Tales of Scrapes and Narrow Escapes

Paul Theroux spoke for many of us, I think, when he wrote that he liked reading of harrowing ordeals and life-threatening experiences; he said, 'I see Three Months in a Rubber Dinghy! and my hand leaps to the shelf.’ We all love reading the ‘what if?’ stories of things we hope will never happen to us.

So it's been amazing fun working on this upcoming Bradt book as project manager and editor. I've been dying to talk about it for months.

Michael Palin, Ben Fogle, Dervla Murphy and Tim Cahill are some of the celebrity contributors who feature alongside award-winning journalists and rising stars, sharing their true tales of sticky situations in The Irresponsible Traveller

From being chased by a sea lion to being kidnapped in Brazil, caught in a hurricane in Cuba or arrested in Ethiopia, locked out of a car in Canada or horribly sick in the Himalayas, these are the scrapes they’ll never forget – whether entertaining, amusing or downright terrifying.

We’ve all got so collectively good at travelling, but it’s often those ‘uh-oh’ moments that make the best stories – those times when we don’t listen to advice or follow the rules or when we simply find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Embarrassing or frightening, quite simply: mishaps make for memorable trips.

2014 is the 40th anniversary of Bradt Travel Guides - who have built a reputation for publishing books covering the road less travelled - and this collection includes a hand-picked selection of contributors who’ve had special connections with Bradt over the years. 

This is not the first project I've worked on with Bradt - last year I had the pleasure of editing two titles in their literature series, Catriona Rainsford's The Urban Circus and Tom Chesshyre's A Tourist in the Arab Spring - and I hope it won't be the last. The books are published in the US by Globe Pequot, and as foreign rights agent I'm always interested in hearing from international publishers interested in the literature or guidebook list.

                                  A Tourist in the Arab Spring       The Urban Circus


When Seven is Your Lucky Number...

My newest client, Samantha Vérant, will see her memoir 
published in October 2014 by Sourcebooks in North America. Last week they sold rights to Random House Australia, who have decided to include SEVEN LETTERS FROM PARIS in a new promotion called Random 10, highlighted to booksellers, media and readers.

The story? When Samantha finds seven old love letters from the man she met in Paris when she was 19, she is sorry that she never wrote back to him and decides to track him down on the Internet. An intense email exchange follows, during which they realise the passion is still there. And so, she flies to France…

If you liked Torre DeRoche’s Love with a Chance of Drowning, Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French, Samantha Brick’s Head Over Heels in France or Elizabeth Bard’s Lunch in Paris, chances are you’ll love Samantha’s book. Here’s the trailer, which you HAVE to watch!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsKriz2b-Pk

Samantha, your mantra is ‘expect the unexpected’. Why?

It became my mantra when I was staring at the email subject header “Re: Seven Letters from Paris: A Memoir” from Sourcebooks, the publisher I’d submitted my manuscript to five weeks prior. At first, I was afraid to click the email open, fearing the worst: a form rejection letter, as in: 

Dear Author: Thank you for querying your project, but it isn’t the right fit for us. Publishing is a subjective business, though. Good luck!”

Still, a tiny bit of hope fluttered in my heart.

I closed my eyes, whispered ‘expect the unexpected,’ and clicked. I found a request for the full the manuscript. I read through the email five times, stunned, before sending the manuscript off to the requesting editor.

Three days later, I received another email from Sourcebooks, same header. Again, I repeated my new mantra: Expect the unexpected. Expect the unexpected. Expect the unexpected. This was in between repeating the following: “Please, not a rejection! No, not a rejection! Their response was lightning quick! It has to be a rejection.”

When I finally gathered up the courage to read the email, the unexpected happened again. I’d received an offer of publication from Anna Klenke, my now editor at Sourcebooks. Recently, Random House Australia bought the foreign rights to Seven Letters. I wasn’t expecting this or the exciting jump-out-of-my-pants news they were including my memoir in the Random 10, part of a new marketing initiative.

Is SEVEN LETTERS your first book, and was it easy to find a publisher?

