Today it’s my stop on The Guestbook blog tour.
Welcome to Willow Cottage – throw open the shutters, let in the sea breeze and make yourself completely at home. Oh, and please do leave a comment in the Guestbook.
As landlady of Willow Cottage, the young widow Annie Butterworth is always on hand with tea, sympathy or strong Norfolk cider – whatever her colourful array of guests require. A flick through the messages in the leather-bound cottage guestbook gives a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of everyone who passes through her doors.
This includes Annie herself – especially now celebrity crime writer Oliver Black, is back in town. He might grace the covers of gossip magazines with a different glamorous supermodel draped on his arm every week, but to Annie, he’s always just been Olly, the man who Annie shared her first kiss with.
Through the pages of the Guestbook Annie and Olly, along with all the guests that arrive at the seaside retreat, struggle with love, loss, mystery, joy, happiness, guilt…and the odd spot of naked rambling!
Forget sending postcards saying ‘wish you were here’ – one visit to Willow Cottage and you’ll wish you could stay forever.
There is a review today on http://theloveofagoodbook.wordpress.com/
The Guestbook is a unique way of telling a story through the messages in a guestbook of a holiday cottage, but where did the inspiration come from to write the story in this way?
Well, I’ve been writing for about four years, mainly chicklit and although my novels were getting some good attention with comments like ‘great characters, well written and funny situations’ I couldn’t seem to get that coveted publishing deal. I was told that publishers were looking for something completely different. On my way down to a hotel in Clacton on Sea I started thinking about what it was that I could do that was different. A hotel held all sorts of possibilities with the array of guests that stay but I wanted something a bit more personal. A holiday cottage came to mind. When I checked in to the hotel there was a guestbook for people to sign and quite a few of the guests had wrote long elaborate comments about what they had done and where was good to go to. The hotel guestbook held a tiny snapshot of people’s lives at that exact moment they had written in it. And that’s what I wanted to create in my story, a fleeting glimpse into my characters’ lives. By the time I had climbed up the winding stairs to my room an idea was already fully formed in my head. I wrote for several hours that night, without even venturing from my room for dinner.
I love the characters in The Guestbook, the colourful mix of guests that stay in Willow Cottage, the couples, families, singletons, the loveable, the moaning, the slightly eccentric, the downright crazy.
But I also love that it’s Annie’s story, the owner of Willow Cottage, that comes to life through her interactions with her guests. Little pieces of her life, her history, the things that make her tick, are revealed through the pages of The Guestbook. And what struck me about The Guestbook was how much of the story could be told with the minimum of information. Don’t get me wrong, I love to get a sense of place, the descriptions in a story help it to come alive but the story can be told equally as well without knowing what the people look like or what they are wearing.
The one criticism I faced when I sent this out to publishers and agents was that it wasn’t realistic for people to write these messages to each other in the book, when they can talk directly to that person, but I think it is.
I used to work in an office where emailing or messaging the person sitting opposite you was considered the norm. Silly little messages, moans, or just to say hello because you were bored were commonplace in our office. My friend, a Facebook widow, will often message her husband sitting in the same room with her, and then he’ll write back. It’s a funny, sweet representation of their relationship for all their friends and family to see. I’ve been with friends when something stupid was said, normally by me, and then suddenly it goes on Facebook, the next thing everyone else in the room is fighting to put their comments on Facebook too, to defend themselves or to join in with the joke. Public humiliation is much funnier than keeping it private. Once on a camping holiday in the Lake District with friends, the weather was lousy with wind, rain and snow and we found ourselves taking shelter in the pub every day waiting for a chink of sunlight that never came. A group diary was started with each of us writing messages in the book about our adventures so far, all our little anecdotes recorded for prosperity. With little else to do, the diary became our pivotal entertainment for the week. I would write a message in it, my friends, sitting next to me, would read it, laugh and write a message back and then pass it to me to read. The book is filled with our inane ramblings and I like that in places The Guestbook represents this kind of silly communication and the affectionate relationships between friends and family. At the beginning of the story with the newlyweds Jake and Rosie, he makes a comment that she snores and I can imagine her being there reading that as he writes it, perhaps even sitting on his lap at the breakfast table. I can imagine her snatching the pen off him and writing that she doesn’t. I hope that comes across.
I love that The Guestbook is used sometimes where the people don’t feel they can communicate with each other. One of my favourite guests are Seth and Gaby who are going through a rough patch in their marriage and they end up talking it through using The Guestbook. He writes ‘You’ve written more in this guestbook over the last few days than you’ve said to me in the last few months.’ Gaby writes back ‘The guestbook doesn’t hate me.’ And I think it’s this freedom of not having to see the person you’re talking to that allows them to be more honest in their messages.
The Guestbook is not always used honestly and later on in the story, the comments are lies as the characters try to cover up what they are doing and I love that the reader is left trying to piece together what is really happening from the vague messages left in the book.
The Guestbook captures it all, the silly affectionate relationships, the strained ones, what the guests want us to believe and what they don’t want us to know.
Is it credible that people would write their deepest darkest secrets in the book for other people to see? Probably not, but remember this is fiction. It’s meant to be taken with a pinch of salt. The chicklit genre I love so much is filled with ridiculous story lines. Women inherit cake/sweet/chocolate/dress shops all the time from their nearest and dearest and set about making them a success. It doesn’t happen in real life but we love the stories all the same. So enjoy the story for what it is, a bit of escapism into the lives of some wonderful guests told in slightly different way. Experience their guilt, joy, happiness and sorrow and imagine what you would write on the pages of The Guestbook.
You can buy The Guestbook now here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00HVD8VX2?ie=UTF8&at=aw-iphone-pc-uk-21&force-full-site=1&ref_=aw_bottom_links
The blog tour continues tomorrow on http://compellingreads.co.uk/ with a review on http://readinginthesunshine.wordpress.com/