Thursday, 15 December 2011

Chim-chim-charoo


I haven't really been blogging since the beginning of November and a lot has happened since then.  The biggest thing is that we have finally moved home.  After five years of renting in Newnham, we are now the proud owners of a mortgage once again.

The move has been traumatic and very disruptive.  We are planning to build an office and studio in the garden, but until then I am in a room that reminds me of the office in Terry Gilliam's Brazil where the person next door is moving the walls in their favour.  My wife's studio looks like a storage cupboard full of boxes.

Our house in Newnham was a long way from being perfect for us and it was very frustrating to be unable to fix anything permanently or change anything to suit our tastes, but I produced all the Tales of Terror books there, as well as The Dead of Winter and Mister Creecher.  What books will this house elicit from me I wonder?

And we will miss Newnham.  Or we will miss some of it - our little bit of it.  There is a part of Newnham that is far too pleased with itself, but we made some very good friends there nonetheless.  And it is a unique area.  At the last party I went to there, Stephen Hawking was in the kitchen.  It's that kind of a place.

We will miss the quirky, grumpy, chatty, bossy, loveable Derby Stores and the butchers and the fish and chip van on a Tuesday night.  We will miss Lammas Land and the walk across the little oasis of feral fenland to the centre of town.  We will miss the amazing variety of birdlife we managed to attract into our tiny garden and the easy access out on to Grantchester Meadows.

But now we have our own house.  We are reunited with our paintings - many of which I had forgotten (especially the ones I actually painted) - although we have had contend with breakages and losses.  We have our books back, though we do not have anywhere to put them yet.  We have far too much stuff for such a small house, but we do have a cellar luckily.  We are in a quiet and very friendly little street.

The photograph shows the chimney sweep's brush emerging from the chimney pot.  He insisted on showing us this, as sweeps do.  They say it's lucky to see it.  Let's hope so.






Sunday, 11 December 2011

My brother

My brother would have been fifty-nine yesterday.  He died many years ago now and I am ashamed to say that months will go by when I don't think of him at all.  We were not close for much of our lives.  In fact we did not see each other for years.  He was in the army - in the catering corps - and stationed in Germany for some of that time, but it was more that we seemed to have nothing but our surname in common.  I arranged to meet him at Waterloo Station one time, to go and see our other brother, and I walked past him twice.

If you have not experienced it yourself it is very hard to explain what it is like to outlive an older brother - and he was six years older than me.  When I reached the age that he was when he died - forty-four - it felt wrong.  And I can never see him old.  I cannot imagine him as fifty-nine.

He had survived a heart and kidney transplant and was progressing well when he fell victim to an infection.  This was his second heart transplant.  The new kidney was down to the fact that the existing one would never have coped with another round of the drugs involved.  I saw him the morning after and marvelled, as I had at the first one, at how well he looked.  The new heart seemed to refresh every cell in the body making it look ten years younger.  It was a welcome distraction to the huge scar creeping up his chest.

This was his second heart transplant because the first would have failed in the donor had they lived long enough.  It was just one of those things.  My brother did not get many breaks in life, although to be fair, much of that was down to his own recklessness.  He was wild when he was young.  Just the mention of his name was enough to protect me on the estate where we lived.

He died very shortly after my son was born.  It was a cruel confluence.  I drove to the hospital with one of those brick-sized mobile phones we had in the 90s fearing that my wife would go into labour while I was gone.  It seems like only moments later in my memory that I see my mother holding my baby son against her black dress and I am driving my parents through relentless rain to my brother's funeral.

My memories of my brother are almost all conversations.  We would go to the pub if we were home (he from the army, me from college) at the same time and then, over the years, we seem to have had a series of long conversations, too many of them in a hospital of one sort or another.  For some reason, although I was younger than he was, he would open up to me.  I think he trusted me.  His life was always full of drama - mostly tragedy.  I'm not sure he ever really knew what he wanted from life.

