Welcome to Day 5 of Sunlounger 2 Week. As the reviews ended yesterday, I
have the creator of the collection discussing inspiration…
The Inspiration For The Sunlounger Short Story Collection
I don’t know if the trigger was the super-surge in self-publishing but I seemed to be getting a bumper number of emails from readers who loved chick lit so much that they wanted to write it themselves. This made perfect sense to me – of all the genres it seems to have the biggest ‘that could be me!’ factor with an easy-breezy conversational style, like chatting to your best pal. I could tell all these aspiring scribes were raring to go but felt daunted by the length of a novel – quite rightly so! 100,000 words is a helluva task and even though I’m 12 books in, it’s still a tortuous process for me, like stumbling through a maze half the time.
So it occurred to me that a short story might be a more manageable option. I proposed a competition where newbies submitted a mini-masterpiece and planned to publish the best in an ebook collection with a few stories of my own. The one criteria was that they would set their story abroad – for me travel is my greatest muse and I thought it would be a fun way to get the entrants pondering ideas. Almost straight away I started to hear back, ‘Ooh! Ooh! I’m going to set mine in Greece!’ Or Hong Kong or Australia. I loved the buzzy response and then thought, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if any of my writer pals would like to come on board for this? I whizzed out a few emails to my former more! magazine colleagues like Tasmina Perry, Katie Agnew, Nigel May and Fiona Gibson. At that point I wasn’t a writer who knew lots of other authors – my husband is in the US Navy and we’d relocated to Virginia where I didn’t know a soul, except the homeless people I saw every morning while out walking the dog.
But as the positive responses started coming in I dared myself to ask writers I admired but thought I’d never be able to nab, like Miranda Dickenson and Lucy Robinson. When Chrissie Manby wrote back with a yes I felt invincible. I approached agent Madeleine Milburn about Emma Garcia and within the hour had 8 more of her authors including Victoria Fox, Lucy Lord and Cally Taylor. By the end of the month I had 40 authors on board. I think the team spirit was infectious, especially as writing can be such a lonesome business. (For the record it was Talli Roland and Michele Gorman who taught me that it’s far more fun to be joining forces than feeling in competition with eachother. Goodness knows you book lovers can read faster than any of us can write!)
^^ Belinda ^^
I was on a high now, loving the fact that I could offer these new writers the chance to be published alongside some of their favourite authors. I wanted to go All Out with this project and asked my publisher, Hodder, if I could possibly postpone my next novel – The Travelling Tea Shop – so I could devote the next six months to Sunlounger. Once they approved, things really got going. My husband was at sea at the time so I worked round the clock creating a website and a profile page for each of the authors asking them insightful questions like, ‘What is your favourite holiday cocktail?’ I got even more of a kick as the stories started to come in, whizzing me from Barcelona to Brazil, Outback and beyond. I loved how I felt like I’d actually been on an amazing adventure, all while sitting having a latte in my local coffee shop. Some made me laugh out loud, some made me want to live larger and Carmen Reid’s How To Tie A French Scarf had me streaming tears. In a good way.
As far as the competition element went, I had a professional agent (Madeleine) and editor (Harriet Bourton) on the judging panel but mostly I wanted some real-deal readers who just loved books so I recruited Kate, Becky, Kirsty and Sophia who I’d got to know via the Belinda Jones Travel Club Facebook page and my launch parties over the years. They were sooooo enthusiastic reading the entries and it felt like Strictly as they’d give me their scores out of 10, sometimes agreeing, sometimes differing wildly. When I’d read a good one, it would give me such a toasty-warm feeling and I was all but bursting with pride when we announced our Top 4 winners. Now came the time to launch the book…
^^ Belinda with author Lisa Dickenson ^^
Publicity-wise the Sunlounger designer Sam and I called in every favour from our magazine years (with some major help from Sunlounger’s fashion stylist Wendy Rigg, who just happens to be associate editor of Reveal) but our biggest sales-rocket came with the Amazon Summer Sale promotion – I was with the competition winner Holly Martin, squealing on a corner of Regent St as we watched the ranking climb and climb, all the way to #13 in the overall Kindle Chart. I was in a stunned stupor for the rest of the night. I knew we’d all worked hard and there was a massive amount of goodwill in the air but this exceeded all my expectations.
I don’t know if I can properly convey what the whole Sunlounger experience has meant to me but in a nutshell, it brought me back to life, restored my faith in mankind and made me feel So Darn Happy and inspired. Obviously I couldn’t resist going again with Sunlounger 2 and I have to say everyone has really stepped up their game with their stories plus we have some fabulous new additions to the talent pool including Milly Johnson, Tracy Bloom and Jo Carnegie.
I just want to conclude by saying thank you to everyone who has bought Sunlounger 1 and/or 2 (I consider you all part of Team Sunlounger!) and especially to Emma Louise for taking on the challenge of reviewing every new story! Wishing you ALL your Best Summer Ever!