Friday, 28 May 2010

Spring jacket

I finally finished all three of the additional stories for the Tales of Terror re-issues and I was very excited to receive this early viewing of the new jacket treatment for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror for the spring 2011 reissue. I think it's great. It is deliberately older in feel and, as lovely as they are, it will not feature the David Roberts illustrations. The idea is to present the book in a completely fresh way and hopefully pick up some readers who might have been put off by the younger look of the previous covers.

I was very keen that the additional stories were not simply tacked on to the end in some way or shoe-horned into the main body of the book. It was important to me that they genuinely added something. And I am happy that they do. . .

I have written a story for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror that see Edgar return to hear another tale - one that concerns a mysterious snow globe. The story for Tales of Terror from the Black Ship sees the return of Cathy and Ethan's father who tries to explain the source of his madness. In Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth, Robert is recuperating and hears a strange tale from his stepmother.

These new stories link the books together, adding new connections between the characters and their tales. The books still stand alone, but reading all three in order will now be a more satisfying experience, I think.

It has been a lot of fun for me to return to those characters and I trust that will come across when you (hopefully) read them next spring.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Every day, in every way, I'm getting worse at keeping this blog

I've completely lost my discipline with the blog these days. I used to at least try and write it every day. Now it is getting to be more like once a week. I will be trying to do a little better in the coming weeks, but that said, the next month is looking a bit disrupted.

I thought I'd fill you in on what I'm doing and planning to do in the near future. Some time ago I mentioned that I was putting some paintings into open exhibitions. I still haven't heard about the Royal Academy Summer Show - we hear next week actually - but I did get a painting into the Eastern Open in King's Lynn. My studio mate John Clark got two in. The paintings come back this Friday (having failed to lure the good people of King's Lynn into making a purchase).

John and I have signed up for the Cambridge Open Studios as well. I already wish I hadn't as I simply do not have the time to spare on painting. John has been working away every day and producing lots of paintings, some of which I hope to show you when he decides he is happy for them to be seen.

I, on the other hand, have been writing my new book - Mister Creecher. I have a July delivery date on the manuscript and I had really wanted a clear month to work on the rough draft, but that is now looking less likely. I have been doing so many other things.

One of these things - for those of you who visit the blog regularly - was a graphic novel sample. This has proved the biggest distraction of all. I have wanted to do a graphic novel since I was a teenager and leapt at the opportunity. But I am not getting paid to do that and I am contracted to do my book, so I feel as though I have to get on with that. The graphic novel will have to wait. For the moment.

But I have also been distracted by writing other things. Bloomsbury have had the idea that when they repackage the Tales of Terror books next year (more of that another time) it would be nice to have an extra story at the end. That has proved more difficult that I'd imagined but it has been a lot of fun returning to those books and to those characters. I have written the first two - in rough - and am about to write the Tunnel's Mouth story.

More later. . .

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Independent booksellers

I am back at my desk after a swift visit to London. I was speaking at the Independent Booksellers Dinner at the Hotel Russell on Sunday evening and stayed the night in the hotel (which was clearly very grand once, and still is in places).

I traveled up on Sunday afternoon and checked in. I used the time I had before the pre-dinner drinks to get spruced up and to go through what I wanted to say in my speech. I had written something before I left, but this was more a statement of intent than a speech. There is a great temptation to write a speech - I am a writer after all - and read it out, but it just doesn't feel right to me. If it isn't going down well, you have nowhere to go. Reading it seems dull and if you try and remember it, you run the risk of drying up.

My technique - if I can use such a word - is to have half a dozen things I want to say and an order in which I plan to say them. And that is about it. Things will occur to me as I speak and sections will grow or shrink depending on how interested the audience seems with what I'm saying.

I'm not an especially nervous speaker. I don't know why that is. I absolutely hated having to speak in class at school and would do anything to avoid it. I certainly never put myself forward for plays or performances of any kind. Maybe I just don't like reciting things. Hence my reluctance to read a prepared speech.

Having said that, this event was far more nerve-jangling than I had envisaged. It was much bigger for a start. There were lots of people seated around many tables with candelabras in the centre of them. It had the appearance of a large wedding reception.

Added to that, Howard Jacobson was the other speaker and he went first. He was very funny indeed. He went for the prepared speech with lots of gags and I started to seriously doubt my technique as his talk went on. It started to seem like knowing exactly what you were about to say was the only way to go and that I was going to fall flat on my face. I felt a little sick.

