It’s so much fun to spend a day with Scottish writer Jackie Copleton, whose debut historical novel A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING comes out today from Penguin Books. The novel deals with the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki at the end of World War II, and is a story of family secrets, romance, and reconnection. DICTIONARY is a BookPage Top Pick for December, an Indie Next Pick, and a BBC 2 Book Club selection, among many other distinctions. Below, we go behind the scenes of the London BBC Radio Studios with her as she promotes the novel, then flies off to Majorca for some much-deserved R&R!
The day begins with me packing for my train journey from Glasgow to London for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club – my first appearance on national radio – and then on to Palma, Majorca to meet my husband for our vacation. Along with shoes and swimming goggles, you can see some of my holiday reading choices: Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
The journey down to London takes four-and-a-half hours so I’m doing some background reading for the interview. Susan Southard’s Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War is an extraordinary and moving piece of journalism. I’m appearing on the radio at 6pm so I don’t think our conversation will dwell too much on the horrors of atomic devastation while listeners eat their dinner with their children or drive home, but I don’t want to be caught out unprepared on a live broadcast.
This is me arriving in a black cab at the Langham Hotel in London. I must confess my writing days don’t usually involve heading to a five-star hotel for meetings. I’m due to catch up with my publisher, who I haven’t seen in a year. The last time we met was when I went to Hutchinson (an imprint of Penguin Random House UK) last summer to talk about the possibility of her signing up A DICTIONARY OF MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING. Our editorial meetings were over the phone and through emails. I had no idea the hotel was so posh!
Here I am just casually hanging outside one of London’s most luxurious hotels, as one does on a rainy Monday in London. I suspect I’m just delaying entering the reception area – that is one intimidating looking chandelier behind me. You can almost see me thinking, ‘I hope they let me inside in these ridiculous trousers.’
These doormen were brilliant fun. Look at those swanky top hats and sharp suits! We had a giggle about me taking so many pictures. “So you’re doing this for a boyfriend?” one of them asked. “No, a blog,” I tried to explain, blushing furiously. “I don’t normally take so many photos of myself.” The fellow laughed. “Ah, right. I did wonder, “Why is she taking pictures of me for her boyfriend?”
This is Jocasta Hamilton, Hutchinson Publishing Director. She is as lovely and as cheery as she looks. We’re having a great chat over some seriously good scones. Look at that jam and the thick cream! When we were done scoffing, we went over some questions that might be asked during the interview, I cautiously told her about ideas for a second novel (what if she hates them?) and we talked about the challenges of getting debut writers published, and then publicized. The nerves are beginning to kick in at this point, which may explain why I couldn’t finish my third scone. Yes, third.
The BBC Broadcasting House! Never in my life did I think one day I would be sitting at Elton John’s piano (donated by him) about to go on national radio to talk about a book I’d written. Surreal, wonderful, and scary in equal measure. The security guards kept sending us to the wrong place so we spent 10 minutes walking from building to building before a cheerful fellow called Joe found us and led me to the production booth. “Don’t worry, the chat will be very informal,” he explained as he asked me to sign his copy of the book. I wrote, “Thank you for keeping me calm, Joe.”
These pictures make me giggle. Look at my crazed smile, my mad, swivelling eyes, my general confused awe (Simon Mayo touched my shoulder!!!). I grew up listening to Simon on Radio 1 and adore his weekly film show with Mark Kermode on Radio 5 Live so I really am starstruck here. Endearingly, he wasn’t wearing any shoes and was padding around in his socks. This picture was taken after the interview, which lasted a heart-stopping 20 minutes. Of course all the questions I had prepped for weren’t asked. In fact, they were pretty tough including one on how grief differs in Japan compared to the West. The readers’ responses were amazing and positive, leaving me feeling emotional and on a high.
Back at my old haunt, The Langham, sipping on what felt like some well-deserved fizz. Look at the relief on my face. This is probably the most relaxed I’ve been all day. At one point our waiter came up to us and whispered conspiratorially, “Watch out, if you’re lucky Champagne Charlie will pay you a visit.” He then disappeared and returned in a top hat and a woollen coat and presented these little mini glasses of champagne. He seemed delighted with his acting stint and I can confirm the bubbly was crisp and delicious.
I look remarkably chirpy despite three hours’ sleep. I arrived at my hotel near Gatwick Airport (not quite as posh as The Langham) at about 9pm and by the time I had finished eating dinner, it was past 11pm. The adrenaline had crashed out of my system. Friends and family texted, called, or went online to reassure me I’d done well. I think many were nearly as nervous as me just listening! My 75-year-old dad said, ‘You did an outstanding job, as always,’ which made be teary, since he’s only heard me twice out of the three times I’ve been on the radio. And the first time, I forgot to mention the title of the book.
I made it to Spain! Here is my husband, Neil, allowing me to photograph him for once as proof of his existence. He booked us to stay at a lovely B&B in Majorca’s capital, Palma. He is particularly proud of his red holiday hat, which he bought during the couple of days he spent on his own while he waited for me to turn up.
I can’t express how happy I am in this picture of me sitting at a restaurant in Palma. The book was released in the UK in July and since then, life has been a whirl of the launch, interviews, promotional work – and, of course, my other full-time job as a journalist. You can’t see it, but over that refreshing beer, as my batteries start to recharge, the seeds of book two are already beginning to take shape.
Jackie Copleton spent three years teaching English in Nagasaki and Sapporo. A journalist, she now lives with her husband in Glasglow, Scotland. Connect with her via her website, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.