Thursday, June 22, 2017

"300 Days of Sun" by Deborah Lawrenson

300 Days of Sun
by Deborah Lawrenson

300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson

Author Deborah Lawrenson stops by today for an interview and to share an excerpt from 300 Days of Sun. You can also read my review.
This blog post is brought to you by Publishing Push PR.

Deborah Lawrenson’s best-selling novel transports readers to a sunny Portuguese town with a shadowy past - where two women, decades apart, are drawn into a dark game of truth and lies that still haunts the shifting sea marshes.
Travelling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.
Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into it, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro - where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.

I met Nathan Emberlin in Faro, southern Portugal, in August 2014.
At first, I thought he was just another adventurous young man, engaging but slightly immature. His beautiful sculpted face held a hint of vulnerability, but that ready smile and exuberant cheekiness eased his way, as did the radiant generosity of his spirit, so that it wasn’t only women who smiled back; people of all ages warmed to Nathan, even the cross old man who guarded the stork’s nest on the lamppost outside the tobacconist’s shop.
Yes, he appeared from nowhere – but then, so did we all. I didn’t go to Faro to get a story. That summer, I was on the run, or so it felt; I was trying to consign an awkward episode to my own past, not to get entangled in someone else’s. Besides, a lot of people I met in Faro were in the process of change, of expanding their horizons and aiming for a better life. The town was full of strangers and constant movement: planes overhead, roaring in and out of the airport across the shore; boats puttering in and out of the harbour; trains sliding between the road and the sea; buses and cars; pedestrians bobbing up and down over the undulating cobblestones.
The café, at least, was still. On the way to the language school, it had the presence and quiet grace of an ancient oak, rooted to its spot in the Rua Dr Francisco Gomes. The columns and balustrades of its once-grand fin-de-siècle façade had an air of forgotten romance that was hard to resist. I pushed against its old-style revolving door that first morning simply because I was curious to see inside.
True to its promise, the interior was cavernous, the ceiling high and elegantly proportioned. But the plaster on the walls was cratered, and mould speckled the cornicing. The tables and chairs were plastic garden furniture, set out haphazardly on a coral and white chequerboard floor; few of them were taken. I went up to the main counter, into an aromatic cloud of strong coffee, where a group of men knotted over an open newspaper. The barman, wiping his hands on an apron that was none too clean, seemed to be engaged in voicing his opinion and was in no hurry to serve me.
Photographs of old Faro were set into wooden panelling: black and white scenes of a fishing community, of empty roads and dusty churches. The argument at the bar counter intensified, or that’s what it sounded like. It’s not always possible to tell in a foreign language. It might just be excitability. But some words were easy to understand. Contra a natureza. Anorma. Devastador.
Bom dia?’ The barman had noticed me at last. There was sense of a question about his greeting. Or perhaps it was supposed to double for “What would you like?” Four days into Portuguese for Beginners, and I could manage to order a cup of coffee. There didn’t seem to be anything more substantial for breakfast on display and there were no menus.
The barman pressed some buttons on a brute of a machine, which released a muddy dribble of liquid.
Bica,’ he said, pushing it towards me in a tiny chipped cup along with a bowl of sugar cubes.
The bill came to pennies. I didn’t know this was the Café Aliança.
No, I didn’t meet Nathan at the café. At that stage he didn’t know any more about the place than I did.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"A deeply satisfying novel, a rich story with a strong feeling for time and place and the expert pacing of the best thrillers." ~ Carol Gladstein, Booklist Starred Review
"Merges past and present, doubling identities and events to dazzling (and sometimes dizzying) effect. Set against the lush but corrupt coastal resorts of southern Portugal, the novel’s shadowy deeds seem only more dangerous in this sunny clime." ~ Ron Terpening, Library Journal
"A pulsepounder ... had me turning the pages with anticipation and dread to learn the secrets of seaside town Faro, Portugal." ~ Kahakai Kitchen
"Captivating characters, vivid settings, and an enticing plot ... a fascinating novel that is difficult to put down." ~ Nina Longfield,
"I couldn't wait to get back to it ... it lingered long after finishing." ~
"An excellent summer read ... romance, mystery, espionage, and a thriller aspect that make it quite a page-turner." ~

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.

