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 VĂ©rant, 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!