In the summer of 2009, the 1911 census was made available online. A friend told me about it, and one evening I thought, hmm, I wonder if I can find my grandparents on that census? I decided to have a look for my mum’s father. He’d had an unusual surname, and I knew he’d been born in Worthing, so I thought I’d be in with a good chance of finding him.
That idle thought was the beginning of an obsession with genealogy. I found my grandfather easily, then began tracing back through the censuses and other records, as far as I could go. Over time this led me to not only find out loads about my family tree, but also to discover and meet distant relatives I hadn’t known about, and eventually to the inspiration for genealogy-based novels.
My first novel was based on some characters and events from my own family tree, but one problem I had with that one is that I felt too constrained by the truth, by my own research. My characters had to marry, give birth and die on the dates my ancestors had. They couldn’t be completely free. But of course writers love making stuff up, and I’m no different, so the obvious next step was to write a novel based on an entirely fictitious family tree. What if you’d researched your whole family tree and thought you knew your ancestry for the last couple of hundred years, but your ancestors had secrets they’d buried deeply? What if you really did find a skeleton in your family history closet?
And so began the story which became The Emerald Comb. It was a lot of fun to write. I outlined the two plots – the contemporary story and the 1840s story – and drew up an entire family tree spanning two centuries. Actually I had to draw up two trees – the ‘real’ one and the one my character Katie had discovered in her research. They’re not quite the same, as readers of the novel will discover.
My own genealogy research helped with this novel – I knew what you can find out online, and what processes researchers will go through. Katie’s not based on me, but I reckon if she was real and I met her we’d have lots to talk about!
The Emerald Comb explores the idea of identity. Just who do you think you are, and how important is it important to know your ancestry? Katie thinks it’s crucial, but her husband who was adopted, thinks not. Both of them change their beliefs during the course of the book.
Launched this week, and available to buy as an ebook from all outlets. Price is £3.79 at the time of writing. It’s been well received so far – I’ve had some wonderful early reviews!
For more blog posts related to this book, click on the book title at the top of the page!
My feet and the ground have been strangers to each other today as I’ve charged around the internet publicising The Emerald Comb. I’ve been featured on a few blogs already, with more to come later in the week, and another blog tour organised for late October. It’s lovely to see a few 5-star reviews already being posted! (Though Becca’s 5-cupcake review is the tastiest so far.)
I’m putting links to all Emerald Comb related blogs, interviews and reviews up on the Emerald Comb page at the top of the blog, so keep an eye on that for the latest!
Later this week I’ll post here about how I went from researching my own family tree to writing a genealogy-inspired novel…
The free promotion of Ghost Stories and How to Write Them ended yesterday. For the statistic-loving nerds among you, here’s how it fared. Overall I gave away 421 copies of the book, across 4 continents (don’t you just love the global reach of Amazon?)
I made a little pie chart showing the split:
You can see that more Americans downloaded the book than Brits. The ‘Others section’ is made up of:
- Germany 7
- France 2
- Spain 1
- Italy 3
- India 2
- Canada 9
- Brazil 2
On the UK site, the book quickly went to #1 in the Reference – Writing (free) chart and stayed there for the entire 5-day promotion which was very pleasing. It also got to #3 in the Anthologies (free) chart, and stayed in the top 5. On the US site, it got into the free charts on day 1 of the promotion but then fell out again. I’d have liked it to get into the top 100 overall free books, but the highest it made was about 300.
Here’s another chart showing my overall paid sales of both How To books for comparison:
The ‘Others’ here is made up of Canada 3, Germany 1, France 1. The ‘borrowings’ are to Amazon Prime customers. You get a percentage of the Amazon Prime pot for these, but because my books’ selling price is so cheap, I get as much for a borrowing as I do for a sale.
As I put in my last post, I was hoping the promotion would lead to more reviews and perhaps more sales of my other book, Short Stories and How to Write Them. Did this happen? Well, I got one more review of Ghost Stories during the course of the promotion, and of course, I need to allow time for those people who got it for nothing to read it.
What conclusions can we draw from all this? Well it’s pretty clear the Americans like a freebie, isn’t it? 😀
And I did notice that sales of Short Stories picked up a little. Before the promotion began, it had dropped down out of the charts after its initial sales surge had ended. But as soon as the Ghost Stories promotion began, it climbed back up and stayed in the top 20 Reference – Writing (paid) chart, and also in the top 20 Anthologies (paid). So I think the promotion did have an effect on its sales.
I could probably have worked harder to promote the promotion. Apart from a few Facebook updates and a post on each of my blogs, I didn’t do a lot. Some kind friends tweeted about it and shared Facebook links. But I didn’t want to spend 5 days running around the internet looking for places to spout on about my freebie, so I did a bit and left it at that.
Would I do another free promotion? Well, yes, probably. At some point I might put Short Stories and How to Write Them down to nothing for a day or two. (But if you were thinking of buying it, please go ahead because I have no plans for free promotions at the moment and it would be next year at the earliest!)