Abigail is an English author, based in Northern France, just across the water from us here in Jersey. Six months ago, she published her first novel.
The seemingly endless 1967 Summer of Love and the beautiful people around her were the inspiration for Abigail’s debut novel, Colette: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.
I was delighted when Abigail agreed to be interviewed about Colette: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and to discuss the very personal emotional journey that led her to write it. I really enjoyed getting to know one of the most openly honest people I have ever had the good fortune to meet.
I write my characters as real people. They love, laugh, fight, and swear (yes, they even use the F word sometimes.)
TESSA: Abigail, welcome to Lost Blogs. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you here. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
ABIGAIL: Yes and no. As a teenager living and working in Guernsey, I wrote poetry for my own enjoyment and composed songs for a band I was involved with. Writing a novel never entered my head until many years later.
TESSA: As a teenager, I was obsessed with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind and I saw the film 3 times… in the same week! What book most influenced your life?
ABIGAIL: I was privileged to be nineteen in 1967, the Summer of Love. I’ve never read the book, but I went to see To Sir with Love several times, it’s still one of my favorite films. I was probably the only boy who ever fell in love with both Sidney Poitier and Lulu at the same time, (yes, I was a boy then) and I desperately wanted to be like Judy Geeson.
TESSA: When did you first decide that you wanted to write a book?
ABIGAIL: While in hospital in the late nineties, I spent many pleasant hours reminiscing with a lovely woman of around my age. At that time, I was a very private person, but I found myself opening up to her in a way that I’d not done with anyone for years. As I was about to leave the ward, she suggested that one day I should write my life story.
During the next three years, I mulled it over and jotted down some of my teenage memories. I decided that I could not write my own story, but gradually an idea for a book took shape. In 2002 I drafted the first six chapters, then life got in the way and I didn’t revisit my manuscript until sixteen years later. There’s a lot of me in Colette, but I leave it to the reader to figure out what.
TESSA: During my first attempt at writing a novel, I just let rip, letting the story unfold as I wrote it, and my characters developed as I went along. I have been more organized with my current project, having got to know my characters before I started, with a clear idea about where I’m taking them. How do you develop your plots and characters?
ABIGAIL: When my husband and I took early retirement in 2004 and moved to France, we developed a network of English and French friends. During one of our get-togethers, someone suggested putting on a pantomime. (a comedy stage show based on a children’s fairy tale) With help from our newly formed drama group, we converted one of our barns into a Little Theatre. I was ‘volunteered’ to write and direct Cinderella, the first of many shows over the years. I quickly learned how to develop characters and plot, and write compelling dialogue.
I always write what I call a ‘roadmap’ with points along the way that I must reach in a story. My characters are mostly based on people I have known. As the saying goes; their names are changed to protect the guilty! While writing the first draft, my plot thickens and my characters often head off in a direction different to that which I’d intended. But that’s OK, life is like that too.
TESSA: Tell us about your latest book, Colette: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.
ABIGAIL: Colin is a shy, introverted nineteen-year-old boatbuilder and musician with a secret. When he starts a new job in Guernsey, his employer’s wife, Leanne, detects the female inside him and supports his transition into Colette.
While encouraging Colette to explore her sexuality, Leanne questions her own physical needs. Together the pair embark on a rollercoaster journey of sex, love, and rock ‘n’ roll.
Then Colette falls for fellow boatbuilder, George, and both women’s lives are turned upside down. Torn between Leanne and George, an unexpected turn of events forces Colette to choose.
TESSA: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
ABIGAIL: I wasn’t prepared for the emotional turmoil. Many of the things that Colette endured were my own experiences. Two scenes were particularly hard to write. The first is when Colin opens up to Leanne about his childhood; at an early age, he couldn’t understand why he was dressed as a boy when he identified as a girl. The bullying at school, and the loneliness of his early teenage years.
The second hardest part to write was when Colette witnessed a female rival giving birth, she knew she’d never experience such a wonderful thing as childbirth herself. I admit to shedding a tear or two when I wrote those scenes.
TESSA: What is your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
ABIGAIL: There are two parts that come immediately to mind. I’m fond of sailing, so Colette’s trip to the neighboring island of Sark on George’s boat was a joy to write. It’s also the chapter where he accepts her difference from other girls.
The other enjoyable part was writing George’s mum, Beth. She’s a muddleheaded woman who has the gift of perception. In her own way, she is the key to how this part of Colette’s story ends.
TESSA: Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
ABIGAIL: Are you kidding? I learned a huge amount. Remember, I had no idea how to write a novel. I count myself very lucky that I have a good friend in Jackie Ley. A multi-published successful author herself, she encouraged me to write Colette’s story. Not only that, but she critiqued every chapter for me and guided me when I lost my way. An amazing woman who I am so very lucky to have as a friend.
To be fair, I should also pay tribute to my wonderful husband, Alex, for his unwavering support. Also, to my longtime friend, Kay Ashton, for the countless hours on messenger beta reading.
TESSA: I understand that you are currently writing books 2 and 3, which will be part of the Colette trilogy. Without giving too much away, are these books focused on the continuation of your main character’s journey?
ABIGAIL: Book two is set mainly at a boatyard on the Norfolk Broads. It continues the timeline with new and existing characters. Colette joins an all-girl rock band. Do they become famous? A new relationship perhaps? I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until it’s published to find out.
Sorry, I can’t tell you what happens in book three. Except to say that it is set nineteen years in the future. Anyone who reads chapters fifteen and the final chapter of book one may guess why 1987 is an important year for both Colettes. Now there’s a teaser for you!
TESSA: Indeed! Thank you, Abigail, for taking the time to talk to us and giving us a fascinating insight into what must have been an emotional rollercoaster ride for you whilst writing Colette: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and we wish you every success.
Before you go, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, etc.)
ABIGAIL: I’m always thrilled when readers take the trouble to get in touch. I try to respond promptly. The easiest way to contact me is to leave a message on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SunsetOverLihou/or use my email address in the author’s bio at the back of the book.
I’d also like to include my appreciation to you, Tessa, for devoting some of your precious time to publishing your blog. I’ve enjoyed reading all the posts, especially those introducing your author friends. I hope my small contribution is as interesting for your followers.
TESSA: Writing about people is my favourite thing! And, I’ve enjoyed meeting you, Abigail and, after books 2 and 3 are in print, we should reconvene! In the meantime, I leave our readers with the book trailer for Colette: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.