Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The White Camellia by Juliet Greenwood

Release Date: 15th September 2016
Publisher: Honno, The Welsh Women's Press
Genres: Historical Fiction

1909. Cornwall.  Her family ruined, Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, and self-made business woman Sybil moves in.  Owning Tressillion is Sybil’s triumph — but now what? As the house casts its spell over her, as she starts to make friends in the village despite herself, will Sybil be able to build a new life here, or will hatred always rule her heart?

Bea finds herself in London, responsible for her mother and sister’s security. Her only hope is to marry Jonathon, the new heir. Desperate for options, she stumbles into the White Camellia tearoom, a gathering place for the growing suffrage movement. For Bea it’s life-changing, can she pursue her ambition if it will heap further scandal on the family? Will she risk arrest or worse?

When those very dangers send Bea and her White Camellia friends back to Cornwall, the two women must finally confront each other and Tresillion’s long buried secrets.


Cornwall, 1909

It had not changed.

            Sybil stepped to the very edge of the cliff and gazed down at the rambling old house below her, topped with a maze of chimneys, a crumbling reminder of its Jacobean finery.

            There was no finery left in Tressillion House, she thought grimly. Even from this distance, the place held an air of ruin and abandonment. No smoke rose up through the chill morning from warm fires within. No bustle of servants, no carriage waiting to take the ladies on their rounds of visits and charitable works in the neighbouring village of Porth Levant. Not even Hector, the stallion, steaming in the frosted morning, taking the master of the house on an inspection of the mine, just visible on the next headland.

            This was what she had set in motion, all those years ago. The perfect revenge. 

            Sybil shivered. She unwound the scarf from her head and breathed in deeply the salt blowing in from the sea, her eyes following the North Cornish coast as it vanished into the distance in the crash of spray against rocks.

The wind tugged at her, loosening her curls from the silver clasp at the base of her neck, sending tendrils of brown hair in a wild dance around her face. Sybil turned back to the house below. She had dreamed of this for so long. The moment she would have Tressillion House helpless at her feet. When the Tressillions − who had once had more than they could ever need, but had not thought twice about taking the last hope from people with nothing − would be destroyed, the survivors learning what it was like to be totally dependent on others.

Was this how revenge felt? Sybil hugged herself, pulling the folds of her coat around her, bent almost double by the grief coiling deep in her belly.

'Beautiful, isn’t it?'

Sybil straightened, banishing any emotion from her face. 'Indeed.' She turned to meet the square, squat little man emerging from the smart new Ford automobile, one hand struggling to keep his hat on his head.

'The best view of Tressillion House,' he remarked. 'You can see, Miss Ravensdale, just what an exceptional property this is. There’s none finer this side of Truro.'

'So I see, Mr Roach,' she replied, almost managing to banish any hint of irony. On their first meeting, the solicitor had made obvious his contempt at a spinster, not in the first flush of youth, daring to invade his offices in broad daylight for all the respectable citizens of St Ives to see. He had changed his tune a little too quickly at the sight of her gleaming new Chevrolet, shipped all the way from New York, and speaking more of true wealth than any flash of diamonds.

Tressillion House had proved a more than usually difficult properly to dispose of, and there were impatient creditors snapping at Mr Roach’s heels. She must have seemed like a miracle, a rich hotelier from America dreaming of owning a property in Cornwall. Who else, the gleam in Roach’s eyes declared, would be fool enough to live in an isolated mansion fallen on hard times, with the rollers of the North Cornwall coast clawing at the rocks on wild nights, and ghosts creaking amongst its rafters?

Sybil replaced the scarf around her head. 'Shall we go?' 


From idea to publication – a writer’s journey

The idea for my first book for Honno Press had been one of those that had been lurking in my mind for years, but it didn't quite fit into the kind of author I thought I should be, and I didn’t quite know how to use it. To be honest, I didn’t see how it could be part of a commercial novel. It was a personal obsession, who else would be interested?

That first, tenuous, inspiration was the Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd, the woman made out of flowers for a hero, and who, when she fell in love with someone else, was turned into an ugly owl, to be hated and despised forever.

The story hit a nerve. At the time I was coming to terms with being in my forties, and no longer being considered desirable, interesting, or even visible. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself – I was furious at the stupidity! Here I was, far more interesting, human, and hopefully wise, with decades of experience behind me that had knocked off the edges and driven out the silly, self-absorbed creature I’d been at twenty, with few opinions of my own and only a desire to please. What interested me about the story of Blodeuwedd was not the creature made simply to please, but the moment she ceased to be that, and became herself.

Being turned into an owl seemed to me the beginning of her story, not the end. It resonated with my own journey from a girl to learning how to be fully human. This was before Mary Beard strode onto our screens, but just at the point where women in their fifties were beginning to claim their right not to be excluded from the media, to be replaced by pretty young things. It’s a fight that’s moved on now, but is still being fought.

My first attempt at the idea was a short story. It didn’t get anywhere in competitions, but it was published in a magazine. A friend who read it suggested turning it into a novel. That was when the light went off in my head, and the first version of what was then called ‘Blodeuwedd’s Garden’ began.

My turning point on the road to publication came when I submitted the manuscript to Honno Press, who liked it enough to give me the opportunity to work with one of their editors. There was no promise of publication, but I knew it was a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and one I’d be a fool to pass up.

I was right. I’m glad I didn’t know what was about to hit me, and how much hard work, questioning and soul-searching it was going to be. If I had, I might never have taken the plunge, and in which case I would have missed the life-changing, exhilarating experience of working with a brilliant editor such as Janet Thomas, who so astutely cut through the gumph (including my most lovingly-crafted sentences that were irrelevant) taught me to consider my readers, and to dig deep in myself to make my story work. I learnt more than I can ever say during that year. It changed me, and it changed my writing. It was like hanging out your soul to be torn about and shot down (in the nicest, but no mincing of words, kind of way), but also the headiest adrenalin rush I’ve ever had in my life when the book began to come together. Finally, it became ‘Eden’s Garden’, and along the way I’d discovered the kind of writer I want to be.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still learning. Each book is a journey into new territory, and with new challenges. But I will never forget that first journey from idea to publication. It gave me faith in following not what I think I ought to write, but from what is deep in my heart.

As one of the characters in ‘Eden’s Garden’ says, it takes a long time to make a human being, no short cuts. The journey to experience is one we all share. And that, in the end, is what reading and writing is about. I first loved books because I found it wasn’t just me who felt that way. I wasn’t alone. It was simply part of being human, after all. And my journey to publication was part of that journey, too.

1st Prize – paperback copies of  all 3 of Juliet’s books
2nd Prize – an ecopy of The White Camellia

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Juliet Greenwood is the author of two previous historical novels for Honno Press, both of which reached #4 and #5 in the UK Amazon Kindle store. ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’. ‘We That are Left’ was completed with a Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary, and was Welsh Book of the month for Waterstones Wales, The Welsh Books Council and the National Museum of Wales. It was also chosen by the ‘Country Wives’ website as one of their top ten ‘riveting reads’ of 2014, was one of the top ten reads of the year for the ‘Word by Word’ blog, and a Netmums top summer read for 2014.
Juliet’s grandmother worked as a cook in a big country house, leaving Juliet with a passion for history, and in particular for the experiences of women, which are often overlooked or forgotten. Juliet trained as a photographer when working in London, before returning to live in a traditional cottage in Snowdonia. She loves gardening and walking, and trying out old recipes her grandmother might have used, along with exploring the upstairs and downstairs of old country houses.

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