One time we met up just the two of us and went for a meal in Soho in London.  He was really taken by the little pasta place I took him to.  It was the kind of place he would have liked to run, he said.  Maybe there is a parallel universe somewhere where that dream came true.  I hope so.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

US dead of winter


Here is the cover for the US edition of The Dead of Winter that will be published next spring.  It looks good I think.  I like the quote they've picked out for the back.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Carnegie nomination


I was very pleased to learn that The Dead of Winter has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal.  It is a very long and very strong list and I will be incredibly proud if I progress onto the shortlist.  As always, I must say how fantastic it feels to be noticed and appreciated in amongst the wealth of wonderful books out there.

Good luck to everyone else on the longlist.  I am genuinely excited to be in such illustrious company.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

StarLit, starstruck

I was in London today.  I was doing an event as part of the StarLit Festival organised by the Shoreditch Trust.  A group of Year 4, 5 and 6 primary school children from Queensbridge School came to see me at the Waterside Restaurant.  They asked lots of very good questions and were a pleasure to be with.  We had a lot of fun and then we got to eat some nice food for lunch.  It was all very civilised.

I went from there to Soho where I was to have a meeting about. . .well, actually I'm not going to say what it was about because it is at such an early stage I might frighten it away if I breathe too hard.  If it becomes a bit more solid I will never stop talking about it!

At this point all I will say is that involves the possibility of getting one of my books onto the stage, which would be fantastic obviously.  And I also got to meet someone whose work I've enjoyed for a long time and was a little bit over-excited.  I just hope she will take the project on.

Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Uncanny

I have been writing blogs and articles all week.  I thought I'd share a couple with you.

I have my Top Ten list of scary short stories on the Guardian website.  This took longer than I thought it would to compile.  It was so hard to narrow it down to ten.

I am also 'guest editor' on the National Short Story Week website where I have written a short piece about uncanny fiction.  I am also on there website taking part in a Write Lines podcast discussion chaired by Sue Cook and featuring Joe Craig, Tamsyn Murray and Jon Mayhew.

Have a listen.  We're the ones yacking about children's books.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Reviews


There were two very nice reviews of Mister Creecher today.  Amanda Craig included it in her round up of Halloween books for children and YAs in The Times and Philip Ardagh reviewed at some length it in the Guardian.  Both were very generous in their praise.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Crazy week, crazy month

This week has been full of distractions.  We are attempting to to move, having rented this house for five years now and have all the business of finance, surveyors and so on to deal with.  The house we rent is on the market and we have to endure the presence of agents and possible purchasers trooping through the house.  Added to which our car has all but died and we are in the process of replacing it.  And I am still getting to grips with my new Mac, bought to replace my

As if that were not enough, I have spent the week writing posts for a blog tour, answering several Q&As, written a Top Ten list of horror short stories for the Guardian website and written a short piece for the TES.

October is traditionally a bit of a crazy time for me.  It is my publication month and so there is inevitably a bit of promotion to be done, but as well as that I am reviewing the feedback on my book for next October - The Mask - and sorting out the synopsis and sample chapters of the one for 2013!

People are often surprised to find that a writer is working on two books at once, but it is not unusual to be working on three.  And we are always thinking of stories, scribbling in notebooks and so on.  As I have said before it is a (reasonably) benign form of madness.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Autumn

I love autumn.

When we lived in Norfolk autumn arrived like a wild beast, roaring and howling.  We lived at the top of a small hill, but it might as well have been a mountain, because the gales rolled in with few obstructions until they smacked into our house.  We were lucky enough to have a mighty elm on our field boundary - a lucky survivor of the terrible plague that took so many of its kind - and it would roar in the wind like waves crashing on a shingle beach.

Huge flocks of geese would fly over our house to mark the change in seasons, their honking sounding like an enormous rusty gate creaking to and fro in the wind.  And they would fly away again at the end of winter.  But I don't miss the power cuts, the leaking roof or the floods we frequently had as rainwater seeped under our doors.








When you live way from the cities and towns, the seasons are much more clearly defined, especially living in an exposed part of the country like Norfolk, with its huge skies and violent weather changes.  I miss those skies - especially the crystal clear, star strewn night skies.  Coming back from a long commute from London, after a stressful day at The Economist or The Independent, I would park the car and look up at the Milky Way for a few minutes before walking into the house.