Seven Letters is my first published book for the adult market. I’ve been writing for about seven years, initially trying my hand at middle grade and young adult. (Yes, seven is my lucky number.) My first attempt, Survival of the Weirdest, a middle grade adventure, was one hot mess, but I hooked up with other writers, and was told I had something: a voice. It took me a while to learn the craft, and I’m still improving, which is why I try to write every day. (One day, I hope to get back to that book. It’s my “pet” project!) 

My second attempt, King of the Mutants, also middle grade, will be published by Month9Books in October of 2014. Writers? We have to keep writing...and develop an iron gut. Finding a publisher or an agent in this market is extremely tough.

My yellow-brick road to publication was paved with a barbed wire path, a lot of frustration, more than a few sobs, and rejection galore. In the beginning, I made every mistake in the book – sending out hair-raising queries, work that wasn’t ready, etc. Now, seven years later, I’ve learned the two most important rules: 1) Patience really is a virtue and 2) Giving up is not an option.

When it came to getting Seven Letters out into the world, I did have some luck in the beginning. I began contacting agents, sent off twenty-one queries, and received an offer of representation. Unfortunately, at this time an article bashing 'me'-moirs created some havoc, so we decided to hold off on submissions until the market for memoir heated up. Then my wonderful agent left the business. After facing a very tough decision, I decided to leave the agency and revise my manuscript. I hired freelance editor Jay Schaefer of Under the Tuscan Sun fame. Two developmental edits and six months later, Seven Letters was ready for its second chance.

Me? I believe in second chances.

Sourcebooks was the first publishing house I approached on my own. Something in my gut told me this house was 'the one'. It was.

Long story short: I believed in myself. I believed in my story. And I never gave up. I also found the right people who believed in me. Support is paramount!

Would you call SEVEN LETTERS a love story, or is it more than that?

Yes! Seven Letters is more than just a love story about rekindling a relationship with a sexy French rocket scientist who got away. It’s a story about second chances in both life and in love. It’s about loving the people who matter most in your life, like the mom who raised you on her own until you were five, or the dad who adopted you, counting you as one of his own. It’s a story about parenthood, about loving two step-kids who lost their mother to cancer, about the dad who was looking for somebody who would love them as much as he does. It’s a story about friendship and sisterhood, and how the people who care about you come running to your side, even if you’ve pushed them away. Ultimately, Seven Letters delivers a message of hope.

How has your life changed in the last few years?

Oh my god. Where do I begin? When I moved to France, I jumped into a new life, but forgot to pack a parachute. There were some major hurdles to overcome, not limited to becoming an immigrant and instant step-mom. But the major lesson I learned is that with love on my side, and with fear slowly leaving my system, I could do anything, which includes building a kitchen, a bedroom, and bathroom from scratch (nothing tests love like DIY home renovation projects), and, more recently, beheading a turkey with my husband’s electric saw for our first Thanksgiving dinner in France. In order to survive this new life, I’ve learned how to adjust and adapt, and I’ve grown. Every day is an adventure. To quote my all-time favourite old movie, Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell: 

“Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

What next?

As you know, the work never ends once a publisher purchases a book. I’ve completed all developmental edits, but production and copy edits hit next. Admittedly, it’s all been quite fun. Next up: promotion, and trying a way to do it that isn’t obtrusive, like submitting content to magazines, newspapers, and high-profile blogs. I’m also planning the next stages of my writing career.

On a personal note, last year I received my niveau 1, or open water, diving license, which is what happens when your rocket scientist husband is also a dive master and both of your kids are certified. Believe me, this wasn’t easy, but, eventually, I got over my fears of dying a slow and painful death because my tank runs out of air. This year I’m going for my PE 40, allowing me to dive forty meters. I’m a travel junkie at heart and now there’s a whole beautiful underwater world I’ll be able to explore.

What’s with the big cat? 

