Wednesday, 8 July 2009
So once again I lose. Six award nominations for Uncle Montague. Six! And not one win. Come on. That can't be right surely.
The shortlist for the Calderdale Book of the Year (primary section) consisted of me (for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror), Matt Haig for Shadow Forrest, Tom Palmer for Foul Play, Brian Keaney for The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolf and Joshua Lacey for Bearkeeper. Matt Haig was the winner. Well done to him. No, really (mutter, mutter, mutter).
And thanks to all the librarians and staff at the library in Halifax for organising the event and looking after us so well. Well done to the children for sitting through such a long day with such a great attitude. Everyone was really excited but also incredibly attentive during the author sessions and there were lots of great questions.
I arrived in Halifax in a terrific rainstorm yesterday evening and checked in to find a note at reception from Josh asking if I wanted to join him for something to eat. I'd met Josh a few years ago at an author event in Heffers in Cambridge (during another rainstorm) when he was promoting A Dog Called Grk. I bought a copy and my son was henceforth a big fan of the Grk books. Josh is such a nice guy. And I'm not just saying because he might check this blog.
Our fellow shortlistee, Brian Keaney, was also at the hotel and having found his room number we went to collect him and went for a meal in the dining room. Publishers and agents should never allow authors to meet because when they do, there is invariably a long and sustained bitching session about all aspects of the writing business. All except the writing itself, of course. Writers love writing. Or they should.
I was alone among the three of us in thinking that it was in any way odd that adults (who weren't parents of children of the appropriate age, or teachers, or librarians or other children's authors) should read children's books in preference to adult novels. This did not strike me as especially controversial, but it was interesting to hear two intelligent adults state a contrary view. Brian wondered why I wrote for children - as if by saying that I preferred, as an adult, to read adult literature, that I was somehow denigrating children's literature. But I really wasn't.
There are some incredible books for children and I love writing for them. I love their enthusiasm and I know how important books can be in the life of a child. I would die a happy man indeed if I wrote just one book of the quality of say, Tom's Midnight Garden. I am against age-banding and I am happy for anyone of any age to read any of my books. But I do definitely write them for children. And though I do read a lot of children's books, I do so because I work in children's books, not because I buy into the notion that children's literature is the 'home of the story'. I do not share that distrust of the modern novel. And even if I did, there are just so many classic novels I have yet to read. Adult fiction is not 'better' than children's fiction. But it is different for a reason.
Speaking of which, the tediously long rail journey from Cambridge to Halifax (four hours, two changes) did at least provide me with a good chance to read a novel from cover to cover. Cormac McCarthy's The Road has been on my shelf for a while and I've taken a couple of nibbles at it in the last few months. But this is a book best swallowed in one, I think. It is so bleak, so merciless, that I'm not sure that I would have kept going. In a post-apocalyptic America, a father and son walk south under perpetual cloud through a dead landscape covered in ash, trying against all the odds to avoid starvation and the attentions of the 'bad guys'; trying to survive with their humanity intact .
That doesn't sound like much of a review, I grant you, but if you love Cormac McCarthy's writing - and I do - then it doesn't get much better than this. And I would also make the point that the interaction and dialogue between the father and son is perhaps the most convincing I've ever read. Without that at its heart the book would fall apart.
In children's literature we talk - obsess even - about plot much of the time, but there is also the strange alchemy that occurs when the way a book is written seems to shimmer and take on a life of its own. McCarthy does divide people - some will not get past the absence of speech marks or apostrophes - but his work excites me in a way that few other authors do. It is a tough book to read, but its worth it. McCarthy is right up there with any great writer you care to mention. And this book is up there with any classic novel you can think of - of any genre, of any period.
My one warning would be that if you are a father of a son then be ready to cry.