Staying on fire

My friend Gail Chrisfield buying Mother of Pearl from my friend, writer Mark Brandi, on national Love Your Bookshop Day, 10 August 2019

When I was living in Vientiane in the mid-1990s, I visited a Lao friend who’d recently had a baby. Although it was April, the hottest time of year, my friend wore a woollen cardigan and beanie, her skin crimson and blistering with heat. Her baby’s red face was barely visible between his own woollen beanie and blankets, his hands fastened in draw-string mittens. The windows were closed, the ceiling fans still, and a brazier of hot coals burned beneath the mother’s rattan bed.

This custom, known as ‘staying on fire’, is practiced widely throughout Southeast Asia, based on beliefs about the ‘humours’ (heat, cold, damp, dry, etc) that make up the body and the need to keep them balanced. Childbirth results in a loss of blood, thus depleting both mother and baby of heat, which must be restored with warm clothes, hot coals and a diet that, from memory, involves generous amounts of chicken. Staying on fire is believed to promote mother and baby’s health and well-being.

My novel, Mother of Pearl, which is about surrogacy, is divided into three sections that resonate with stages of the story: Preconception, Gestation and Afterbirth. But it strikes me that there is a fourth stage that follows the release of the book, which I’m starting to think of as ‘staying on fire’. This is the period when the novel receives reviews and the author makes appearances in the media and/or at events such as writers’ festivals, providing opportunities to keep promoting the work to potential readers.

Thanks largely to the work of my publisher Transit Lounge and Quikmark Media, Mother of Pearl has been reviewed in print and online (I file the reviews here) and I’ve had opportunities to talk about the novel on radio and at public events, most recently at my local bookstore, Brunswick Bound. I did readings from Mother of Pearl at the Melbourne Writers Festival, as well as regional festivals in Horsham and Apollo Bay. I’ve made dates to talk at libraries and to book clubs, and I’m continuing to pitch the work to writers’ festivals in 2020.

Mother of Pearl on display at Moreland Library as a ‘Top 10 Two Week Loan’

I’ve been fortunate to receive regular feedback from friends and peers about the novel. Just when I wonder if anyone’s reading, I’ll receive word to lift my spirits. I’m genuinely grateful to everyone who reads Mother of Pearl. Time is precious and books are plentiful, and so I don’t take the choice to read my novel for granted. And I’m doubly grateful when readers make the time to let me know when they’ve enjoyed the book. I’ve been so touched by the emails, cards, Tweets, Facebook posts, Goodreads reviews and conversations, and by the photos I’ve been sent of the book spotted in libraries and bookshops.

At the same time, I wonder if there’s more I should be doing for this book. Should I be pitching articles? Writing more posts on my own and other people’s blogs? Doing more promotion more on social media? Pitching harder for events and festivals? When other people around me are talking up their books, should I be less polite, more pushy? Should I bust a gut to get the book into the hands of influencers? A big part of my job at Writers Victoria is to promote and connect writers, to provide opportunities for them to promote their work and give it the best chance of success: am I like the physician who cannot heal themself?

Perhaps I can never do enough, but I’m following author Mark Smith’s advice and saying yes to everything in order to keep Mother of Pearl staying on fire for as long as I possibly can.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has sent some warmth my way so far.

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
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9 Responses to Staying on fire

  1. Jo says:

    I’ve not long finished Mother of Pearl & it’s one of my favourite reads for the year. I thought that I had an opinion about the issue of surrogacy before I read it (and could identify to an extent with the issues of infertility) but now? I’m not so sure. Beautifully written – as I expected – but such complexity too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for that lovely feedback, Jo. It’s a huge compliment to suggest that my book changed your mind about surrogacy–or at least raised questions for you. Mind you, it’s also a testament to your open-mindedness as a reader.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Thanks, Angela, for sharing that bit about staying on fire. That’s absolutely fascinating! It’s one thing I really like about your writing – the research and knowledge you put into it. As to what more to do? That’s a perennial question for authors. I think you’ve been doing a great promo job, and the book is its own advertisement, it’s that good.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. FictionFan says:

    I’m glad you reminded me, Angela, that I had meant to ask you if you’d like to do some kind of guest post on my blog? Please don’t feel obliged to – I’m never sure at all that guest posts have any impact on sales – but I’d love to host you if you do decide to promote the book via blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How did I miss that you have guest posts on your blog, FF? I’d love to do it, but let me see if there’s an affordable way for your readers in the UK to get hold of my book. At present, the postage from Australia costs almost as much as the book, and the ebook costs £8.37 on Amazon UK.

      Incidentally, thank you for posting your review to Amazon UK. That was very thoughtful of you and I really appreciate it.


      • FictionFan says:

        I only have very rare ones for special people! 😉 Let me know whenever you like – no rush. My email is fictionfan@virginmedia dot com, and I find my readers lose interest if a post goes beyond about a 1000/1200 words. Either you can just write something about the background or inspiration for the book or something, or I could give you a few interview questions – whichever you preferred. 🙂

        My pleasure! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kathy D. says:

    Hi Angela, Sounds like you are having a very prolific and exciting time. Congratulations on the publication of Mother of Pearl. Is it possible to get it in the U.S.?
    Hope your next year is as full of exciting panels, interviews, podcasts, writers, books, as 2019 was. Best wishes for 2020.


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