Ha! Yes, the big cat. I’ve always been an animal lover, especially big cats. One year, I volunteered at animal sanctuary in California. Little known fact: lions go crazy when smelling Vick’s Vapo Rub. They love it! Anyway, it was at this animal sanctuary I learned to chuff with the tigers, the breathy snort they make when they are content. On a trip to Thailand several years ago, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interact with Behem, the Bengal at the Phuket Zoo. He chuffed. I chuffed back. Then he got bored with me, hence the big yawn. 

I’ve always dreamed about running an animal sanctuary. Real life says that won’t happen (I’d probably lose a limb), but I could do the next best thing: write about protecting endangered species, which is the theme in Survival of the Weirdest. Today, I am the very proud owner of a ridiculously expensive Bengal cat. Bella may be a pint-sized panther, but when she purrs it’s huge, almost like a tiger’s chuff. Dreams, well, they have a way of metamorphosing.

Expect the unexpected!

Sign up to Samantha’s blog here: http://www.samanthaverant.com

Riding the Ho Chi Minh Trail

House built on cluster bomb casings

At the end of April this year, Ants Bolingbroke-Kent completed an amazing journey: six weeks travelling the length of the Ho Chi Minh Trail alone on an old, pink Honda Cub. I was delighted that she'd made it, in spite of all the dangers along the way from UXO and creatures in the jungle - not least because I was partly responsible for her making the journey, having encouraged her to write a book about it. You can read more here on her blog: http://www.theitinerant.co.uk/


She made her ride through the jungle partly to see the Trail before it's entirely lost, and partly to highlight what happened there four decades ago - in memory of all those who didn't have the luxury of going home after their time on the trail. She also did it as a challenge to herself, having never done a big journey alone, although she had previously written about travelling from Bangkok to Brighton on another unsuitable vehicle with a pal, Tuk-Tuk to the Road

Summersdale acquired the book, which she wrote in record speed, having taken time out from her work as a television producer; and these last few weeks I had the pleasure of editing it. It's a wonderful read, very informative and yet accessible and inspiring and full of adventure, and it will be published in April 2014, a year after she completed the journey, as A SHORT RIDE IN THE JUNGLE


In other news, I'm pleased to announce that Steven Gauge has been invited to speak at the gala dinner of Felixstowe Literary Festival at the Orwell Hotel in June 2014. 

I'm busy editing another book about Asia, but other good news is coming - and you can read some of it here, in a blog post from the amazing Samantha Verant!

Beer and Rugby (and Books)

I spent far too much of my time at university in a certain pub called The Bear in Oxford. As did Steven Gauge, which is where our paths crossed, in a wavy sort of way, over pints of beer. When we met up again a few years ago at a pub in Soho, we picked up where we left off. But one thing led to another and, as often happens when you get a writer and an editor together, some books were made.
It turns out that Steven had recently averted a mid-life crisis by discovering rugby, and was now proud captain of the third-worst side in Surrey. The process of being mangled in the mud every Saturday had somehow alleviated the stresses of work, and this, he decided, was worth writing about. And so Summersdale published My Life as a Hooker in February 2012, which as I write is still selling well on Amazon, perhaps thanks to the start of the Rugby League World Cup

The book was also shortlisted for the British Sports Book Awards, which isn't half bad. Luke Benedict, rugby writer for the Daily Mail, said 'this story will appeal to anyone who's ever tried their hand at something they weren't terribly good at but still enjoyed every step of the way... If this is what a midlife crisis does for you, I want one.'
My Life as a Hooker    
As well as this, Steven managed to write the humour and gift books You Know You're a Rugby Fanatic When... and The Rugby Lover's Companion, and compile the collections Rugby Wit and Political Wit. All in the space of a few years. And he's recently completed a new Bluffer's Guide to Rugby, for publication in March 2014. Here's a snippet on their website: http://bluffers.com/bluffers-guide-rugby-union-rugby-league/

He's just been commissioned this week to compiled a new book on rugby, and since media training for politicians is part of his day job, it's just a matter of time before he's on the telly or doing a stand-up show, we think. Just goes to show, there is much to be said for drinking beer. Which leads me nicely to a plug for another book. 

