Hello and happy summer! I said I’d be on hiatus until September, but then I met the lovely author Jenny Harper from Scotland, and I couldn’t resist doing an Author Wednesday post in July. Jenny recently published the novella Sand in My Shoes, the perfect summer read for the beach. Here’s the concept: A trip to France awakens the past in this heartwarming and tear-jerking short summer read. Head teacher Nicola Arnott prides herself on her independence. Long widowed, she has successfully juggled motherhood and career, coping by burying her emotions somewhere deep inside herself. A cancer scare shakes her out of her careful approach to life and she finds herself thinking wistfully of her first love, a young French medical student. As her anxiety about her impending hospital tests grows, she decides to revisit the sleepy French town she remembers from her teenage years – and is astonished to meet up with Luc again. The old chemistry is still there – but so is something far more precious: a deep and enduring friendship. Can it turn into true love?
Welcome, Jenny. I’m glad you stopped by to let us know about your new book. It does sound like an excellent read for the beach! I like the title. How did you choose it?
Sometimes titles for books come really easily, while at other times it’s like hammering away at a geode – it’s really hard to crack it open, but somewhere inside you know there’s a gem. Sand in My Shoes is a novella – the first time I’ve written something of this length – and my main purpose was to write a really satisfying and quick summer read. I wanted the title to be evocative, and also to try to capture something important at the heart of the story. This title achieves both of these things – but to find out why, you’ll have to read it for yourself!
It does evoke memories of the beach. Now you’ve provoked my curiosity! Since it’s a novella, how long it actually take you to write it?
This piece of work has been exceptional. Mostly I write complex and multi-layered novels with a word count of around 80-90,000 words – full length novels, in other words. I had just finished writing Mistakes We Make (due for publication next summer), and I’d really had to wrestle with it. (I’m delighted with it now that it’s finished, by the way!). I was heading off to India for a couple of weeks’ sunshine, and I fancied having a go at something more straightforward – a work that would restore the spontaneity in my writing. I had the idea before we left home, planned it on the plane, and wrote 15,000 words in a fortnight. I finished off the week after I came home. And it was a joy to write!
I’ve recently ventured into writing novellas after writing full length novels. It’s a big change but a welcome one after finishing a huge project. How did you come up with the idea for Sand in My Shoes?
My four published novels are loosely a series called ‘The Heartlands’ series. They are all set in or near a fictional town called Hailesbank, notionally just east of Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, where I live. To date, the characters haven’t overlapped (although Mistakes We Make features characters from People We Love a few months on). I really wanted to take one of the minor characters in one of the books and see what happened. It was a writing buddy who suggested Nicola Arnott, who is the head teacher in a primary school in Face the Wind and Fly. And oddly enough, although I was writing it while I was in India, it was a place in France I visited last year that was nagging away at my mind. Arcachon is a delightful small seaside resort, a little old-fashioned but very pretty and family friendly – and that’s where I sent Nicola when she discovered a lump in her breast.
What kind of research was required?
Nicola is waiting for results at the beginning of the story, and her daughter nags her to do something different with her summer. Researching the setting wasn’t difficult, although I had a lot of fun viewing images of some of Arcachon’s beautiful old houses online. They remind me of the architecture in New Orleans – or perhaps that should be the other way round, as I presume New Orleans was influenced by French colonists? However, I did talk to a number of people about their experiences with breast cancer, and also researched tests and treatments online. I discovered that this does vary quite a lot depending on where you live.
Yes, I believe France informed New Orleans. What’s the best thing someone could say about this novella?
My editor called me when she had read it, and she was still a bit incoherent – apparently I had made her cry twice as she’d been reading it! Now, far be it from me to want to make people cry, but as a writer there is a great sense of achievement when you can involve people so deeply in your storytelling. Which leads me to share something I’m quite proud of – bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith has just offered me a quote for the paperback of People We Love. He says, “An engaging and delightful read. Jenny Harper is a most gifted storyteller.” I’m so proud – all I really want to be is a great storyteller!
Both of those statements are things for which you can be very proud. Congratulations! Are you traditionally or self-published?
I’ve been writing for some time. I eventually decided to self publish a couple of my novels (Face the Wind and Fly and Loving Susie), then I was picked up by Accent Press, who have since published Maximum Exposure and People We Love, and the novella, Sand in My Shoes. They have also offered me a contract for another novel (not in the Heartlands series) called Between Friends, due for publication next spring), and the fifth in the Heartlands Series, Mistakes We Make, due for publication next summer. I’ve started on my next book, which I’m loving writing, but I’m not going to give anything away about it right now!
Congratulations all the way around. I look forward to reading your books. I’m so very happy to have met you through the group eNovel Authors at Work. Please visit again when you have your next release.
About Jenny: Jenny Harper lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, though she was born in India and grew up in England. She has been a non-fiction editor, a journalist and a businesswoman and has written a children’s novel and several books about Scotland. Now Jenny is writing contemporary women’s fiction with bite – complex characters facing serious issues.
Click links below to purchase Jenny’s books:
Sand in My Shoes
Face the Wind and Fly
People We Love
Contact Jenny by clicking links below