Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen by Julia Ibbotson: Guest Post and Review

Can you tell a book by its cover?

I love book covers. The problem with the Kindle (which, granted, is more convenient for carrying around loads of books) is that you don’t focus on the cover. OK, so it’s the content that’s important. But I love piling up my “paperback books to read” and almost salivating at the covers and longing to read what’s inside (“which shall I start with…?) Right from my childhood reading, always the image of horses on the cover (loved Monica Edwards) or countryside, old houses and picket fences (L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series), graduating to the Victorian streets and figures of Dickens or the gentle fireside pursuits of Jane Austen’s ladies.

A cover image reflects the inside story: a humorous romance? A silhouette of a coltish long-legged heroine surrounded by pink hearts.Adark murder mystery?A grim face sleuth or a lamp-lit street scene at night.

But think, too, of the poor author who has the task of getting the right cover to truly represent her book. Well, when I had that task, I found it one of the most difficult decisions I had to make.

So what cover did I choose forThe Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchenand why?It’s the story of the restoration of our English Victorian rectory, which we bought as a dilapidated building, and worked on to make a lovely home,but I’ve combined memoir, history, research, story and recipes in this book. It’s the story of renovation – of a house and of lives – and with recipes to feed the soul. So how could I reflect this in the cover?

What would be appropriate? What would provide the potential reader with an idea of the style and nature of the book? What would attract a reader and make it stand out on the bookshelves?

The whole idea of buying the rectory which gave rise to the book, was to have a place in a rural setting, in the middle of the English countryside, surrounded by fields and trees, to be able to feel more in touch with nature and the changing seasons. So I was looking for a design or photograph which reflected this to the readers. A typical archetypal English moorland scene, with a village nestling amongst the fields and trees. I described to my American publisher exactly what I wanted and waited eagerly for the designers to come up with something good.

The email came and I rushed to open the attachment to see the result…..horrors! The picture was beautiful – but it was clearly of an Italian villa! Nothing like the description in the book, of the house as we saw it first, let alone after the renovations.

I explained to my American designers that they had made my house into an Italianate mansion, complete with ornate balconies and grandiose poplar trees. Nothing like my English Victorian rectory! And nothing like the countryside that surrounds it.

Maybe I could use a photograph of the real house? Well, my husband and I spent many a happy hour taking shots from every angle, but in none of them could I see the “rural English life” aspect that I wanted to convey. And I didn’t really want the intrusion of my real house, in sharp focus, however much the inspiration for the book, emblazoned on websites, reviews, bookshop shelves.

My US publisher’s designers couldn’t quite get to grips with why the Italian villa was inappropriate (well, it was European, wasn’t it, and England is in Europe?). So I embarked on a quest to find a picture from online stockists which would represent my book and what it was all about. Eventually I found one: gently rolling hills with a church and cottages nestled in a valley of fields and streams. The church was an inspiration as it would reflect the rectory as the home of the parish priests in the old days. Readers loved it!

And I am thrilled to say that the book has won a number of international book festivals in the biography category, gained 5 star reviews on Amazon, and has been widely featured (along with our house) in the media.

A year on and I had an offer to re-release with a new publisher in the UK. And as they wanted a new cover the process started all over again. However, this time I decided to go for something to represent the kitchen which played a large part in the story, as the heart of the home and because every chapter ended with a series of recipes. I wanted the Victorian element in keeping with the rectory and we searched for a photograph of a kitchen range, table and chair which would reflect it. Happily we found just the thing and it now graces my new UK edition.

Now I have a new project, a trilogy of novels following the life story of a new character, Jess, through from fleeing to West Africa as a volunteer teacher/nurse in the 1960s to the millennium. The first of the series, Drumbeats, is due to be published later this year. So now I’m searching the archives for a picture that reflects Africa and drums – but also has a brand continuity for the whole of the trilogy, a turbulent romance through five decades. It’s not easy – any ideas? Suggestions gratefully received on my author facebook page or my website at www.juliaibbotson.com ! I might need to hire a specialist book cover designer after all!

My thoughts on The Old Rectory
The Old Rectory is a very charming book...and it's a book that will make people want to add to their bucket list. What do I mean by this? Well, who hasn't dreamed of owning and renovating an old Victorian era (or older) house, especially in the English countryside? Maybe not everyone, but I sure have. Julie Ibbotson has recounted the story of her quest to find the perfect home and, upon finding the old rectory, the journey of the renovation. Intertwined in the story, her love of cooking shines through. She breaks the book up into seasons and includes recipes that fit within those seasons. I can't wait to try out her recipes and the beauty of it is she includes the U.S. measurements too in the ingredients. This book will have a permanent place among my cookbooks and it will be nice to pull it out from time to time to dream of someday owning my own "old rectory" or its equivalent.

About the book
Author Julia Ibbotson and her husband glimpsed the old Victorian rectory on a cold January day. It was in dire need of renovation, in the midst of the English moorlands and a mile from the nearest village, but they determined to embark on a new life in the country, to make the sad neglected house glow again and to settle into the life of the small traditional village. As Julia researches the history of the house and village, supervises the renovations and cooks for family and friends, she records their journey. This real-life, award-winning account focuses on the quest to "live the dream" and, in the end, to find what is important in life. As the book foregrounds the centrality of the kitchen as the pulse of the family and home, each chapter ends with delicious but easy recipes, both current favourites and those from the historic period unfolding within the chapter: Victorian, Edwardian, wartime and present day. Reviewers have been fulsome in their praise, including “ enchanting”, “a talented writer”, “charming story”, “delightful”, “a jewel”, “ a great writer”, “inspirational”, “truly engaging”, and “destined to become a classic”.

Purchase your copy at AMAZON.

About the author
Julia Ibbotson is the award-winning author of The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen, first published to acclaim in the USA and now re-launched with a brand-new cover by her new English publisher in the UK. Julia has been writing creatively all her life (unpublished!) but her day jobs to pay the mortgage have been as a school teacher and latterly a university academic, gaining her PhD at the age of 57. She delights in being a wife and mother to four, with four little grandchildren. She loves reading, gardening, growing food, cooking for family and friends and country life. Having published many academic texts and papers, she came late to actually publishing her creative writing, at the age of 60 plus, when she was persuaded to write the story of the renovation of her Victorian rectory in The Old Rectory. She has combined memoir, history, research, story and recipes in this first published book, which has won a number of international book festivals in the biography category, gained 5 star reviews on Amazon, and has been widely featured (along with her house) in the media. She has begun to delve into the world of blogging, facebook and now has her own website at www.juliaibbotson.com at which she also posts blogs regularly, about writing, life and her passions. Her new project is a trilogy of novels following the life story of a new character, Jess, through from fleeing to West Africa as a volunteer teacher/nurse in the 1960s to the millennium. The first of the series, Drumbeats, is due to be published later this year. You can find out more on her website and on her author page on Amazon.

Connect & Socialize with Julia!


This book tour was organized by Pump Up Your Book.

A copy of this book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for providing it.


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