Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Swindon Ten Youth Festival of Literature

Last week I was invited to attend the third Swindon Ten Youth Festival of Literature. This is a collaborative venture, co-ordinated by the librarians of Swindon with 11 Secondary Schools involved and 10 Primary schools. If anyone doubts the worth and importance of school librarians, they should visit Swindon in Festival week. This is a huge feat of organisation but the rewards are manifest. The Festival attracted a stellar list of authors, including Charlie Higson and the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who took part in a celebration of reading, covering books of every kind and genre. The enthusiasm in the schools for both reading and writing are proof of the importance and value of this Festival.

I visited two schools, Isambard Community School and Greendown Community School, and talked to three groups of students about my books, reading, and writing generally. I was impressed by the enthusiasm I met, both for reading and writing. Isambard particularly seems to have a keen group of talented and motivated writers. I hope they get together and spark off each other. Writers don't have to work in isolation, sharing work and writing concerns with others can really help. I've been writing for more than twenty years and at each stage of my career, I've benefited from being in touch with other writers, both friends I've made through having a common interest and through the Scattered Authors' Society.

I hope the Swindon Festival continues and that its success inspires other places to follow its example. It is a wonderful way, not just to celebrate reading, but to encourage writers, too.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Ardingly College

Last week, I was invited to visit Ardingly College in Sussex to take part in a special day dedicated to reading. I talked about my books and then led a creative writing work shop. One of the classes had been studying Witch Child - some of their work is displayed on the board behind me in the photograph. I was impressed by the enthusiasm amongst the students for both reading and writing and would like to thank the library staff and the English Department for making it into such a good day.

By coincidence, the librarian remembered me from a visit I made to a school in nearby Crowborough. It was the early 1990's and I had not long been published. I had been invited to the school as part of the Conan Doyle Festival (I wrote thrillers then). I felt very honoured to be invited but it was my first school visit and I had no idea what to do. I was terrified, but luckily there were other writers there to calm me down and proffer suitable advice and encouragement. I've done hundreds of visits since then but I'll never forget that first trip to Crowborough!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Where does the summer go?

Every July, I go to this place, Charney Manor, in Oxfordshire on a kind of writers' retreat/re-charge with fellow members of the Scattered Authors' Society. For me, this marks the beginning of the 'Summer Holidays', except they are often not holidays at all. Last year I was working on re-writes for The Fool's Girl; this year, I'm working on a new novel. It is actually set over a school summer holiday, so I can synchronise the events to the changing months. They are having much better weather in the book, but then it is a fiction.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Writing Life

A writing life is made up of many things other than writing books. In June, I tutored a week long Creative Writing Course, at the Ted Hughes Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, together with Patrick Ness. We were lucky enough to tutor a talented and enthusiastic group. They worked very hard and rose to every challenge we could devise. It is traditional on Arvon courses to read out work on Friday night and the standard that they achieved was very high indeed. They have gone on the start up their own Yahoo! Group. I hope they stay in touch with each other - and with us.

I went from there to Rimini in Italy. I had been invited to a Festival and was looking forward to a few days in the Italian sun. It rained (it did not rain in Yorkshire), but the festival was well worth the trip. It was run and organised almost entirely by teenagers. I was looked after by the wonderful Cristina who spoke excellent English and sorted everything out for me. A big audience turned out to hear me talk about Sovay, published in Italy as La ragazza con le pistole, despite a spectacular thunderstorm.

The day after I arrived back in England, I went to Kingston-on-Thames for an event with my friend, Mary Hooper, and another Bloomsbury writer, Lucy Jago. We were in the Rose Theatre talking about historical novels. Mary has just had her novel Fallen Grace published and Lucy's novel, Montecute house came out in April.

