‘A magical, thought-provoking and uplifting tale … one of this year’s must-reads’ –Daily Mirror
‘A stunning debut. Made me laugh out loud, cry … and ache with recognition’ — The Huffington Post
I wanted to interview Hattie Holden Edmonds, when I heard about her 10 year journey to get her debut novel published. I’m always interested in such journeys, in the sheer tenacity required, the courage and conviction needed. It would be so easy to give up, but Hattie didn’t. She listened to the advice given, rewrote and revised and never stopped believing that Cinema Lumière was a story worth reading. Last month it came out in paperback and in ebook form.
When did you start writing Hattie?
Setting aside the rather bizarre short stories I used to write as a child, mostly featuring my pet ferrets (!), my first proper writing was for the music section of Exeter university magazine. U2 was the very first band I interviewed. It was back in 1982 and I clearly hadn’t done my research. For some inexplicable reason I thought that their Irish accent sounded American, so my opening question was – so where in the States do you come from? Ooops.
I started writing Cinema Lumière back in 2002 and finished it – or so I thought – two years later. I managed to get a big agent, Clare Conville, but all the publishing houses turned it down. They loved the idea but said that I hadn’t pulled it off. So I left it and wrote two other novels. I came back to it in 2011.
Can you describe Cinema Lumière in five words?
Life, death, love, loss, laughter.
Ok, now you’ve got a little longer…what’s the heart of your story?
Cinema Lumière is about a cinema with one seat where you are shown a film of your life. The main character, Hannah, is stuck in a dead-end job, she’s reeling from the fall out of her last relationship and her mental state is far from stable. In fact, she’s hard-pushed to find a single reason for her existence – until the day she stumbles across the mysterious French filmmaker Victor Lever and his tiny one-seated cinema.
Can you tell us something about your writing style?
As a former in-house writer at Comic Relief, I love trying to combine comedy with the big stuff of life. As for influences, Kate Atkinson is a favourite, along with David Nicholls, Nick Nornby and the poet Ben Okri.
What’s the best thing about writing Cinema Lumière?
The best thing was that I really had to learn patience, determination and faith. That and the funny parts which make me – and hopefully other people – chuckle.
And the worst?
Definitely all the knock backs along the way. Several publishers said that they were interested, then backed out further down the line. The route to publication was ridiculously long and riddled with rejection. Having rewritten Cinema Lumière so many times over the ten years, re-submitting it periodically to various publishers, I eventually sent it to Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. That was a good decision.
Back in April of this year, I decided that I would publish the book myself – before I went crackers from yet more rejection! At the last minute, however, I happened to go to the Whitstable literary festival where I met Clare Christian (Young Publisher of the Year) who founded Red Door Publishing. Red Door is one of the first selective self-publishing companies, which means that the author still pays for the costs, but is guided by Clare’s expert advice. Having worked for twenty years inside traditional publishing (Hodder, HarperCollins and Orion), she knows what she is talking about.
Any advice for emerging writers?
If you feel passionate enough about your book and are prepared to put in the work and listen to professional advice, you will get there in the end!
More about Hattie – in her own words
Born in Sarratt, a sweet little village in Hertfordshire, I grew up going to gymkhanas, reading Jilly Cooper and wearing Laura Ashley leg o’ mutton sleeved shirts. Boarding school was followed by Exeter University to study German. It was only when I escaped to Berlin aged twenty to teach English for a year that things took a left turn. Living in an old sewing machine factory in Kreuzberg, going to gigs and hanging around Kino Eiszeit – where I saw my first Wim Wenders and Jim Jarmusch films – I found my tribe.
But four years later, fun as it was, I needed a career, ideally something that I was passionate about, that would pay the rent. Back in London, I was lucky enough to land a job as the London correspondent for the German pop magazine Bravo, interviewing all sorts of 90’s music luminaries from Iron Maiden, Mariah Carey and Oasis to Bon Jovi, East 17 and Whigfield.
Ten years on, however, I was still somehow searching for that elusive ‘passion’, so a friend sent me to see a psychic. According to Teresa at the London College of Psychic Studies, I was going to write ‘funny’ books, which would have a spiritual theme. Yeah, right, I thought as I left. That was a waste of forty quid.
A rather weird set of events followed, which ended up volunteering at Comic Relief, then being given the job of in-house copywriter there. It was the best job ever and I got to work on projects with Richard Curtis, Armando Iannucci and Sacha Baron Cohen. Three years after the psychic’s prediction, I finally started my first novel, inspired by an account of a woman who was shown a film of her life during a near-death experience. That was ten years ago, and now I write full time, run a ramshackle cinema in a fisherman’s hut in Whitstable, and teach meditation at a palliative care unit in Ladbroke Grove.
Funny old path, but I finally found my passion.
Thank you Hattie.
Her attitude reminds me of Donal Ryan, the Irish writer I wrote about last year when his first novel was long-listed for the Booker. It had been rejected 47 times. He says he is not so much a role model for other writers as a model for stubbornness. Since then Ryan has published another novel and is talked about whenever contemporary Irish writing is discussed. He is on the long list for the post of laureate for Fiction (I wrote about it a few days ago) and it would have been a surprise not to have seen his name there.
Of course, it only works if you’re not self-deluded, if you’re not kidding yourself…but not giving up is perhaps one of the defining qualities of a writer.