For those who haven’t heard, I’m thrilled to return to the Sofa with the news that my second novel Scent will be released by independent publisher Muswell Press in spring 2021 – and for those who do know, here’s a bit more about it. Yesterday was such an exciting and emotional day when the acquisition went live in The Bookseller – the deluge of congratulations and enthusiasm was overwhelming and I really appreciate it. Here’s what it’s about:
When Clémentine and Edouard’s last child leaves home, the cracks in their marriage become impossible to ignore. Her work as a perfumer is no longer providing solace and her sense of self is withering. Then her former lover resurfaces, decades after the end of their bisexual affair, and her world tilts irreversibly. Set in Paris and Provence, this is an intimate portrait of a woman navigating conflicting desires and a troubled past whilst dreaming of a fulfilling future.
If you know me even a little, you’re probably aware that I have lifelong connections with France which are very important to me. Writing my debut novel Paris Mon Amour (2016) changed and deepened my relationship with Paris which is also the main, present day, setting of Scent. But it was only a matter of time before the place closest to my heart crept into my fiction, and the earlier strand is set in the Lubéron area of Provence, which I know inside out, and near Marseille, where I wrote several chunks of the book whilst staying with one of my oldest friends.
It’s the baking hot summer of 1992 when first person narrator Clémentine meets Racha and the two 20-year-olds get entangled – at first separately, then together – with Clémentine’s sexy but manipulative neighbour Ludovic. They’re all from entirely different backgrounds, which led me to investigate and understand more about the complexities and tensions within French society. This was fascinating – knowing France as I do, I have never held idealised touristy perceptions and despite everything I still hope to call it home one day. One of my closest writing friends said the Provence sections smelled of sweat, sex and dust – not the usual image, but I’ll take it!
Clémentine was not yet a perfumer then, at least not professionally. One of the reasons for the title Scent is that it conveys more than perfumery, but that aspect of the story was a voyage of discovery I absolutely loved – in this photo I’m at the Perfume exhibition at Somerset House in summer 2017 at the start of my extensive research. 20 years ago I studied for a professional qualification in aromatherapy prompted by my unusually acute sense of smell (albeit not as crazy as Clémentine’s); the art and science of perfumery are similar in some respects but surprisingly different in others. It’s a subject which – fortunately for me – seems to fascinate the general public and as one early reader pointed out, even those who don’t wear or like perfume can enjoy it on the page!
Authors are always asked how we decide what to write about – not always easy to answer, but so often it comes down to what we’d like to read ourselves. Like many women over 40, I want to see the complicated realities of our lives reflected more often in fiction, especially as this demographic are such keen readers. Society and the media’s attitudes to ‘older women’ are an endless source of double standards, prejudice and erasure; from personal experience and that of the many women I talk to, the idea that we are washed up, desexualised or living predictable and uneventful lives is laughable. For many, the 50 mark or thereabouts (Clémentine is 46) is a time of reckoning when things can suddenly look and feel very different. I can’t believe how much the last couple of years have thrown me off course. For a significant stretch of the time I was writing Scent I was barely holding it together – in fact, the writing became a real refuge. I gave this book my all because I’d lost my protective outer layers – there was nowhere else I could write it from. Let’s just say it was on topic for my character’s life crisis – a slightly extreme example of nothing is ever wasted!
Like many of the writers reading this, no doubt, I wrote this story not knowing what if anything would become of it. As a passionate supporter of independent publishing I count myself immensely lucky that Scent found its way to Muswell Press to join their bold and original list. Owners Sarah Beal and Kate Beal have huge prior experience in big publishing and the freedom to only publish books they really love and believe in, which happens to be exactly what I want from a publisher. I am so proud and grateful to be one of their authors and that they ‘get’ this novel they way they do. Huge thanks also to my fabulous agent Diana Beaumont, my American writing partner Kristin Celms, psychologist friend and colleague Voula Tsoflias and Matt Bates, formerly of W H Smith Travel and champion of my debut, for their unstinting belief in my writing and the invaluable part each of them played in this happy outcome for Scent.
And to all the other generous people who’ve read and encouraged and given me so much support over the years, thanks to you too. I know it seems a long time to wait mais ça passe vite!
Normal service resumes next week with the belated second part of my Books of 2019 – Non-Fiction.