congratulations Liz, expat author who lives between Dubai, London and Cornwall, and is preparing for publication of her second novel 'A Cornish Affair'!

Liz, what has been the toughest moment on your road to publication? 

Those moments when you are so close, the rejection in your hand so glowing and they still said no…….It’s then when you bash your head against the wall and wonder what you are missing.

And the highest point so far? 

That has to be when a reader sought me out at a signing to hug me because she had loved the book so much. It was such a humbling experience.

'The Cornish House' has a gentle, involving pace, with clear and lyrical language. How easy or difficult was it for you to develop your style? I understand you've written other books in this series, how long has it taken to produce a work you felt was smooth and consistent in terms of language and plot development? 

The Cornish House was the third complete book that I’d written and it was the one where I ‘found’ my voice. I first wrote it in 2006 and rewrote each year thereafter until last year when I completed the edits. It’s listening to the book as an editing tool that I consider language. Because I’m dyslexic I find it hard to ‘see’ things on the page but my ear is finely tuned and this gives me distance from the work too.
Did you ever get stuck writing the story - think, What is going to happen next? Did your characters ever disagree with a plot point you'd set out for them? 

The Cornish House wrote itself in many ways. My biggest problem was that the teenager Hannah stole the first draft and I wanted it to be Maddie’s story. It took me a year away from the story to figure out how to balance it.

Maddie seems rather out of her depth with her step-daughter Hannah's horrible teenage behaviour. I thought the reality of the younger generation rang very true. I know you have three teenagers in the house - was Hannah an invention or an experience? 

A little of both - Hannah walked onto the page fully formed so I must have been studying teens for a while.

Much of what is called chick lit involves younger heroines than Maddie, and not many deal with grieving as a main obstacle to be overcome. Do you think that publishing a first novel as an older author can produce a different type of work, perhaps more rewarding or insightful? What type of book do you think you would have written in your twenties?

That’s a good question and in some ways an easy one for me. I did write three quarters of a novel for my senior thesis at university. It had enough merit that my professor wanted me to send it to her agent. I didn’t which is another story, but looking back on that book now I realize how black and white it was. As I’ve lived life I’ve realized that world is far from black and white and it’s the grey bit in the middle that is truly interesting.

I love the way you represent Cornwall to the reader in terms of ghosts and architecture and defiantly local characters, as well as those with walk-on roles such as sexy Gunnar. Will your second novel take up these strands? 

Absolutely, it features a stately home, a ghost and a lost treasure….

Tell us the exciting story of how you hooked your agent. 

Well, I knew of Carole Blake by reputation for a long time. I’d read her book FROM PITCH TO PUBLICATION cover to cover so therefore I was scared to death of her. You can imagine my surprise when she started following me on Twitter while I was tweeting from a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference! That was the beginning of a friendship based on a love of wine, shoes and books. Two years after that first tweet I finally felt The Cornish House was to a standard where I dared to send it to her. Because she was a friend I knew she would look at it but it was business. I knew I had one shot and I didn’t want to blow it by sending in anything that was less than what I truly knew it could be….Thankfully she fell in love with it. We signed on February 14th and I had my first deal for the book on the 17th of March.

You are publishing with Orion books and your title has been published in various languages. How much promotion has that involved for you? And what do you think has been the most effective device to spread the word about 'The Cornish House' - apart from the fact that it is, in Sarah Duncan's words, 'a stonking good read'? 

I have done quite a bit of promotion but have tried to look outside the box for the opportunities. As a debut novelist you are not news except to a local paper. So I looked for opportunities where I wouldn’t be competing against other books like a property magazine as I used estate agents websites for research. I think the most successful bit of promotion wasn’t about the book as such but a celebration of publication. During the month of May I asked friends who had helped me on my journey to share one thing they had learnt. They were so generous and shared such a wealth of emotional knowledge that brought people to my blog and while there hopefully they saw the book cover.

You've just taken part in the Penzance Literary Festival (July 25-29th 2012). How was this experience for you?

Brilliant! It was a pleasure to meet you, the audience were lovely and it was fun to talk about books and people’s paths to publication.

You've collected many, many fans with 'The Cornish House'. How do you feel about 'A Cornish Affair' hitting the shelves in ---? 

Scared to death…the pressure is on!

Best of luck with both novels Liz and we wish you much success in the future!

Read more from Liz or buy ‘The Cornish House’:





Sharjah International Book Fair -8th November 7PM

WH Smith -The Dubai Mall Book Signing 6PM

Waterstones Truro - 24th November 11AM

Du Maurier Mini Festival 29th November 4PM

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