Thursday 18 April 2013

The Summerhall Historical Fiction Festival

I am in historical Edinburgh, in a historical building that used to house Edinburgh University's Veterinary School. I'm writing this in a rather handsome cafe, like a certain other writer in Edinburgh. That's where the similarities between us end.

This is the First Festival devoted entirely to Historical Fiction. It is is always nice to be invited to things and to be included with writers of books for adults but I'm here on Monday morning, so I'm guessing it will be some kind of school event. I don't know because I haven't seen the audience yet. You never quite know what to expect which makes it difficult to plan what say. It is a luxury for me to talk to adults seriously about what I do, about the craft of writing, about the process of writing historical fiction. Too often, writers for children and teenagers are regarded differently, at worst as entertainers, at best as being there to enthuse readers: 'Hey, kids! History can be fun!' I've planned for a bit of both. Years of experience have taught me to take a belt and braces approach.

Appearing at a Festival like this, is not as much fun as people think. If one tells friends that one is going to  X, say, or Y, unless they are writers and know what it will be like, they think its kind of like a short holiday, time for sightseeing, a bit of shopping, or to take in the rest of the Festival, but it is often not like that at all. It is far more like a business trip. An overnight stay, do the event, go home. Trains, motorways, hotel rooms. I'm not complaining. Not at all. It's what I do and glad to do it. I just think its funny. But I suppose it is understandable. Writing isn't a like a real job, is it?

Stop press: just been told I'm not in the room it says in the Programme but somewhere else. Heart sinks little bit. How will whoever might be coming find me?

Outside my room there is a knitted tree. A good start, I think. My spirits lift.I like the knitted tree.

When I'm shown into the room, I can't believe it. It's a Dissecting Room. Wooden benches go up in a steeply raked semi circle. There is a space in the middle
where the table would have been. There is a leaded skylight above it. I see Victorian doctors in frock coats standing round a half flayed corpse and am careful not to stand right in the centre of the space. This is one of the most the most exciting places I've ever been asked to speak.. A Dissecting  Room in the city of Burke and Hare. How good is that?  Things are looking up. It's important to like where you are going to speak and I like this a lot. Apart from the freaky ambience, it has very good acoustics. It would be great for a Workshop, I reflect, but I'm not there for that. I'm getting quite excited, looking forward to the event starting, which will be soon.

Then someone asks me where my laptop is.
What laptop? No-one told me to bring a laptop. I only have my memory stick for the Powerpoint Presentation I intend to give. Momentary panic, then a laptop is begged or borrowed. Panic over. But it doesn't work. Not very well, anyway. It splutters to life, then goes blank. By now, the audience is coming in. Not exactly thousands, but just as well as it is a small space. If they spread out a little bit, they fill the benches. nothing more dispiriting that speaking to big empty spaces. That's a relief. There's always the dread that there will just be you and the organiser. Still no Powerpoint, but I start anyway and hey! It goes really well! Perhaps it's the place I'm in, all those lectures, the spirits of dead dogs. The time flies and there are lots of questions. Before I know, it's all over. You never can predict what an event will be like. I'm left with a lightheaded feeling of triumph, knowing that I snatched victory from a number of potential disasters.  

There are plans  to make the Summerhall Historical Fiction Festival an annual event. I hope this happens. I can't imagine a better place for it. 

Monday 4 March 2013

World Book Day

Thursday, March 7th is World Book Day.

This year, I will be at the Mount School in York doing a day of talks and workshops. On Tuesday, 5th March, I will be at King Edward VI, Handsworth, who are having their WBD two days before because I can't be in two places at once.

 I visited King Edward's, Handsworth last year for a day based around my book Pirates!. If ever a book leant itself to World Book Day, it is this one.

Last year, a whole year group dressed up as pirates, including their teachers and the librarians. Everyone had lots of fun, not least the staff who got to swagger about in boots and pantaloons, moustachios curled and teeth blackened. It was interesting to see pupils do a double take as they tried to work out who it was under the pirate disguises.

It was an excellent day, with plenty of laughs and some fabulous work done, not only writing, but drama, music and art, all based on Pirates!

I'm looking forward to another couple of stimulating days in Birmingham and in York and hope to have more photos to put up next week. 

World Book Day is a chance to explore, to follow where books can take you. It is also a brilliant excuse to dress up...

Monday 18 February 2013

I'm changing my Blog. Instead of writing long blogs (which I may do if the spirit moves), I'm going to use it for any news I might have about where i'm going, what I've been doing, or anything else that might be of interest to readers or fans. 

I'll start with my latest History Girls Blog  Shadows in the Cave which you will find at:

It is about my visit to the British Museum to see the Exhibition

it was good to see friend and fellow author Sally Prue's book, Song Hunter, in the Exhibition Shop!

I blog for the History Girls on the 18th of every month. We are a group of published writers (all women) who write historical fiction for children, young adult and adult readers. We've been blogging for more than two years now. The topics are always historical and sometimes it can be difficult to think of anything to blog about. Luckily, my interest in History is wide and eclectic, so something always springs to mind. 

If you've never seen the History Girls, go visit The posts are extremely wide ranging and often fascinating.  

I'm proud to be one of them!

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.