I began writing The Green Table over ten years ago on an Arvon course – Writing for Young Adults, led by Celia Rees, and the wonderful Jan Mark, who died only three months later. But in many ways it began much earlier than that. I was twenty one when I lived as a student and au pair in Amsterdam. On summer weekends I walked the length and breadth of the city, soaking up its unique atmosphere. It felt so much closer to the events of the Second World War than England – and I could sense the shadow of Nazi Occupation. ‘You’re all going to start a novel this week,’ Jan Mark told us, and I wrote the first page of The Green Table – a German dance teacher living in Amsterdam, and ranting against Hitler and Nazi Occupation as she teaches her young students. And so it went on.
‘The Green Table’ as a novel for teens never quite made it to publication. Twice it was accepted by editors of well known publishing houses, but refused by the marketing panel. So, to counter despair, I went off to do an MA.
One of my fellow students on that long ago Arvon course was Jan Fortune, who created and runs Cinnamon Press, and encourages many writers of fiction and poetry to reach potential. After completing my MA I had an idea I’d like to redraft The Green Table as a novel for adults – enabling me to explore adult perspectives on the theme of oppression, as well as my young protagonist of the original work. So, with Jan as mentor, and her unfailing support and love for my original idea, I began a task that was far more difficult than I ever imagined. So difficult that it sometimes felt like the mental equivalent of clinging to a precipice, unable to go up or down for fear of falling.
I’ve just completed a first draft, and after reading it aloud, I know at last that I can make it work. Jan has agreed to publish it in the autumn 2015, the tenth anniversary of Cinnamon Press.
Last week I had my first conversation about the book cover with Adam Craig and I now wait to see his initial ideas. And tomorrow I’m flying off to Amsterdam for two days to walk the city again before writing the final draft. There’s a sense of relief, even delight, to have got this far, and to have found such encouraging companions along the way.