I ended the week at Haberdashers' School in Monmouth, taking part in a whole week's activities, centred around the life of Charles Rolls (of Rolls Royce fame). his family lived just outside Monmouth and this year is the centenary of his death. On Friday afternoon we were entertained to an Edwardian tea on the lawn - an excellent way to end the week!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Celia's diary: Writers and Artists

Celia's diary: Writers and Artists

Writers and Artists

Yesterday, I went to the Opening of an Exhibition of paintings and photographs by my friend, Chris Lock at the North Wall Gallery and Arts Centre in Oxford. Chris and I taught together a very long time ago at Binley Park School, Coventry and we have stayed friends ever since.

A lot of my friends are artists. I admire and envy their facility. Art attracts me enormously, but I have no skill. I could blame being badly taught, or left handedness, but I have never been able to draw or paint or take a half way decent photograph.

Nevertheless, I feel a great affinity to visual artists and feel that we have lot in common. Our ways of expression may be different, but I can identify with their single mindedness, their interest in certain images, symbols and motifs that they will return to again and again to the point of obsession. They see things that the rest of us miss and look differently. I always feel I can learn a lot from them and that we are just dipping from a different stretch of the great and mysterious stream that is creativity.

For details of the Exhibition go to:

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Churches and Gardens

I've spoken in all kinds of places: classrooms, school halls, libraries, theatres, tents, even on the deck of the Cutty Sark, but never anywhere where the audience were sitting in pews and up in a gallery. This is St George's, Edinburgh, and it used to be a church. I was there to talk to students from various schools in Edinburgh. The space took a bit of getting used to, but it worked very well. Viv French, friend and fellow author, introduced me. I was there to talk about Fool's Girl. She's acted in Twelfth Night several times so I was really pleased when she said she loved the book.

Sunday, May 2nd

On Friday, May Day Eve, I was filming for a podcast in the garden next to Shakespeare's Birthplace. Flowers and herbs from Shakespeare's plays were all growing there - violets, pansies for thoughts, rue, bitter herb of grace, and rosemary. I was reminded of my mother, these were plants we had in our garden.

There's rosemary, that's for remembrance

pray you, love, remember.

- Hamlet

Today is her birthday. She loved Shakespeare. She named me for Celia in As You Like It and introduced me to his plays through his flowers, his songs and his verse that she could quote from memory. People ask where do ideas come from - I don't know, but sometimes I think that that come from a very deep place indeed.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Fool's Girl and Shakespeare's Birthday

Last Monday I was at a schools event at Crosby Civic Hall, organised by Tony Higginson of Pritchards in Formby, Merseyside. Here we are outside his great independent book shop, with The Fool's Girl just visible in the window behind us. This was my first big schools' event talking about Fool's Girl but the students who had come from different schools to listen to me were hugely welcoming and very enthusiastic. I signed lots of books afterwards and one boy told me he bought the book because he really liked the idea - just what authors like to hear!

Friday, 23rd April. A special day. It was Shakespeare's birthday and I was at the Birthplace Trust in Stratford-on-Avon, talking to students from King Edward Sixth Grammar School (Shakespeare's old school) and Stratford Girls' Grammar School, which is in Shottery, Anne Hathaway's village. I was in Shakespeare Central and when you are talking about a book which has Shakespeare as a character, you can't get much better. It was an excellent day all round. In the afternoon, I attended a lecture given by James Shapiro about his new book Contested Will: Who wrote Shakespeare? This time it was my turn to get my book signed.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The spirit of Feste is alive and well and was with me on Saturday. I encountered this street performer on the way to the Central Library to give my talk for the Cambridge Wordfest, and was careful to put money into his hat. I'm superstitious like that. To walk by would have been to court disaster. It was the first time that I'd really spoken about The Fool's Girl at length, more than giving a sneak peek of a work in progress, and I was anxious for it to go well. I needn't have worried. He must have been with me. My writer friends - Yvonne Coppard, Julia Jarman and Anne Rooney - had come along to support me and there were other people, too: some young, some older: readers, librarians, fellow writers. I read a bit, talked a bit, showed them some pictures and then they asked questions. It's always hard to know what people want to know about a book. What fascinates you, as the writer, might not necessarily interest other people. There's so much that you could say that it is hard to decide what to include. That is why I always try to leave plenty of time for questions. It is the most interesting part for me and I suspect for other people, so when a writer asks 'Any questions?', don't be shy.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Yesterday was publication day for The Fool's Girl . Easter Bank Holiday - a bit of an odd choice of day. I didn't do anything special to mark the book's entrance into the world. It is already 'out there' anyway, or as 'out there' as it is going to be. I did have a nice surprise, however, when I discovered a wonderful review on a web site
Rhiana Reads at This is an excellent site, with loads of reviews, comments and recommended reads. My fellow writer, Kath Langrish, has also posted a review and interview on her site Seven Miles of Steel Thistles . I'd like to thank these two and all the other bloggers who take the time and trouble to read and review books and share their opinions with others. It seems to me that this is the way to keep reading dynamic and vibrant. It means that readers can find books that they might otherwise miss, as well as getting the chance to say what they think. It is good for writers, too. We all want our work to be recognised. There is nothing worse than having a book published and for there to be absolutely no reaction. Now, thanks to the internet, that doesn't have to happen.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Message from the gods...

