300 Days Of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson
Travelling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.
Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into it, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.
Q) For the readers, can you talk us through your background and the synopsis of your new novel?
A) I had a bookish but chaotic childhood, though my parents would be horrified to see it described as such. They were in the diplomatic service, and my sister and I went with them on every move across the world, from Europe to the Far East. I went to ten different schools, and ended up begging to be allowed back to England to boarding school at sixteen, so I could do my A-levels. After university, I worked as a journalist because it was a way of writing and telling stories for a living. I never told anyone I wanted to be a novelist until I got my first book deal in 1993.
As it happens, crossing borders and starting again is a powerful theme in 300 Days of Sun.
On the southern coast of Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. At language school in Faro, she meets Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But nothing is quite what it seems. Behind the atmospheric Moorish buildings, Faro has a seedy underbelly, and Nathan admits he has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.
Joanna’s search leads her to The Alliance, a novel that recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. At first it seems unlikely this book could have any bearing on the present, but soon she and Nathan find the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.
Q) Can you talk us through the journey from idea to writing to publication?
A) I went to Faro with my daughter, who is a keen linguist and had booked herself on a Portuguese language course lasting two weeks. She was only seventeen at the time and I didn’t think I could let her go on her own. While she went to class every morning, I wandered around Faro with my notebook and camera, wondering if I could make it a setting for a novel. In the afternoons, we went exploring: to the beaches on the ferries, the islands across the sea marshes and the narrow streets of Faro’s old town.
Once I had the idea for a story, I spoke about to my literary agents, and to my editors in New York and London – this would be my eighth novel, so they knew I could deliver. A deal was done in August 2014 with HarperCollins in New York, and I was away – or rather, I thought I was. I had no idea of the challenges that lay ahead when I accepted a first draft deadline of Feb 1, 2015.
At the end of September, just as I was getting into my stride, my beloved mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. From then, I wrote on doggedly between hospital visits, and then caring for her at home until she died in mid-December. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. I delivered the book on time. Four months later, just as I completed the first set of edits, my father died.
The novel was published in April 2016 in the USA. Last October, it was selected for National Reading Group Month Great Group Reads in America. That was a lovely boost. It has also been published in translation in Portugal, where readers and reviewers really seem to have enjoyed the view of their country through foreign eyes, and found it authentic and life-affirming. I never did get a UK deal for this novel, but I had considerably more to be upset about at the time. It was published as an independent e-book, with the US print copies available here.
Q) What are your favourite authors and recommended reads?
A) I really hate this question because it’s so hard to answer! I read constantly and always find much to admire.
Carol Shields was a very fine writer. Her novels are intelligent and engaging, even when the subject matter is quiet. Mary Swann is my favourite: a story of a Canadian housewife who wrote poetry but is murdered by her husband before she is published. It’s a literary quest, on one level, as four diverse people who knew her, or know her work, try to unravel the secrets of her writing life.
Armistead Maupin. I just adore the Tales of the City series with its great, exuberant cast of lovable characters. Maupin writes pin-sharp prose that can capture an ambiance or a foible in a finely-tuned phrase. The fog rolling in across the San Francisco Bay presses itself against a window “like a fat lady in ermine”.
Penelope Lively and her elegant dissections of time and memory and history. Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford. In French, Marcel Pagnol and Jean Giono, the great chroniclers of Provence. Daphne du Maurier for her dazzling storytelling. Lawrence Durrell for his dazzling prose.
Contemporary writers: Maggie O’Farrell, Deborah Levy, Julian Barnes, William Boyd.
Q) What were your childhood/teenage favourite reads?
A) I was unashamedly an Enid Blyton fan. How I loved those page-turner mystery and school and adventure stories! Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals was the funniest book I’d ever read. F Scott Fitzgerald and George Orwell were the writing heroes of my teenage years.
Q) What has been your favourite moment of being a published author?
A) After the excitement of a transatlantic bidding war for the rights to The Lantern, my modern gothic set in Provence, I went to New York to attend Books Expo America, and sign early copies. I researched the subway route and made a note of taxi numbers just in case I got stuck – it never occurred to me that HarperCollins would send a shiny black limo to collect me from my hotel! I really felt I’d made it as we bowled down Fifth Avenue.
Q) Who has been your source of support/encouragement, throughout the writing process?
A) My constants in recent years have been my fantastic agents, Stephanie Cabot in New York, and Araminta Whitley in London. They both combine encouragement with pragmatism and tough love for a manuscript, which is absolutely invaluable. Jennifer Barth, my editor at HarperCollins in New York has been the most amazing person to work with: rigorous and determined that any book should be the best it can be. You can’t ask for any more than that. My husband Rob is a trusted, critical early reader, as was my much-missed mother, Joy.
You can find out more about the book on my website here: http://www.deborah-lawrenson.co.uk
I have a blog with lots of background photos to all my recent novels at http://deborah-lawrenson.blogspot.co.uk/
Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/591375.Deborah_Lawrenson
Amazon link: http://mybook.to/300days
*Huge thanks to the author for agreeing to be part of a Q&A on my blog 🙂