I have heard it said - though I cannot confirm - that those who like rugby are partial to the right combination of hops and malt.

Jane Peyton, head of the School of Booze (http://www.school-of-booze.com/), has two new books out, which would make great gifts. One of them I edited, so I know whereof I speak. Beer O'Clock is about what to drink, how to brew, beer and food matching, and trivia about the world's favourite drink. School of Booze is 'everything you need to know about life's second greatest pleasure' (I assume the first must be rugby?), with trivia about alcohol history and culture. Signed copies available through the website.

Brilliant Britain Book

Listen to Steven Gauge reading from My Life as a Hooker here:

Ian Moore at Comedy Book Festival

Now THIS looks like my kind of festival:

Johnny Vegas, Viv Groskop and Al Murray are among the big names taking part in the first Chortle Comedy Book Festival from November 22 to 29 in venues around Ealing. But most exciting of all: Ian Moore - comedian, writer, chutney-maker and mod. See Ian's show on 28 November:

Ian's book A LA MOD, or 'My So-Called Tranquil Family Life in Rural France', was published by Summersdale this May (I was lucky to work with him on it in the early stages) and not only has over 50 5-star reviews on Amazon, but has been called 'a brilliant read' by my idol Sarah Millican. Fans will be pleased to hear he's working on a follow-up.

Meanwhile, catch him on Radio 5Live this Saturday morning (2 November) doing their panel show 'Fighting Talk'.


Before & After - Gordon Leenders

I'm delighted to announce I'm working with Gordon Leenders, who has just completed a novel entitled Before & After. Gord's a Canadian author living near the shores of Lake Erie, and is a two-time winner of Best Fiction Book at the Hamilton Literary Awards. 

In addition to being an acclaimed author, he has worked for the past fifteen years as a Rehabilitation Therapist for people with acquired brain injuries, experience he's drawn on for this new book - a work of fiction that explores the consequences of a tragic car accident at Niagara Falls.

Here's a quick Q&A with the author.

1. What inspired you to write this book?
Simply put― the many, many families I’ve worked with over the past fifteen years. Sharing in their hopes and heartaches, their resilence and regret, their daily struggle to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together provided much of the inspiration for writing Before & After. 

2. How long did it take you to write?
I pecked away at it for a couple of years, writing in the typical ‘ebb-and-flow-mode’ that comes with having a full-time job and being the parent of two young, energetic boys.

3. Would you say this is a departure from your previous books?
Before & After is definitely a departure. It’s more ambitious, emotionally layered and deeply felt than previous work. Blending an intense family drama with a mystery is also something new. 

4. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently splitting time between Alice Munro (Selected Stories) and Giles Blunt (Forty Words for Sorrow) with Brad Smith’s latest (Shoot the Dog) on deck. 

5. What's your definition of success as a writer?

In no particular order: Writing a really good sentence. Transforming an idea into a novel. Having someone I’ve never met tell me they really like my book. 

Great answers. I hope we'll be seeing the book in print before long. 
Find out more about Gordon's work on his website:

The Rich-Mike Hitchhike

We told him about how the Situbondo police force granted us our ‘golden ticket’ through Java and how Suwarno, the generous lorry driver with the booming voice, allowed us to sleep on the back of his lorry with the mango dealers, as he drove us all the way to Jakarta, where I was pummelled to within an inch of my life by a demon masseuse.

Two British lads, working in Australia, decide to take the easy way back home for Christmas - hitchhiking. Halfway around the world. 20,000 km, 20 countries, 100 days. 

We described the anarchy on the slave ship to Singapore, and the evil harpy that cast a spell on us. We told him about how we nearly killed ourselves trying to get out of the urban labyrinth of Kuala Lumpur and about how the antidrug squad tempted us with narcotics as they delivered us to Thailand, where we were greeted by Wantona, the banana eating stoner, Sakorn, the humble owner of Bali house and Winrey, the chatty Indian, who welcomed us to Sadao’s luminous jellyfish forest.

