Saturday, 12 November 2011

Arvon Adventures

This time last week, I had just come back from a week at The Hurst, the Arvon Foundation's centre in Shropshire. Like the other Arvon centres, it is a lovely house in a beautiful place, peaceful and tranquil, with lots of space to think and write. It was the playwright John Osborne's house, and so has lots of writerly associations and reminders, with playbills up everywhere and loos sponsored by Maggie Smith.

I'm a bit late blogging about it, but it has taken me a week to:

a) Recover.

b) Catch up on other stuff enough to get round to writing my own blog.

I was beaten to it first by by my co-tutor, Linda Newbery, on the excellent site: Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? To see what she has to say, just click on the link below and while you are there, have a look round, particularly if you are interested in publishing e books.

I was also beaten to it by Jo Wyton who got her blog up on the equally excellent Notes From The Slushpile . Jo was on the course, so her perspective was particularly interesting for me.

I've tutored four Arvon courses now, and each one has been different, made so by the setting and by the people, tutors and tutees, who have been taking part. But they all had some things in common. They were all intense, hard work, but inspirational. There's something about a group of people with a common interest and a common purpose. Wherever you are at: just beginning, stuck in a rut, blocked, putting off the evil day before you get started, a week away on an Arvon course seems to free the spirit and untie the knots. It's an opportunity to be a writer, not a doctor, or a house wife, or a web site manager, or a lawyer, or a student, or whatever you are when you are at home, and to join with other writers, to learn from the tutors, who are all experienced writers, but also from each other. By the end of the week, Arvon has done its magic. Everyone seems to have made significant progress with the work that he or she brought with them, or has started something new.

You'll find all you need to know there, but perhaps what it won't tell you is that going on an Arvon course is also extremely good fun.

I'm indebted to Linda for this snap of our last supper.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Edinburgh International Book Festival

I've been away from my own blog for a while, although I have been active on various joint blogs, like the Awfully Big Blog Adventure and The History Girls:

I was reminded of how lax I'd been by the Bookwitch when I met her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She was there with her Roving Photographer, taking snap shots and storing away details to blog about us authors so I thought I'd reciprocate and mention her, instead of the other way round.

I was in Edinburgh at the weekend to do a series of events. I flew up on Saturday and my Sunday started at 10am with a ten minute reading in the Writers' Retreat. I could choose to read from any work so I gave my new novel its first public outing. It looks very different: no girl on the cover, no elegant writing. That is because it is very different. It is not historical but a contemporary thriller; the narration shared between a boy and a girl. It will not be published until February 2012. I'll be writing more about it as the date nears.

My main event was with Nicola Morgan, talking about Historical Fiction with Julia Eccleshare, Children's Literary Editor of the Guardian, as Chair. We had a good audience for an excellent session. You never know what you will find out about people on these occasions. Nicola, for example, has a deep interest and knowledge of the gruesome and gory. It does not do to judge authors by what you see. Afterwards we repaired to the Yurt (see below). The yurt is big kind of tent for us authors to hide in. There we met fellow author, Linda Strachan. Linda lives in Scotland, so I don't see her all that often. Edinburgh is a great place to catch up with people.

When I'm at a festival, I like to go and see other people if I get chance. I always find it interesting to hear writers talking about their craft. So in the afternoon, I went to see Patrick Ness talking to Moira Young about dystopian fiction. Not my fave genre but a very interesting session. My last engagement for the day was another reading - not from my own work this time but from the work of an Iraqi Blogger who has to be anonymous because he could be arrested or killed for speaking out in his country. This event was organised by Amnesty International and PEN, the writers' organization, which works to promote literature and human rights. There are readings throughout the festival: writers speaking the words and freeing the voices of their brothers and sisters abroad who have been silenced by oppression.

Monday was the first day of the Schools' Programme (Scottish schools start back earlier than their English counterparts). My time in Edinburgh finished with a talk about The Fool's Girl to a large, appreciative and very enthusiastic audience from schools all over Scotland, some of whom had got up at 5am to get to the Festival.

I was sorry to leave Edinburgh. There are so many things going on that I never get a chance to see. Maybe next time I'll get to stay longer.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Pirates! fight another day...

Sometimes interesting and intriguing requests drop into my inbox. A month or so ago I had an e mail from a blogger who was planning a pirate month on her web site. She asked if I would like to take part, she wanted to feature my book, Pirates!, offer some copies for a giveaway (courtesy of the publishers, Bloomsbury) and would I like to write something? She wanted me to write a piece to be called The Brawl in Triton's Tavern. I love pirates, so how could I refuse?

I decided that I couldn't add anything to the actual book. Somehow, a book is a finished thing - it is what it is - and can't have extra episodes added on to it. Besides, there is already a tavern scene in the book, so there is not really room for another. So I decided to write an episode from Pirates!, the phantom sequel. This book has never been written, but parts of it exist, in my mind, anyway. Even though I might never get to write it, I'd certainly thought about what might happen after the end of the book, but would I actually be able to go back to the time, the characters, re-visit a novel that was published eight years ago?

