Sunday, 31 July 2011

Believing what we see is boundless

Is it possible to feel as though you belong in a place even though you don't live there or have any family connection to the area? I think it is.

I know it is.

I have been going to the Lake District off and on for over forty years now and to the same small hamlet for thirty years. There have been huge gaps between my visits, and yet the excitement I first felt on arriving there has never diminished, and what has grown alongside it has been a sense of coming back to a place I love and feel comfortable in.

My wife and son feel the same, though my son has been here only a few times. But we all have a feeling of elation when we finally arrive on the small road that runs alongside Ullswater. We have just had a wonderful week up there and it did not disappoint.

I have never been very adventurous in the Lakes. I like to walk the fells , but I have always been content to walk the local, less crowded and less celebrated Eastern fells. I don't crave novelty and I have no interest in walking with a queue of other people just because a particular fell is especially lofty or famous. I like to climb up high enough to get a view and to lose myself in the landscape. P B Shelley put it better than I ever could:

I love all waste
And solitary places; where we taste

The pleasure of believing what we see

Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be. . .

Friday, 15 July 2011

Dog magic!

My very first book is to be reprinted. Dog Magic! was originally published in 2000 and was shortlisted for that years Children's Book Award. But these little books are hard to keep alive and it slipped quietly out of print a few years back.

It's a slight thing, but I think it's still one of my best books. It tells the story of a Jack Russell terrier who is granted unlimited wishes and learns that maybe having everything you want is not necessarily a good thing. . .

First books are always special. It relies on someone - in my case Annie Eaton at Transworld - to make that leap of faith and give you a chance. As soon as that book is out, you are a published author and you just have to cope as best as you can. It's like being pushed into a fast-flowing river.

The age group of my books has grown as my son has grown. Before long I was writing longer historical adventures and eventually the chillers of recent years. There was one exception though. . .

Dog Magic! was part of a two-book deal. When I went on to write my Tom Marlowe books this second younger book was put on the back burner. I would occasionally come up with something but each time there seemed to be a reason why the idea would not quite work. It was not until we were about to leave Norfolk that came up with the idea for Billy Wizard - a story about a boy moving to a new school.

The 'new' school that Joe goes to was a thinly disguised version of the little village school my own son was sadly leaving. We were moving to Cambridge and he was not at all keen to leave the house he had grown up in since he was a baby or leave the only school he had known. He was also very upset to be leaving the wonderful countryside and coast of Northwest Norfolk and the nature he loved there. I wondered at one point whether he would ever forgive us.

But the move has proved to be a good one for him. He loves his school and he enjoys the freedom that living in a small town has provided him.

Billy Wizard is dedicated to him

Monday, 4 July 2011

The curious floor of the Oude Kerk

I spent a long time looking at the floor in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. I thought it was absolutely fascinating. The tomb slabs all had a beautifully inscribed number on them. Some had the usual kind of imagery you would find on tombstones in a churchyard - angels, skulls and so on. Some featured shields and heraldic devices. But some were inscribed with more enigmatic symbols. . .

Most of these markings are clearly some kind of monogram, presumably based on the initials of the deceased, but some of these engravings almost look like the mason's marks you see in cathedrals. Whatever the logic behind them, I really like them.