Today I am SO happy to be chatting with Rachel Burton! Her debut novel, The Many Colours Of Us, is out now and it’s a brilliant read. If you don’t believe me, please feel free to go and have a read of my review. (Shameless plug.) And if my review has sold you on this wonderful read, go and pick yourself up a copy from Amazon! It’s the best £2.99 you’ll ever spend, believe me.
Hi Rachel, welcome to Girl vs Books, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, Leah – my name’s Rachel, although Burton is a pseudonym, and I’m one of those people who’s never known what they want to be when they grow up. After a degree in Classics and a Masters in Victorian Literature I’ve worked as a waitress, a legal secretary, a paralegal and a yoga teacher. I’ve lived most of my life between Cambridge and London but am currently on sabbatical in Leeds with my boyfriend and three cats. The great loves of my life are The Beatles and very tall Romantic Heroes.
Can you tell us about your debut novel The Many Colours of Us?
I first got the idea for The Many Colours of Us in a coffee shop in Cambridge in 2013. I was re-reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens (one of my favourites) and I started thinking about what a modern day interpretation of that would look like, particularly Esther Summerson’s story. Esther is an orphan who has no idea who her parents were until she meets a young lawyer who has some papers that might throw some light on her origins…..and so we have Julia, who’s never known who her father is until she meets a devilishly handsome lawyer….well you know the rest!
Was The Many Colours of Us the first book you wrote or, like most writers, do you have a drawer full of other manuscripts?
I think it was the fourth book I wrote. There’s also quite a lot of half written books. Julia is based very loosely a character from the very first book I ever wrote (back in 2004).
The thing that got me most when reading The Many Colours of Us was how emotional it was – Bruce’s letters in particular made me quite teary. How was it for you to write? Did you have to stop for crying breaks?
I actually wrote the letters first. That’s where it all started because I wanted to imagine what it would have been like for Julia to be given those letters and to sit down and read them. They were tough to write I’ll admit. But for me the hardest scene to write, and I put it off time and time again, was the one where Edwin tells Julia about Rob. I can’t say anymore than that without giving away the plot but if you’ve read it you know the chapter I mean. That one was tough.
Another thing I loved was that while Julia was angry at finding out about her dad too late to really do anything about it, she also kind of took it on the chin and got on with things, instead of railing against the world (as plenty of characters in books do), was it important for you for Julia to not just fall into a pit of despair, wondering who she really was, etc and to just get on with it?
I’m not a huge fan of female characters railing against the world. I mean, honestly, how many of us do that? Life throws us curve balls all the time and you know what? We have to put on our lippy, pour a glass of prosecco and get on with it (or in Julia’s case, put on a pair of heels, eat one of Marco’s marvellous biscotti and get on with it). I wanted Julia to be someone that readers could relate to, that they wanted to be friends with, that they wanted to cheer for. I wanted her to see the opportunity that she had been given and to use it for the good. Her ability to pick herself up and get on with it, her bravery and her strength, was so important to me (and to Edwin!)
Julia is a bit of a fashionista and she makes her own clothes. Are you into fashion at all yourself? Can you make your own dresses, skirts, tops?
I absolutely love clothes but I’m afraid, other than sewing on a button or taking up a hem, I have no idea how to sew. My sister-in-law, however, makes a lot of her own clothes and is hugely talented; so some of the inspiration for Julia’s dressmaking skills came from her.
Let’s talk about Edwin Jones. He’s so dreamy! Where did he come from and DOES HE EXIST IN REAL LIFE? (I ask the important questions here on Girl vs Books, make no mistake about that!)
Yeah, I had a LOT of fun with Edwin Jones. I have a thing for heroes who are rather buttoned up, who are burdened by responsibility and propriety but underneath are full of love and humour and passion and life.
I hadn’t realised how lovely it would be to see so many people fall in love with the hero I had created – particularly other authors whose heroes I had fallen in love with in the past. I’m afraid Edwin doesn’t exist though, if he did I’d have married him already – although, in my daydreams, in the film version of the book (which will obviously be directed by Richard Curtis) he will be played by Max Irons (*all the heart eye emojis*)
Everyone is raving about your fantastic book, how does it feel to have so much support on Twitter? Every person I’ve seen that’s reading it has loved it, like me!