The answer was - no problem! It was like visiting old friends that I hadn't seen for years. They were there waiting for me. You can read the result at:

I really enjoyed my visit and maybe the girls will sail again one day. Who knows? Certainly looks like they are up for it!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

If it's Tuesday, it must be....

Northampton, or that is where I was last week. I was on a Book Tour, organised by my publisher, Bloomsbury, to promote The Fool's Girl, which came out in paperback... last Tuesday. I was travelling up and down the country all week, from Coventry to London via Kettering and Northampton and then back up to Wolverhampton. Hard work, but worth it - you get to meet readers, sell books, spread the word. For children's authors, appearances are mostly in schools these days, or theatre spaces, with children brought in from schools around to hear you speak. The schools involved do not have to pay, they are effectively receiving a free school visit, although the understanding is, stated or otherwise, that the students will have money to buy books. Authors might also be asked to take part in evening or twilight events, in a bookstore or local library, so it can make for a long day but worth it, as I say, or at least that is what we are told. If we are asked to do a tour, we do not refuse. We are contractually obliged to support the publication of a book in any way we can but not everyone is offered the chance of a tour, publishing is going though hard times and budgets are tight. Not everyone feels happy and confident standing up in front of hundreds of children and/or teenagers. Just because you write for them, doesn't mean you automatically have the ability to entertain them en masse. The very idea fills some authors with the kind of dread experienced by stand ups booked to play the Glasgow Empire.

Never fear, there is now a different kind of tour. A Blog Tour. Writers can get out and about, travel the world, without ever leaving their desks. It is all done in cyberspace. Writers go from blog to blog answering questions, being interviewed, writing a guest blog. It is busy out there and getting busier. Gillian Philip is visiting the Bookwitch right now. Kath Langrish was with her not so long ago and expect Mary Hoffman some time soon.

There is nothing like connecting with readers personally, but if this not going to happen for whatever reason, then the Blog Tour is an excellent alternative. The great thing about the Blog Tour is that writers can organise them for themselves, no longer completely dependant on the vagaries of publicity and marketing departments. Just as important, it is a way of making connections, growing awareness, building interest, not just in us and our books but in the bloggers and the sites that they work so hard to keep current and fresh.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Der Narr und das Madchen

Is the title of The Fool's Girl in German. Last week I was on what the Germans term a Reading Tour, going to various schools and venues reading from and talking about my book. I gave up German when I was thirteen, or rather it gave up on me, so it was a good thing that all the groups I met spoke excellent English.

My first visit was to the Franconian International School in Erlangen. It was a full on day of talks and workshops organised by their wonderful librarian, Elaine Smith. As it was my first gig, I admit to being slightly nervous, but the staff could not have been more helpful or accommodating and the students were attentive and full of enthusiasm. From Erlangen, I went to Munich by train. I had a fistful of tickets for various long distance train journeys. I like travelling by train and I had Christopher Isherwood's Berlin novels with me as appropriate reading.

In Munich I met another wonderful librarian, Sabine Balmer, who works at the European School. The reading went well with lots of questions. Afterwards, I was interviewed by a student team for the local radio station. They made me read a few sentences in English. Their excellent English put my stumbling efforts to shame!

I went from Munich to Berlin, which is a six hour journey, but I didn't mind. It gave me time to reflect, write and do lots of staring out of the window. I stayed overnight in Berlin and did a session the next day at the Gruner Salon in Rosa Luxemburg Platz. Then on the train to the Leipzig Book Fair. The book fair was huge, miles and miles of stands spreading across a bewildering number of halls. 'Home' was the Berlin Verlag stand in aisle D, Hall C. I did a couple of events. A reading with a young German actress and a public event at the fair. I was concerned in case no-one showed up. but plenty of people came along to hear me read and talk about The Fool's Girl. I also met a very self possessed group of young readers from Berlin, representing a network of book groups that operate across several schools in the city. I was impressed by what they told me about how the groups operate. They have their own web sites where they post blogs and reviews. They even had their own business cards!

In the evening, I was taken to Auerbachs Keller, a famous beer keller associated with the German writer Goethe and the story of Faust. According to legend, the alchemist, Dr Faust, rode a wine barrel from the cellar to the street with the help of the Devil, or his helper, Mephistopheles. Goethe included a scene in the wine bar in his play, Faust. Mephistopheles was there in person, startling diners and acting out scenes from the play. I couldn't understand a word, but his presence was enough. Thanks are due to Katja Henkel, fellow author, who remembered to bring her camera.

The Book Fair marked the end of my week. I had a great time. I love travelling, seeing different places and meeting different people. I just wish that I'd paid more attention in my language lessons in school!