Jacquie Bloese: The French House

Jacquie Bloese was shortlisted in the Caledonia Novel Award 2020 with The Watcher of Hauteville House. Now The French House, this haunting, evocative debut introduces Emile and Isabelle, two lovers long separated by tragedy and reunited during the Second World War in Nazi-occupied Guernsey. The French House is published on 28 April by Hodder & Stoughton.

Jacquie – huge congratulations on today’s publication of  The French House! It’s been such an exciting couple of years for you! What’s been happening to you and your novel since it was shortlisted in the Caledonia Novel Award 2020?

It really has! Around the time of the shortlisting, I started sending the novel out to an initial wishlist of agents. Over the next couple of months, there were a few near misses, and then Giles Milburn of Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency got in touch to say how much he liked it. Exciting moment number 1 … in April of the first lockdown. I signed with him and we worked together on a few edits, and then in October 2020, it went on submission as The French House to publishers.

As Christmas approached, with no word, I was beginning to give up hope, and then an offer for a two-book deal came in from Hodder & Stoughton. The best news ever … and even better because it was in that slim window between lockdowns two and three, so I could go out and celebrate somewhere other than my living room! There wasn’t much more editorial work to do on the book, so I’ve mainly been able to concentrate on the next novel, in the interim, which has been good.
Which part of the process did you enjoy the most?

I really enjoyed seeing how the Design, Editorial and Marketing teams at Hodder worked together to create both the cover and the materials that are sent out to reviewers. It’s a real thrill when bloggers and fellow authors post photos on social media and I’ve been blown away by the generosity of other writers who’ve kindly read and reviewed the book. The first review I received – from historical fiction author Gill Paul – felt particularly special – apparently Gill had been about to discard it from her teetering pile of proofs, before the first page drew her in, and kept her reading to the end … Just what every writer wants to hear, really!

And more recently, as I’ve been doing some publicity in the run-up to publication, I’ve enjoyed getting a snapshot of other people’s working days – so far I’ve talked to a class of Year 4 school children about story telling via Zoom, chatted to a podcast presenter and had my moment on live radio (not as terrifying as I’d thought, thanks to the skill of the interviewer!).

It must be lovely to be able to celebrate the launch of  The French House in person – what have you got planned for your publication day on 28th April?

I’m having a launch at my agent’s offices in London, which I’m really looking forward to. To reflect the Guernsey setting (although not the privations of life under Occupation) Guernsey gin and traditional gâche (fruit loaf) will be served!

As well as a hardback version of  The French House, we can look forward to an audiobook, narrated by Candida Gubbins. Do tell us how all this came about!

Audio books have grown from strength to strength over the past few years, so I was really pleased that Hodder was planning an audio version of The French House, along with the other formats. I spent an hour or so, a couple of months ago, recording all the Guernsey-French pronunciations in the book as a guide for the narrator – I can’t wait to hear the final version! 
You signed a two-book deal with Hodder – can you tell us how are things progressing with your second novel  The Golden Hour?

Steadily! I’m about two-thirds of the way through the second draft. There have been a lot of changes from the first draft so it’s almost like a first draft in parts. I’m focusing on getting structure and character motivation right, but it will need another re-draft before it’s ready to submit. Funnily enough, it’s following a fairly similar trajectory to The French House, which also had three main drafts.

As a great supporter of writing competitions, what encouragement would you give to anyone thinking of entering the Caledonia Novel Award 2023?

Enter, enter, enter! When you’re submitting your novel to agent after agent, it can sometimes feel as if you’d be better off just throwing your manuscript out of the window and hoping for the best! But in competitions, the odds are more on your side. Someone has to win; someone has to make the longlist and the shortlist. While it may not always be a golden ticket to literary success, being placed in a respected competition like the Caledonia Novel Award, will make your novel stand out. Writing to a deadline is good practice anyway, as is putting your work out there to be read.
(Author photo by Emma Croman)
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