It was like a palate-cleansing sorbet.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Towering skies








There was a wonderful sky in Cambridge today: the kind of sky that features in Baroque paintings, towering and multi-layered.  These iPhone pics don't quite do it justice, but my phone was all I had on me.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Frankfurt




























I returned from the Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday.  I did not win the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in my category, sadly, but I still had a good time. . .

I had never been to a book fair before.  I have friends who have been to Bologna, but even they have not been to Frankfurt.  Bologna seems to be a bit more author and illustrator friendly.  Frankfurt is perhaps perceived as being a bit more cold-bloodedly about the business of publishing. I can't really say whether this is true or not.  I can only say that my experience of Frankfurt was a very pleasant one.

I flew from Heathrow in bright sunshine, marvelling at the vast expanses of forest below as we started our descent into Frankfurt airport.  The taxi ride from the airport was interesting.  As soon as we pulled out onto the autobahn, I was shoved back into the seat by the g-force as we hurtled along.  The only time I checked the speedo we were at 160 kilometres an hour - a shade under a 100 miles an hour.  Brake lights twinkled in the sunshine as we weaved between lanes and I jabbed out at an imaginary brake with my foot whilst suppressing a whimper.  After that I thought it best to look sideways at the blurred scenery.

I had no visual image of Frankfurt in my mind and was a little surprised by the mini Manhattan skyline on the horizon.  I was determined that I was going to try and get a better look at the place if I could find the time.

I dropped my stuff at the hotel - a nice little place on the Liebigstrasse - and walked the short distance to the book fair to meet Emma Hopkin, the MD of Bloomsbury Childrens Publishing in the UK.  Emma took me into the fair and to the Bloomsbury/Berlin Verlag stall in the German hall.  We seemed to walk for about a mile, going in and out of buildings, up and down escalators.  I knew the place was going to be vast, but nothing quite prepares you for how big it actually is.

There was a reception being held there for their authors and a little display with our books.  For me, it was mainly a chance to meet my German publishers:  Philip Roeder, MD of Bloomsbury in Germany, Natalie Tornai, editorial director, Dorit Engelhardt my editor, Beatrice Howeg who had clearly done such a great job translating Uncle Montague and Meike Blatnik from publicity who had arranged my trip and made everything run so smoothly.  I owe them all a big thank you for making me feel so welcome.  And to Emma Hopkin who looked after me so well while I was there.

There wasn't time for us to get over to the UK hall and come back in time to go to the awards ceremony and so we wandered round the German stalls until it was time to be taken over there by Natalie.

I had not heard of the Deutsher Jugendliteraturpreis until I was nominated, but I had already been told it was a very prestigious award and this was confirmed by the amount of people now milling about outside the auditorium.  I had to get my name tag and be photographed and then we all took our seats.  I think I'm right in saying there were about a thousand people in there.

In front of us was a huge stage with massive video screens above it.  It all seemed so much more professional and glamorous than anything we have in the UK - or anything I had ever been invited to, anyway.  Happily, the very first award went to Martin Baltscheit for his beautiful Bloomsbury-published picture book, Die Geschichte vom Fuchs, der den Verstand verlor.  He went up on stage and received his award and then had to sit on a large white sofa on the stage for the rest of the evening, joined by each successive winner.

I suddenly became very aware that I did have a chance of winning and I had not really given any thought to what I would say and tried to remember all the people I would need to thank.  Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror appeared on the giant screens, along with photos of me, David Roberts and Beatrice Howeg.  But very soon after, the envelope was opened and I was relieved of the need for any kind of acceptance speech.  The winner was Milena Baisch and her illustrator Elke Kusche, for Anton taucht ab published by Beltz & Gelberg.

The rest of the ceremony was a little opaque for those of us struggling to recall even the most primitive of sentences from our schoolboy German classes, but the slickness continued throughout.  It was certainly a very impressively presented event.

Afterwards we milled about in the foyer where there was some wine and nibbles and then we went to a restaurant nearby, taking over most of the back room.  Good food and very good company helped to make me forget how exhausted I was, having set off from the house at six in the morning.  Just as when I went to Holland and met my Dutch publishers, I was in awe of how articulate and witty everyone was whilst speaking a foreign language.  It is very humbling for we lazy Englanders.  We left at about midnight and I flopped straight into bed when I got back to my hotel.