We told him about how Alexei the Giant secured us entry into the bitter cold of Kazakhstan, where I broke up a fight between two wrestlers and then, with the expert stealth of a ninja, avoided the avaricious clutches of a toilet toll troll. We told him about how Alexander, the Russian, and Makhtar, the Kazakh, from the Almaty Soho club, backed by a chorus of beautiful angels, had helped us to escape the crazed terrorist attacks in Taraz, and about how, once we got to Taraz, when the grenade dust had settled, we had to survive a horde of ravenous, flesh eating prostitutes and then sleep in a musky cubbyhole, in the bowels of a brothel, infested with all manner of insects and rodents. We told him about how we had to deal with the intimidating police force of Aqtobe and about how a deceased fascist dictator, reincarnated in cat form, nearly stopped us from fleeing Kazakhstan.

Rich says:

I want people to laugh out loud when they read it. I want the person next to the reader to ask, “What’s so funny, mate?”
“This bit about when Rich and Mike are in Kazakhstan and Rich confuses the outhouse with the puppy shed.”
“Let’s have a read?”
“No chance! Buy it yourself, you cheapskate...”

280 Steps and One-Eyed Jacks

Ever since around the year 2000, I've been lucky enough to read every new Brad Smith novel in manuscript form. I was just leaving my job as a literary agent at Westwood Creative Artists in Toronto when I met Brad so I couldn't represent him, but I've loved every one of his books, which deserve to be better known.

Well, finally, now that I'm doing some rights work again, I've started representing Brad. And I'm thrilled that we are inking our first deal - in fact for his very first book, ONE-EYED JACKS.

The book, about a washed-up boxer, poker games and a quest to buy back a farm, was originally published by Doubleday Canada in hardcover, and Penguin Canada in paperback. Now, a clever new publisher called 280 Steps, specialising in crime fiction e-books, is getting ready to relaunch it as part of their initial offering, which has a rather special line-up. I look forward to seeing the book out there again.

Extraordinary, Inspiring Journeys

On 8th April I made a comment on Twitter that marathon season was upon us again (who knew that days later, the world would be shaken by events in Boston?), and directed those who love running marathons to a book I commissioned for Summersdale by author Phil Hewitt called KEEP ON RUNNING - a great book that has kept on selling since it was published a year ago.

Keep on Running

Phil, aka @marathon_addict, tweeted in reply: 'Have you got a marathon in you somewhere, Jen?' Shudder - nope, not for me! You may catch me running down the beach with the dog, but rarely much farther than that. To be honest, I'd no sooner run a marathon than ski 'ALONE IN ANTARCTICA' like Felicity Aston, an upcoming Summersdale book I've worked on recently. 

Alone in Antarctica      So why do I love working on these books?

Many of the books I commission and edit for Summersdale are extraordinary journeys - whether it's Phil Harwood's CANOEING THE CONGO, which speaks for itself (ha!), or Emma Woolf's AN APPLE A DAY, her journey of recovery from anorexia. They are memoirs of people who did something extraordinary - in Phil's case, running a heck of a lot of marathons, in Felicity's case, becoming the first woman to ski solo across Antarctica - and can communicate what that experience did to them, what it felt like, and what they learned. They are all inspiring, and we take away something important from each. 

Because I have recently finished working on ALONE IN ANTARCTICA, the message is still with me - I won't give away the ending of the book, but it applies to all of us, whatever trials and tribulations we are facing in life. The week after I finished working on it, I was going through some personal difficulties myself, and I tried to remember her words. 

Do you like to read inspiring journeys? What's the most inspiring journey you've read? Are there any Summersdale books you've found inspiring? I'd love to hear what you, as readers, look for.

Have you made an inspiring journey yourself, and can you write about it?

'Light me...' - The Urban Circus

The Urban Circus

Catriona Rainsford's THE URBAN CIRCUS comes out this week

The two first reviews have been amazing, though it's hardly surprising as it completely deserves them:

'a riveting road story... among the poor and dispossessed... I wouldn't be surprised if this fast-paced, vivid description of an otherwise closed world wins her another award' - Anthony Sattin's 'essential reading' for February in the Sunday Times

'A wild and extraordinary book... Highly recommended' - Giles Foden in Conde Nast Traveller

I'm now representing all international rights to this book.

