L’Amour Actually is a fictionalised travel memoir. What on earth, you may ask, is one of those? Well, the story is loosely based on my life living in rural France. I moved there with my (now ex) husband and family in 2005. We had a fabulous time but it seemed that I blundered through life in France in a whirlwind of slapstick, like Buster Keaton in a dress and flipflops! I speak fluent French, I did all my research before we left to make sure we got it all right, I had a husband and two kids. But who wants to hear about that? Let’s be honest. British family moves to France, has a great time, a few funny moments, yada, yada, yada. I’m practically boring myself!
So how about we take those same stories, we make our heroine a younger and sassier (and slimmer, judging by the book cover) version of me, who’s single and maybe looking for lurve, who doesn’t speak a word of French and has no idea what to expect? So that’s what I did and the end result is L’Amour Actually. Some of it happened, some of it happened but not exactly as I’ve written it and some of it didn’t happen at all. It’s up to the reader to decide what’s what. Truth, though, often is stranger than fiction and when we were editing, several times comments were made that something seemed ‘a bit far-fetched’. Every time, the story was a true one. The end result has been described by one reviewer on Amazon as a sublimely funny French frolic.
One of the questions I’m asked most often is how did I get a book deal? In my case I was exceptionally lucky. When I first started to write L’Amour Actually, which was then called La Vie en Rosé, I put it up on a writing website, Authonomy, run by HarperCollins. It was where Miranda Dickinson was discovered. I wanted to test the waters and see if I had written something that anyone would want to read. Authonomy has a ranking system, whereby other users can rate your book and it will then rise or fall in the ranks accordingly. Within months it had risen in the ranks from over 6,000 to number 40 and had garnered hundreds of positive comments (and the odd negative one just for balance.) I joined critique groups on the site and got valuable feedback that helped me to hone and improve it. I entered and won a first chapter competition. It was nipped and tucked to within an inch of its life. It was then that I was contacted by Jen Barclay, then the Commissioning Editor for Summersdale with those immortal words, ‘are you looking for a publisher?’ I gave it approximately a nanosecond of thought and wrote back that yes I was. She put it to her colleagues and they accepted it. Could it really be that easy? I hadn’t so much as sent out a query letter, never mind got a rejection. The trouble was I’d only written half of it.
With a contract in my hand, the race was on to finish it by the December deadline. It was then that the insecurities kicked in. What if the rest wasn’t as good? What if I couldn’t finish it? I burned the candle at both ends for weeks, my children rarely had a decent packed lunch to take to school and their uniform was, more often than not, still in the laundry basket on Monday morning, but, stoic to the end, they put up with this slightly mad, rambling fool who was their mother. In the end, L’Amour Actually came in 30,000 words too long but fortunately, according to Summersdale, just as good. Phew!
I soon got a crash course in the hell that is editing. If you think writing is the hard bit, think again! Every time you take out a single sentence you have to think about what impact it will have on the story as a whole. With 30,000 words to lose, I ended up having to completely rewrite the ending.
Eventually, the final copy edit was done; it was signed off and on its way to the printers. It had all seemed far too easy. Right up until the moment that I got my first real copy in my hand, I was expecting someone to jump up and shout ‘Joke!’
I went to a writer’s development day recently, led by Sarah Graham, author of ‘Kissing Mr Wrong’ and ‘A Single to Rome’ who told us that these days nobody gets their first book published. It made me realise just how lucky I’ve been.
L'Amour Actually is available now. You can find out more about the book and author on Facebook, Twitter and Melanie's blog, The Accidental Author.