Every so often, you get the inside track on a book that you just know will be one for you. Already firmly on my wish list, A New Map of Love by Abi Oliver is published by Pan Macmillan in hardback and for kindle on 20th April, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Here’s the description that caught my eye – and my imagination.
How can you pack for the journey of a lifetime?
George Baxter has settled for a comfortable life, content as the years unfold predictably – until Win, his wife of twenty-six years, dies.
With his loyal dog Monty by his side, George throws himself into his work as an antiques dealer. His business is at the heart of the village and all sorts pass through the doors, each person in search of their own little piece of history.
When George meets local widow Sylvia Newsome, he imagines a different kind of future. But life has more revelations to offer him. Over the course of an English summer George uncovers some unexpected mysteries from his past, which could shape his tomorrows . . .
If you’d like to read a little more, there’s also a very enticing extract available via Pan Macmillan. And maybe just a few endorsements from the back cover?
‘Full of hilarious set pieces and moments of tender reflection . . . the last page is as lovely as the first. I loved it’ Kit de Waal, author of the Costa-shortlisted My Name is Leon
‘An acute and beguiling study of life, love and the endless flat-footed dance between men and women’ Sarah Dunant
I’m delighted to welcome author Abi Oliver to Being Anne with a wonderful guest post – all about cultivating your childhood nouns…
The man has a rope knotted round his neck. Beside him stands a priest, head nodding as he reads from a leather-bound missal. A trap door opens and the condemned man plunges down. The light goes off: the show is over.
‘There you go,’ my father says. ‘That’ll keep you quiet for a bit.’
Or something like that – the 60s equivalent of ‘go and play in the road…’
Within seconds I can see this re-enactment again by inserting a huge, pre-decimal penny into the slot. There is a box of them, dark and verdigris-tinged.
The hanging scene has arrived in my father’s shop this morning. It is not the sort of thing he usually sells – he is of the school who think anything made after 1830 beneath contempt. So this box of seaside entertainment from a pier at Brighton, Blackpool or Ryde, must have tickled his fancy. It soon tickles someone else’s and disappears.
Another day, in the back room of the shop, I stare, fascinated into a wooden chest: syringes of disturbing sizes (some still with powdered contents), birthing forceps, lengths of perished rubber tubing and a selection of gadgets designed for probing, poking, scooping… Dad demonstrates one later – ‘this is for taking tonsils out.’ Loop that bit over the tonsil, spike, slide, chop… Each item is so shapely, so expressive of what it has been up to… A sense of horror creeps like mould across my eight-year-old mind.
Growing up over an antique shop in the Thames Valley was a key part of my early life. Our flat sat above two floors of shop – a place which did not stay long the same, the scenery changing, like living in a theatre – a hanging machine one day, a harpsichord or dining table the next. And there was the cast of characters who inhabited the place – cabinet makers and restorers out in the workshop, the cleaning lady with her bandaged legs , the manager who developed a tumour on the brain…
This was an environment rich in nouns.
Childhood is a vital time for writers. The shaping of your imagination, that archive of images fraught with distress or looping you back into acute happiness, is a treasure trove and many writers keep mining these stores in one form or another.
Often, at the beginning of a writing life, our memories and images come out undigested. The ‘autobiographical novel’ is sometimes seen as something that has to be got out of the way. (Mine is, fortunately, still in a drawer.) It’s almost as if we have to clear the decks for fiction. Or maybe we just have to get a bit older, live a bit more to give those nouns a new expression.
I have wanted to be a writer ever since I can remember. In fact I have been a writer since I can remember (after all, it’s not just about being published, though I have been that too). Some of these childhood items have found their way into my stories.
For years I have thought about writing about the life of a country antique dealer. It has taken a long time of writing other things, and finally an MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University, to get around to it.
When I came to write A New Map of Love, my first novel as Abi Oliver, much of it came easily, in the sense that the territory was familiar. There were also a number of objects very key in my mind in creating the story – George’s van, his dog, some of the antiques. However, I no longer felt the need for the story to be autobiographical. Other layers have been laid over childhood imagery and I have been able to let memories and nouns play out in the road’s imagination – and make them into something new.
– Your childhood memories are unique to you: own and safeguard them as your distinctive creative resources.
– Even ordinary objects and scenes will be invested with your particular emotional response to them. Your nouns, your one-eyed teacher/pink socks/pet gerbils can be emotional ticking bombs or coloured fountains. Nouns are our most concrete of building blocks.
– Use photo albums, old diaries and letters, visits to places you half remember – returning to places is a powerful trigger
– If your past is painful, with courage you can tell a strong story to help someone else feel less alone.
– If your past is happy, with generosity you can present a joyful outlook to your readers – not everyone wants to read about misery.
– In these concrete, particular things, can be found the expression of the heart.
Abi, I’m so looking forward to reading your book – I wish you every success…
About the Author
Abi Oliver has spent much of her life in the Thames Valley. She studied at Oxford and London Universities, has worked for a charity, as a nurse, on Indian Railways and as a writer. She has also raised four children and lives in Purley-on-Thames. This is her first novel as Abi Oliver.