By Lynda Dickson
Joanna Millard meets Nathan Emberlin in a Portuguese language class in Faro, Portugal, after breaking up with her boyfriend and losing her job as a journalist. Nathan approaches her to help him investigate an old family friend with connections to shady dealings involving holiday resorts and even some missing children. Jo and Nathan's present-day story is interspersed with excerpts from The Alliance, a novel that tells the story of journalist Michael Barton and his wife Alva, who flee from Paris to Portugal just after the World War II begins. The book is, in fact, an autobiographical account by Esta Hartford of events that have a direct bearing on Nathan's investigation.
Set on the Algarve coast of southern Portugal, a land which experiences three hundred days of sun, this is a story of romance, mystery, suspense, and international intrigue. Fictional elements are expertly blended with real-life details, such as the storm of 1941, the presence of expats during the war, the Portuguese government's dealings with the Nazis, and the disappearance of young children from holiday resorts. The author has a real talent for describing the oppressive atmosphere of the place, both in the past and the present. You will be kept in suspense, trying to work out how the two stories are connected.
An intriguing blend of contemporary and historical genres.

Some of My Favorite Lines
"Violet shadows stretched from the rocks, clock hands over the sand."
"Portugal was cheap, there were three hundred days of sunshine a year..."
"He looked about sixteen, hungry and desperate."
"The air was heavy with orange dust from the Sahara that fell like a sprinkling of paprika powder over the town’s white sills and ledges."
"Now and then, there were tantalizing glimpses of the river Tagus wide as a blue sea at the end of the street."
"In Faro, now here, with Nathan, I was on an authentic trail, destination unknown. I hadn’t had this frisson of excitement on a story in years. In Faro, now here, with Nathan, I was on an authentic trail, destination unknown. I hadn’t had this frisson of excitement on a story in years."
"A breeze struggled to get in but went away disappointed."
"He leaned in and rested his head on my shoulder. He was a boy again. A beautiful broken boy."
"Waves churned and chopped the surface into scribbles made by the wind, like messages she wished she could read."
"She felt wetness on her cheeks. It was impossible to tell whether it was caused by the sharp breeze, or by unhappiness."
"She put down the receiver knowing only that she had lost him. Perhaps it had happened much earlier, but it had only just registered."
"Life was not always what it seemed on the surface."
"I am glad you think I possess such a ruthless kindness."