If they do come through, then they come in mysterious ways. On Tuesday, I was at the Society of Authors for a talk about blogging, given byRhiannon Lassiter and Mary Hoffman (seen here with me on the left - photo c/o Helena Pielichaty, who was chairing the meeting). The talk was entitled To Blog or Not to Blog - the worse thing you can do is to half do it - I was in the front row looking shifty. The message was encouraging rather than daunting and I went away feeling suitably chastised for having a blog and not keeping it up (or keeping it up fitfully and from the guilty looks about - I'm not alone in this) but also energised, determined to do better. Then I got a message from my publisher saying that they had nominated me for a blog award at: . My first reaction was, 'you've got to be joking!' there are real bloggers out there - like Mary and Rhiannon and Helena - go to their sites, look them up. They are proper bloggers - I'm not - but you can't be unnominated, apparently, so my next thought was maybe it is message from whoever the god of the internet may be (my money is on Hermes). A message to me to keep it up and now's a good time. I've got a book coming out on Monday and some visits lined up, so I should have something to blog about. Even if I stand no chance of winning (that's a given) at least I can have a go and take on board what Rhiannon and Mary taught me - blogging and following other people's blogs - can be fascinating fun.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Books and Ice Cream

I often buy books now via the Internet, from Amazon or Abebooks, but I was in Hay-on-Wye the other day and re-descovered the joy of browsing. The last time I was in Hay was for the Festival and the town looked very different from those heady days in May. The Festival field was just that, a muddy field, and there weren't many tourists about, but the bookshops were still there, still open, and I really enjoyed spending a few hours just looking, picking up books, attracted by the cover, the subject matter, discovering books that I knew nothing about, but found interesting.

Today, I went to the library. I went in for one thing and came out an hour later with an armful of books that I had not planned to read but which sparked my interest and took my attention. The internet is great - if you know what you want - but you still can't beat a real bookshop, or a library, for those random discoveries that will set off a new idea or introduce you to a writer you did not know before. And Hay has better ice cream!

Monday, 1 February 2010

It's always hard to decide when it is time for a new book to be 'out there'. In the old days, it was easy. A book 'came out', when it came out, but now, with web sites, internet, Amazon, etc. a book has a life long before it hits the book shops (those that are left). So, this is my new book, The Fool's Girl. Its official publication date is 5th April. It is based on Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, but is not a straight re-working. Rather, it is about what could have happened after the play ended and how Shakespeare might have got to hear the story. He is, in fact, a character in the novel. I normally avoid having real people in my books, especially any as famous as Mr WS, but rules are there to be broken, especially rules about writing. Once I saw him as Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love, not the bald bloke in the Folio engraving, I found him much easier to write about.

Thank you to all the people who have offered me advice about blogging. Clearly, there are some people out there who read this. I've taken a break from it, partly because I was really busy getting Fool's Girl ready for publication, but I'm hoping to keep the blog up to date from now on!