I also hate microphones and lecterns and this gig had both - plus spotlights. I hate spotlights. But as I am aware through my writing, much of terror is in the anticipation, and once I was up there it was fine. I think I was reasonably coherent and said most of what I had intended to say.

I spoke for ten minutes or so. I talked a little about my influences and about my take on writing horror fiction. I won't go into too much detail here because I intend to write a few posts about that quite soon. I also plugged The Dead of Winter of course. This was a room full of booksellers after all.

I was quite happy to return to my table and to the lemon tart my talk had been delaying (we were talking between courses). My part was over. People had laughed. People had clapped. I had not disgraced myself. I could relax now and just enjoy the company and the conversation.

Increasingly writers are expected to be effective speakers and spokesmen (and women) for their books. We still have the opportunity to say no, but it is really part of the job now, I think. It all helps to make a personal connection with those people who will sell or buy your books. There is no reason why someone who is good at writing should necessarily be any good at talking, but its a skill that can be acquired like any other. And it improves with practice.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Writers and artists

I have been posting on the Writers and Artists Blog. I wrote a piece about bound proofs. Follow the link and take a look if you want. It's a very useful site for anyone who is interested in writing as a profession. I may write something about illustration in the future. I'll let you know if I do.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

One of the best children's books ever. . .

I had a lovely surprise this morning. I received a message from my fellow Bloomsbury author, Mary Hooper, telling me that I had been included in a list of the 'best children's books ever' in the Guardian newspaper here in the UK.

I couldn't quite believe this could be true, but I rushed downstairs and opened the paper, and she was absolutely right. There was Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror in the 8-12 section. I'm not sure what I make of being among such company as and Tom's Midnight Garden or The Phantom Tollbooth - both books that are really in a class of their own - but it was certainly exciting to see my work even considered worthy to be set alongside books like that.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Show and tell

I've been meaning to post these for ages. The first is an interview with Philip Reeve, looking a little like T E Lawrence and talking very coherently about his work. I have said many times that I think Philip Reeve is a superb writer. His Mortal Engines were a big hit with my son and rightly so. I make a point of recommending them whenever I get the chance - and I'm happy to take the opportunity to do so again.

The second is a really nice clip featuring the very talented Jackie Morris talking about her work and how she came to be an illustrator. It is always a special treat to see someone at work in their studio I think. It both demystifies and enhances the experience of looking at someones work.

Wouldn't it be great if the government collected clips like this of all kinds of people from sportswomen to scientists, just to show school students the range of careers out there and show them that they don't have to follow the course their father or mother followed, or even the course that is being laid out for them at school.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Under great white northern lights

I went with my son to see The White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights, the documentary about their tour of Canada. There were maybe eight other people in the entire cinema, which seemed a shame. It certainly deserved more viewers than that. It captured the excitement of live performance well, but it was the strange little gigs they did in schools and day centres that were most fascinating. It also showed what a facilitator music is when it comes to breaking down barriers.

There was a particularly interesting bit about creativity which I thought I'd share with those of you who haven't seen it. The concert footage is interspersed with clips from an interview with Jack and Meg (although amusingly Meg has to be sub-titled, she is so quiet - 'No one can hear a goddamn word your saying!' ). In reality it is an interview with Jack White.

Talking about recording the album, he said that basically the attitude was to turn up and do something - regardless of whether they were in the mood or particularity inspired. He likened it to when he was an upholsterer and had a more realistic work ethic whereby you did the best you could on any given day and accepted that.

I read something by Jeanette Winterson recently where she said she wasn't writing anything at the moment because 'you can't force it' or words to that effect. Well, a lot of us are not in a position where we can sit around and wait for the muse to turn up. We are contracted to publishers (if we are lucky) and we have mouths to feed and bills to pay. And in any case I'm not sure that the book is 'out there' and I'm waiting for it to arrive. The book is in me and I have to come up with strategies to get it out. That sounds more medical than I'd intended.

I agree with Jack White - there is a lot of nonsense spoken about creativity. Anyone who is any good at anything has worked hard to get there. A lot of what is involved in any art form is just plain hard graft. Sometimes you just have to put the hours in. That's not to say that sometimes writing doesn't feel effortless and easy, because it does (sometimes) and when it does you need to get as many words written as possible - because it ain't going to last.

But I think that attitude of just getting the stuff out there, however imperfect, is absolutely the right one.