Interview With the Author
Deborah Lawrenson joins me today to discuss her latest novel, 300 Days of Sun.
Please give us a short introduction to what 300 Days of Sun is about.
On the southern coast of Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. At language school in Faro, she meets Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But nothing is quite what it seems. Behind the atmospheric Moorish buildings, Faro has a seedy underbelly, and Nathan admits he has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.
Joanna’s search leads her to The Alliance, a novel that recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. At first it seems unlikely this book could have any bearing on the present, but soon she and Nathan find the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.
Selected for National Reading Group Month Great Group Reads in the USA, this multi-layered novel combines a present day mystery with romantic suspense and wartime historical fiction.
What inspired you to write a book about child abduction?
I didn’t start out to write about child abduction. The subject insinuated itself into the setting, and the themes of identity, and power shifts and transformation that I wanted to explore. I started by writing about southern Portugal, trying to capture something recognisable, and I found I kept coming back to a real-life high-profile case of child abduction on the Algarve coast. Other disappearances and crimes involving children surfaced during my researches and the subject became impossible to ignore.
You spent your childhood moving around with your diplomatic service parents. How has that influenced your worldview and your writing?
When I was growing up I was always asked "Where do you come from?" and there was no simple answer. I was always the new girl. As a diplomatic service family, we moved around the world every few years. I also realized that it often meant, who are you? That is the key to this novel. Changes in circumstances are hard enough, but sometimes they also bring a change of identity, in various ways. I like to think that being brought up this way has made me more open-minded and adaptable, but it also undermined my confidence in some ways. I like to be sure of my ground, and part of that is my need to observe closely. I’m delighted that readers and critics have responded so positively to the "intriguing escapes to foreign settings with an atmospheric sense of place" in my novels.
You also worked as a journalist. How different is that from writing novels?
Very different, in that novels allow you the freedom to invent and misrepresent! But what I learned as a journalist has been invaluable. Writing accurate quotes as dialogue – knowing where to cut for maximum effect - is a journalistic skill. Accurate description is another. But perhaps the best lesson from my days on a newspaper is learning how to write fast, even when inspiration is lacking – because you have to. No self-indulgence or writer’s block. Start writing, and the story will take shape. With a novel, the joy is having the time to polish until it comes out right.
How, would you say, have you evolved creatively since you published your very first book?
My very first novels were written only with the aim of getting published – they were light-hearted satires set on a newspaper in London, so had a ready-made marketing angle. They were fun to write and promote but ultimately I wanted to write more multi-layered novels that combined my love of history, mystery and romantic suspense, all in a vibrant and interesting setting.
What has the reception of 300 Days of Sun been like so far?
I was thrilled that it was selected for National Reading Group Month Great Group Reads in the USA, last October. That was a lovely boost. It has also been published in translation in Portugal, where readers and reviewers really seem to have enjoyed the view of their country through foreign eyes, and found it authentic and life-affirming.
How did you manage to describe the town of Faro with so much detail?
I went to Faro with my daughter, who now studies languages at university. She was only seventeen when she signed herself up for a Portuguese language course lasting two weeks and I didn’t want her go to Portugal on her own. While she went to class every morning, I wandered around with my camera, through the gateway to the Old Town and up the narrow cobbled streets to the cathedral square, once the site of a Roman forum. Out the other side, the streets lead back to the sea and the green marshlands beyond.
Back in the streets behind the marina, I began to look more closely at the once-grand buildings that were now shut up, businesses closed. The most prominent of these was the Café Aliança and the mustard-yellow shops that adjoined it, in a prime position facing the lively marina. The sense of gentle decay was compelling, and I longed to know more. What was life really like here, behind the pretty houses covered in cracked tiles - azulejos - and crumbling stucco? In the afternoons, we went exploring by sea: to the beaches on the ferries, and the islands across the sea marshes.
How much research did it require from you to make the history ring true?
Almost everything I wrote about in the sections of the book set in the past actually happened in some form, though I have invented characters and situations. The years between 1940-45 in Portugal were an extraordinary time, when no one was sure what was true and what was an elaborate hoax, though behind all the fog of misinformation and espionage were many noble causes. I read widely to understand and visualize the peculiar clash of wartime enemies in the civilised peace of Lisbon and beyond. I did a great deal of research, but it was so fascinating it didn’t feel like work at all.
300 Days of Sun also features a novel-within-a-novel. Why did you take this approach?
I enjoy the writing within a past-present structure, and as a reader I have always loved the echoes between the two, especially when both provide clues to solve a puzzle. The novel-within-a-novel was just another way of achieving that – and seemed very natural, given that I had been building a picture of an era by reading books written at the time, as well as historical accounts.
It hasn’t appealed to everyone, because some people like a linear story and don’t like being thrown into another with new characters. But if you think about one of the themes of this novel being "new life, new identity", the change reflects this and the way it can be unsettling. And the novel within is a crucial part of the story, even if it doesn’t seem so at the start.
Where can readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can find out more about the book on my website, including a Reading Guide and a look Behind the Book.
I have a blog with lots of background photos to all my recent novels, including The Lantern and The Sea Garden.
You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.
Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by today, Deborah.

About the Author
Deborah Lawrenson
Deborah Lawrenson spent her childhood moving around the world from Kuwait to China, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Singapore, with diplomatic service parents. She read English at Cambridge University and worked as a journalist in London. She is the author of eight novels, including the critically acclaimed The Art of Falling, which was a WHSmith Fresh Talent novel, The Lantern, which was picked as a summer read for the Channel 4 TV Book Club in 2011, The Sea Garden, and 300 Days of Sun. She lives in Kent and spends as much time as possible at a crumbling hamlet in Provence, the atmospheric setting for The Lantern.