It’s been amazing. I have had so much support – I feel as though people really “get” Julia and get what I was trying to do. And like I said, I LOVE how much love Edwin has been getting.
I was really nervous when we were sending out author proofs to writers that I love and respect (such as Miranda Dickinson, Katie Marsh, Cressida McLaughlin and Jenny Ashcroft, all of whom write books I adore and heroes I’ve fallen for) but the feedback has been wonderful. If I’m honest I’ve cried a lot of happy tears over the feedback and reviews.
Your book cover is gorgeous! I love the colours, the picture, it’s just so pretty! Who designed it and do you love it, too?
I do love it very much – purple is actually my favourite colour. My publishers designed it for me and I was delighted when I first saw it. I was told not to share it with anyone until cover reveal, but I have to confess that I emailed it to nearly everyone I know!
You’ve been talking on Twitter about how you’re re-writing book two (and that you scrapped literally thousands of words), what prompted the re-write and does it already feel better for it?
I had a meeting with my agent a few weeks ago and we decided that, while we loved the story and characters of Book 2, we felt the structure wasn’t right and we needed some significant changes. I write in a very character driven way with a strong sense of place and the way the first draft came out didn’t reflect that. So we decided to scrap 75,000 words (I know, utterly heartbreaking) and start again.
I’m now 12,000 words into the rewrite and it actually feels like it has the potential to be a proper grown up book. I guess the moral of that story is to never be afraid to let go of stuff! Also, on the plus side, the new version involves a “research” trip to Spain in June.
You’re very open about your path to publication/what you earn royalties wise, etc, which I love because it’s fascinating to me what goes on behind the scenes in the publishing world, why are you so open?
There are so many people out there sending out their manuscripts and getting rejected, or getting published but not selling or earning very much and I just want people to know that it’s the same for so many of us. Most of us still have day jobs (at least part time ones – I still work full time and intend to do so for the foreseeable future), or other freelance and writing gigs.
Many of us spent years and years getting rejected before anything happened. I was rejected twice by the Darley Anderson agency before they finally signed me (they call me “quietly persistent”). Royalty cheques aren’t huge for many authors. I’m a great believer in honesty and full disclosure. I write because I love it. Getting published means other people get to share the stories I’ve written. If I make money on top of that, it’s a bonus, it’s not the driving force.
All I can say is, if you love writing keep writing. Write what you love, not what you think will sell. And just be you, unequivocally.
Can you tell us a bit more about your path to publication? May we see a paperback of The Many Colours of Us? (If so I will snap one up so fast you won’t believe it, because I want this book on my shelf!)
I wrote the first draft of The Many Colours of Us in four days on a writing retreat in Somerset. It was called “Letters to Julia” and was too long and clunky and had way too many subplots. So I put it away in a drawer for a while to get some perspective. A while turned into a year, turned into longer and finally, in 2016 I rewrote the whole thing and sent it out to twenty agents and two publishers.
It was largely rejected and I was just about to give up and start writing something else when two things happened within days of each other – Darley Anderson said they wanted to represent me and HQ said they wanted to publish me. Still reeling from the shock I spent last Christmas manically editing and suddenly, as if by magic, I’m a published author To be honest I don’t think it’s sunk in yet.
I would LOVE to see a paperback of The Many Colours of Us, as would my agent. At the moment there are no plans but I do believe that all dreams can come true so who knows?! I promise to send you one for your shelf, Leah, if it ever happens!
Finally, you’re a big fan of yoga what would you say to someone reluctant to exercise to get them to try a yoga session?
I am a huge, huge fan – so much so I’m actually a qualified yoga teacher (in fact my Book 2 heroine is a yoga teacher too – although very different from me!). But I didn’t get into it because I wanted to exercise. I started to do it because I am the world’s most stressed and unfocused person. Yoga has taught me how to focus and breathe and calm the heck down and learn to let go of control a little bit. And honestly, without that I’m not sure I’d ever have had the discipline to write and edit The Many Colours of Us. The toned arms and abs are merely a side effect 😉