Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The First Sentence of The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer + Giveaway! (US/Can only)

The Girl in the Red Coat
Kate Hamer

Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go missing.

And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.

Shattered, Beth sets herself on a grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.

Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother...

Alternating between Beth’s story and Carmel’s, and written in gripping prose that won’t let go, The Girl in the Red Coat—like Emma Donoghue’s Room and M. L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans—is an utterly immersive story that’s impossible to put down... and impossible to forget.

The First Sentence of The Girl in the Red Coat

I dream of Carmel often. In my dreams she’s always walking backwards.
This is the first TWO sentences, I know, I know! Is that a cheat? The thing is they belong together—part and parcel. If this were a film it would be the opening shot that sets in train the whole story and marks the tone and atmosphere for it.

The first chapter of the book came to me more or less in a flash. A couple of weeks earlier I’d had a very clear and strong image of a little girl in a red coat. She was standing in a forest and a wind blew about the dark trees behind her. She was lost, I was sure of that, I just didn’t know why or how. Then one night when I was at my Mum’s house—in dark and windy West Wales—I sat up in bed and wrote the first chapter more or less in one go. Chatting to other writers has been an eye opener. Some say they begin in the middle or even the end of their novels and work backwards and I find it so intriguing to learn about all the different ways of working. But those opening sentences were the very first thing I wrote of The Girl in the Red Coat.

I guess what surprised me was that it wasn’t the little girl, Carmel’s voice, that came first, but her mother in that first chapter. She’s talking about her daughter—remembering, missing her. This first chapter is special to me for a number of reasons and one of them is that it’s changed very little since I first wrote it that night. Usually I edit exhaustively, I don’t like to think how many drafts I did of the book! But this first chapter is barely edited at all—I think it was just a couple of cuts here and there. For me, it was the launch of both the feeling and the plot of the story. Beth is remembering the way her daughter looked, her unusual little character, dreamy and even rather scruffy with her shirt collar all wonky and her tights sagging. But she’s also someone who can seemingly stick her hands onto someone’s head and make them feel better at a touch. She’s an old head on young shoulders as they say.

In that first chapter we know something terrible has happened but we’re not sure quite what. When I saw the opening credits for the television series Homeland I thought, that’s it, that’s what I was trying to achieve in that piece. It’s the fragments of memory, the jumbled images—some of them even upside down or the wrong way round that creates such a sense of unease in those titles. Strangely, there’s even a maze in them as there is in the novel. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. In the first chapter there are memories, bits of remembered conversations, odd images—it’s a snapshot of the inside Beth’s head I guess.

The other theme that is seeded in that opening is the mother and daughter relationship which is the bedrock of the whole book. When I came to write a piece for the UK newspaper The Independent on mother and daughter books in literature I found I had to really hunt to find them. There’s Pride and Prejudice of course, but Mrs. Bennett gets a pretty hard time. Writers such as Edna O’Brien and the mid twentieth century writer Elizabeth Jenkins have written very movingly about mothers and daughters. Hilary Mantel’s book Every Day Is Mother’s Day is a frankly terrifying portrayal of the relationship, and is a mesmerizing read because of it. But I had quite a hard time coming up with many of them. I’ve since come across a few more such as the stunning ‘In the Name of Salome’ by Julia Alvarez. It also made me realise how often the books I read that featured mothers and daughter relationships very prominently were full of loss and longing. It’s there in one of the very first visions of mother and daughter, the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. When Persephone is snatched by Hades and taken to the underworld the land becomes bare and blighted the loss to Demeter is so great. It’s there too in the Shakespeare play in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ – Hermione’s loss of her daughter Perdita is so stitched into the story that Perdita even means ‘the lost she’ in Latin.

In some ways the whole of the book is encapsulated in those two sentences. Beth is dreaming about her daughter because of the loss, Carmel haunts her memories and her dreams. The image of walking backwards was a powerful one for me. It kind of intimates that all is not right with the universe, some terrible thing has occurred and the natural laws have been messed with. But there’s also something of their relationship in the image too, Beth reaches out but Carmel only ever seems to get more distant; that push-me-pull-you quality of the mother daughter relationship, close and loving yet with the daughter also needing to separate and create her own identity. I also like to think too that it shows that Carmel, in one way or another, was always trying to return home.

About the Author

I grew up Pembrokeshire and have had a passion for books since being a small child, I have written stories ever since I could hold a pencil. I studied art in university then worked in television for over ten years - mostly on documentaries, much of which involved using my writing skills. I studied creative writing at Aberystwyth University and won a prize there for the "best beginning to a novel," the book that went on to be The Girl in the Red Coat. I also completed the Curtis Brown Creative course.

I won the Rhys Davies short story prize in 2011 and the winning story was read out on Radio 4.

I live in Cardiff with my husband and Mimi the cat. We go for long walks and to the pub quite a lot.


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of The Girl in the Red Coat—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is answer Kate's question in the comments below:
What is you favorite mother-daughter novel?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Kate and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the tour publicist and publisher—a huge thank you to the lovely folks at TLC Book Tours and Melville House Books!
Giveaway ends March 29th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US and Canada residents only. Sorry, everyone else! Please check my sidebar for a list of currently running giveaways that are open worldwide. There are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
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Good luck!