Tuesday, 15 August 2017

My Life In Books ~ talking to Sara-Jade Virtue ~ Brand Director at Books and the City @BookMinxSJV

My Life in Books is an occasional feature on Random Things Through My Letterbox
I've asked authors and people in publishing to share with us a list of the books that are important to them and have made a lasting impression on their life

I'm delighted to welcome Sara-Jade Virtue to Random Things today. Sara-Jade is Special Sales Director for Simon & Schuster UK and Brand Director for Commercial Fiction and is in charge of the wonderful Books and the City website.

Sara-Jade is a huge supporter of blogs and bloggers, and throws the most wonderful parties and events, with cake, lots of cake!

Check out the Books and the City site and also follow on Twitter @TeamBATC

Sara-Jade is also on Twitter @BookMinxSJV

My Life In Books - Sara-Jade Virtue

Thank you so much Anne, for asking me to take part in your great My Life in Books feature.

There is a part of me that desperately wants to include my absolute childhood favourite, the classic Maurice Sendak picturebook Where the Wild Things Are but with SO many adult novels that I love with all my heart, there just isn’t the room… so...  

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that I’m kicking off with a Jackie Collins novel instead.  To me, THE Jackie Collins novel.  The one and only Hollywood Husbands….

In 1986, at the tender age of 16 I read the line "Jack Python walked through the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel with every eye upon him. He had money, charisma, a certain kind of power, razor-sharp wit, and fame. It all showed." I was hooked. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would have had the absolute honour of working and spending time with the Lady Boss herself whilst here at S&S.  
Jackie sparked my passion for reading. And that passion turned into my career. I will forever be in her debt and I miss her wit, wisdom and warmth more than words can say.

My Career in Books, and therefore one might say, my Life in Books, began in Office Services at Waterstones Head Office… not the most exciting start you might think, but I was exposed to a life I didn’t even know existed whilst sorting post, paperclips and photocopier jams, and introduced to authors I have come to know and love IRL.

One was Louise Candlish and one was Bernadette Strachan – so of course, my favourite novels from these two ladies just HAVE to appear on this list.

Hugely emotional, heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, this powerful story of loss and discovery breaks my heart every time I read it.  Beautifully and sensitively written, I recommend it over and over again.  Next year, S&S will publish our very first novel written by Louise, the dark and twisty thriller Our House and having been friends for some 15 years, it’s an absolute thrill to be working together in a professional (yet very cocktail heavy) capacity!

Bernadette Strachan/Juliet Ashton
The debut novel from Bernie – The Reluctant Landlady – has absolutely deserved its place on my Desert Island Books List for close to 13 years – proper funny, proper romantic, proper feel good – but These Days of Ours, written under the pseudonym Juliet Ashton has now been added to the Laminated List too.  

It was SUCH a moment for me to be able to share the secret manuscript for this book (that I had literally BEGGED Bernie to send me) with the wider @TeamBATC  – and receive this note back from our Editorial Director at the time Loving this. Trying not to cry. Off to the park at lunchtime to read more/finish’, which ultimately resulted in S&S acquiring the novel.  
Funny in places, massively weepy in others, there is a scene with the leading lady sitting under a tree that truly broke me and that I will continue to savour for years to come…  

Having to pick just one Lisa Jewell novel is harder than (I would imagine) picking a favourite child – but I don’t think there is a person I’ve met in the last 8 years that I haven’t recommended The Truth About Melody Browne to.  Complex characters and a story line that will move even the hardest bruiser to tears – it’s a must read.  

On a more personal note, I took part in, and won, the CLIC Sargent Get in Character auction last year to raise money and win a character name in Lisa’s new novel which published just last week – Then She Was Gone.  I was so excited to see that not only did Lisa kindly allow me to use my own name in the novel, she went on to say the very nicest of things about me in the credits...

Jojo Moyes
Of course, I loved Me Before You and After You, and am gagging for the new one, Still Me but for me, The Last Letter From Your Lover is Jojo’s best novel.  I first met Jojo at a very swanky RNA lunch at The Savoy in 2005 when her novel The Ship of Brides was shortlisted for an award – she was hilarious and great company and very kind to tolerate my ridiculousness, and even though I hadn’t (I’m ashamed to admit) read any of her novels at that stage, she became a favourite author by simply being such good fun!  
Fast forward a couple of years to 2011 and The Last Letter From Your Lover was nominated and ultimately won the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year – and I whooped with delight!  It has everything - passion, loss, heartache and romance – with a reveal near the end that rocked my world.

Winner of the 2016 RNA Romantic Novel of the Year, I read the heartbreaking Letters to the Lost, sent to me by her Editor at the time here at S&S HQ with the note You are going to LOVE this. Xx’, on the train to and from attending the Festival of Romantic Fiction that took place in Leighton Buzzard in September 2014 – at which my baby, www.bookandthecity.co.uk had been shortlisted for the Award for Innovation.  We didn’t win, but at the festival I met Heidi Swain, who shortly before had submitted her debut novel The Cherry Tree CafĂ© as part of our very first #digitaloriginals #oneday open submission call out.  So, not only did I have a 6 hour round trip to absolutely fall in love with Letters to the Lost, had been up for an Award and took part in a Meet the Publisher panel event, but I also met (and had a scampi lunch with) a future bestselling author for S&S… Letters to the Lost therefore will always remind me of just how many great days I’ve had here at S&S, working with incredible colleagues and even more amazing authors.

Finally, this list wouldn’t be complete without including every single word ever written by Marian Keyes.  I know I’m not alone in my love for the Complete Works and Life and Times of Marian Keyes, of course I’m not, but as a staunch supporter and lover of this wonderful women’s fiction/commercial fiction/mass market general fiction (whatever you want to call it) genre, no Life in Books from me, would be complete without her.  

Sara-Jade Virtue - August 2017

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