I got a text from Emma the next morning saying she had been up since five (she was flying out at seven).  The horror!  I'm not sure that anything would have got me up at that hour.  I staggered downstairs at about 8.30 and had breakfast before checking out and setting off to see a bit of Frankfurt before I flew back in the early afternoon.  I wandered about clutching one of those useless hotel maps where the type is so small you can't read it without an electron microscope.  I walked through a very expensive shopping district, through the main square and along the river, wishing I had time to cross and investigate the other side.  Eventually I ended up at the grand railway station where an anti-capitalist demonstration was beginning to form and head off, watched by knots of sullen looking policemen.  'We are the 99%' read one of the placards in English - a reference to the wealthy 1% of the world population who own most of it's riches.

The photographs here were taken on my iPhone so are not the best quality, but they give an impression of what was a very pleasant stroll through the city on a beautiful autumn day.  I had slightly dreaded my trip to Frankfurt but I would happily come back if asked.

Maybe I will be nominated again.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

And the award for most nominations goes to. . .


I am in the running for three awards at the moment.


The Dead of Winter has been shortlisted for the Salford Book Award and longlisted for the UKLA Children's Book Award in the 12-16 category.  It is always a real honour to be nominated for any award.  It is frankly an honour to be noticed - there are so many great books out there.  I will keep you posted about my progress - or lack of it.

Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror has been nominated for an award in it's German translation - Onkel Montagues Schaurgeschichten.  I am reliably informed that the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis is very prestigious and just as with the Dutch award this time last year, it is particularly satisfying, somehow, to feel that the books have made such a successful migration to other countries.  My translators are clearly making me look good.

The award ceremony takes place at the Frankfurt Book Fair this coming Friday and I am flying over to attend.  I had hoped that the Tales of Terror illustrator, David Roberts, would be joining me, but sadly he can't make it.  It is my first visit to a book fair and my first visit to Germany.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Swedish terrors


A big box of the Swedish edition of the Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth arrived today.  It was a rather bigger box than I had imagined I would get.  Twelve copies of a foreign language edition is perhaps more generous than is absolutely necessary!  I also received a more manageable four copies of the Spanish edition of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.  It is getting hard to keep track of all the foreign editions of the Tales of Terror.  Portugal is the latest country to take them.  I'll let you know more about publication dates and covers on those when I have more information.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Bournemouth

After my day at Bishop's Stortford, I took the train to London with Ian Lamb, my trusty publicity person at Bloomsbury, leaving him at Liverpool Street and braved the circle of hell that is rush hour on the London Underground, heading over to Waterloo Station to catch my train to Bournemouth.

Waterloo Station was as packed as the tube trains and it was like The Nightmare Before Christmas as I queued for a sandwich to take on the train, with mince pies sitting alongside chocolate pumpkins.  Mince pies?  At the beginning of October?

I haven't been on that particular line since I used to teach illustration at Southampton for a short period back in the 1980s.  I associate it with feeling absolutely shattered owing to the fact that I had to get up at about six in the morning to make sure I arrived on time.  Today was no different actually.  I was absolutely exhausted by the time I arrived at Bournemouth and collapsed into bed pretty much as soon as I got to my hotel.

The life of the travelling author is filled with disappointments and my hotel - like so many English hotels - was a lot grander on the outside than on the inside.  Although my room was huge, it had seen better days and I was next to the lift and so had to listen to 'bing-bong!' every time the doors open.  Bing.  Bong . . . Bing.  Bong. .

If you are going to put rooms near the lifts then at least make them quiet.  The lifts I mean.

Val O'Sullivan picked me up from the hotel and looked after me very well all day.  Bournemouth Library is very swish - a lovely, light, modern building and a very good venue for an event.  I managed to get my Mister Creecher iPhone presentation to show on the screen with the help of the IT whizz, John - but when we came back, some connection had gone to sleep and we couldn't get it to work.  Back to the memory stick and the space bar. . .