Turning a Blog of Your Incredible Journey into a Book? Some Tips...

I was recently approached by an author who had done an amazing trip with a friend, and was in the process of turning his blogs about the experience into a book. He wanted some advice - and it occurred to me some tips might be useful to others:

It’s sometimes difficult to know how to develop diaries and blog entries into a full-length book. First, read a few books of adventurous journeys and think  about what appeals to you. 
Bear in mind is that the world of publishing moves slowly; we have to ‘sell in’ a book to the trade six months before publication, and the book retailers don’t like to take travel books during the 'Christmas' period between September and February. And you want that book to stay on the shelves for a good few years too. So avoid too many dates and events that will make the book feel dated. Try to make it a timeless story – one that will still inspire 5 years from now. That means you don’t have to rush it, although obviously it would be good to get the book out there before your followers have forgotten what you did… Think about whether a traditional publisher is right for you, if you need to get the book out quickly.
Make sure it’s a great story. You’ve probably got loads of material. Trim the stuff we don’t really need to know. An ideal length for a book like this is 80,000 words. Develop your best anecdotes into scenes with dialogue and description, so we feel we are there with you on the road. Let us feel we are on the journey with you. But a real journey has plenty of boring bits, and they don’t make for good reading (do we really need to go through the experience of visa applications with you?). Get us on the road with you as soon as you can, then tell the bits about setting up the journey in flashback perhaps. Though do include some of the difficult times – the highs and the lows – and if one of the lows is boredom, it’s fine to show that.
 Good characters are essential – the main characters are you and whoever you went on the journey with (if anyone), so make sure we get a good sense of you. If you did the trip with someone else, we'll need to know if that other person is thinking of writing a competing book - not a good idea! Ideally, if you're both interested in writing a book, you'll want to be working together to maximise potential.
Adventure stories are great, but we also want to understand why you’re doing this journey. It's an interesting measure of our times that people are doing extraordinary journeys all the time. We get dozens of proposals from people who've cycled the world, or walked around Britain. So there has to be a reason why people will want to read your story, what makes it special and inspiring – and you have to tell it in a compelling way. 
No pressure, eh?!
If you're thinking of sending to Summersdale, I'd like to see a proposal and two sample chapters, ideally the first two. Let me know what plans you have for the future. 
And good luck with it. 


In January last year, as some of you may remember, 34-year-old British woman Felicity Aston – whose first 'expedition' involved being bribed up Helvellyn in the rain at the age of nine with a packet of Opal Fruits – completed her solo crossing of the Antarctic. Her honest tweets from the incredible journey were followed by ten thousand people on Twitter.

I’m excited to announce that this summer Summersdale will be publishing Felicity’s book about the journey – the emotional and psychological journey, as well as the physical one.

What would it feel like to be out there alone in such vast emptiness? I think a lot of people want to know how it would feel to be isolated like that, and what drives a person to do such a thing.

Only three people in the world have crossed Antarctica alone. The first two were men and both Norwegian. Just to go one better, Felicity didn’t use kites or parasails to assist her. Past expeditions had pushed her but she didn’t feel she had found her limits. Her achievement featured in more than 250 national newspapers around the globe, on countless radio and TV broadcasts.

The people who followed her on Twitter and the more than 130,000 people who listened to her ‘phonecasts’ over the 59-day journey responded to her openness and humour – the frustration of hallucinating the smell of freshly baked bread, and the difficulty of doing laundry at -40ºC, as well as the solitude and the difficulty keeping going. Felicity brings a fresh voice to Antarctic exploration for a new generation.

Felicity Aston has spent over a decade travelling, working and living all over the Polar Regions; she led the first British women’s team to cross Greenland, and in 2009 led the most international team of women ever to ski to the South Pole, the subject of her first book, Call of the White, a finalist in the Banff Mountain Book Competition in 2011.