I came away once again with the desire to do much more than either I or the venues seem capable of at the moment.  The technology is already in place to do something a bit more, dare I say it, funky than flick through a glorified slide show, but everyone seems a bit scared to go beyond the confines of their present knowledge.  I am going to make it my business to know more.

My first session was with a mixed group of Year 7 and 8 kids from three different schools.  They were a lively bunch, but very attentive and asked lots of great questions at the end.  After lunch and a stroll around Bournemouth, I had another session with Year 8 children.  This was a smaller group and sometimes that can intimidate people into silence, but again, they were a really interested and interesting lot.

Thanks to everyone involved and hopefully you'll ask me back!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Bishop's Stortford


I spent the day at the Bishop's Stortford College today with the wonderful Rosie Pike, librarian there.  It was my first time at the school and my first time in Bishop's Stortford actually, despite it only being half an hour or so away.  Not that I ever get to see anything of the places I go to for events.

It was a very varied day.  I spoke to sixth formers who were just starting a module on Gothic fiction and who had just read Frankenstein.  Responses to Mary Shelley's novel were varied, but we had a good discussion.  It was interesting, actually, to see how underwhelmed many of them were by the experience of reading a novel I remember being so excited by.  But it has to be said, the central section where the creature learns to read and write via Milton's Paradise Lost, is both tedious and a bit ridiculous.

I spoke to the Year 7 Book Club, all of whom were reading Mister Creecher.  I was amazed at how many of them had already finished the book already.  But more than that, I was so impressed with the questions they asked about it.  We had a very good discussion about whether Creecher and Billy were good guys or bad guys.  Or both.  Or neither.

In the afternoon I helped (well, kind of) while the students tried to complete poems based on a theme of games for Write Path.  Write Path is an amazing international collaborative writing scheme established by Bev Humphries.  The brief is to carry on the poem for a verse or two then hand over to the next school at a set time by logging your competed work on the website.  It was really tough.  My role was more to observe and give moral support.  I was amazed at how much they managed to get done in such a short space of time.  I would have struggled.  The fearlessness of youth!

Lastly I gave a talk to a whole hall full of students and for this talk I had brought along a Keynote presentation.  This is unusual for me.  I tend to be low on technology.  Mostly I turn up with a book and chat.  This is not because I hate technology or can't see the benefits of it, but because it so often causes problems and wastes time.

The presentation was basically a slide show of images related to the story of Frankenstein - both the novel, the movies, and the story of Mary Shelley herself and how the story came to be conceived.  I used as many contemporary images as I could - which is not hard, given that Goya, Turner, Constable, Blake, Gericault and Caspar Davis Friedrich (to name but a few) were all working at the time.  I had saved it as a Powerpoint show and Quicktime movie on a memory stick, but I had also put it onto my iPhone.  That's right - my iPhone!

I had saved it as a Quicktime movie and exported it to my iTunes Library which then allowed me to synch it with my iPhone.  I had bought a VGA adaptor and all I needed to do was attach the adapter to the cable going to the projector.  Once connected, the screen would mirror whatever happened on my iPhone screen.  Magic!

But though this would have allowed me more control and, frankly, looked a lot cooler - there was a panic in the eyes of all concerned and as soon as I told them I had a memory stick, they sighed with relief and waved the iPhone nonsense away as crazy talk.  I did not know enough to persuade them otherwise and so we went with the safer option.  Maybe next time. . .

It certainly did not spoil what was a busy but really enjoyable day.  It was great to meet everyone and I will definitely be back.

I hope.



Monday, 3 October 2011

It's alive!


It is publication day for Mister Creecher here in the UK.  It is that strange time of the year when I will be promoting one book while editing another and writing a third.  Actually I am promoting two books, in effect, as it is also the publication day for the paperback of The Dead of Winter.  But more about all that later.  For now I just want to take a moment to enjoy the release of my new book and to wish it well.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Hipstomatic marble



We went to the John Soane Museum on another gloriously sunny day here in the UK.  My son's school was having a teacher training day and so we took advantage and spent the day in London.  We also went to the British Museum where I took these photos using the Hipstomatic app on my iPhone.