Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Prague, day 1

I arrived in Prague on the evening of January 29 and was picked up from the airport by Richard Kličnick from Argo, my publisher in the Czech Republic.  He had very kindly offered to take me to my hotel, which was in the Lesser Town.

My hotel turned out to be very nice (and quiet) and I checked in, dropped off my bag and then met Richard and went for a beer and something to eat nearby, at Klub Mlejn (The Mill).  I had some kind of cheese that seemed to have been marinated in oil for a long time.  Nicer than it sounds.

The following day - my first real day in Prague, Richard picked me up from my hotel after I had discovered that breakfast clearly was not a great speciality of my hotel, and took me to a cafe called Bar Újezd, Dobrá Trafika, where I was interviewed by Šarka Nováková then Klára Kolárová, both of whom were very striking in very different ways.  You will have to take my word for it, as Richard only took photos of me, and not them.  Or if he did, he didn't show me them.

Both my interviewers spoke excellent English - along with pretty much everyone I met in Prague.  They asked me about my Tales of Terror books - all three of which are published here by Argo - and about the inspiration behind the stories, whilst Richard took lots of photos.  He took some more when they'd gone.

He took me on a little trail around the city.  I saw the famous astronomical clock and watched it do its thing as it struck the hour.  I visited the Alphonse Much museum and we took in a quick visit to a comic book shop and a gallery dedicated to the comic book artists Karel Saudek - twin brother of the photographer Jan Saudek.  Karel is in a coma following an accident in 2006.

We went for lunch at the Novoméstskéy Ležak.  Whenever I am in a foreign country I always try to eat some typical food and I ate svičková na smetané (dumplings in meat sauce) here.  It was very good and although I can't say I have ever had whipped cream with meat before, but even the trace of what appeared to be jam, seemed to work.  We also had tea in a lovely Chinese tea shop and I bought some green tea to bring home.  I had not realised that the Czechs were such tea connoisseurs.

In the afternoon we had another interview, this time with František Cinger.  We chatted about my work and about writing horror for kids and we talked about how Kafka is a lot funnier than people give him credit for and we agreed that all great cities have a river running through them.  It took place in the wonderful Unijazz cafe, which is reached by what appears to be a door to an apartment building, and a long climb up the kind of square, featureless stairwell that appears in Polanski movies.  Inside it is again full of what appear to be an inexhaustible supply of earnest, intelligent-looking young Czechs and a wonderful lounge full of books.  I'm sure I would be a much better writer if I could come here every day for coffee.

The book signing was in Palác knih Luxor - a big, bustling bookshop in the centre of town.  That is Richard on the microphone.  I have very low expectations of signings, even when they are attached to events, so I have to say I was pleased by the turnout, even if many of them were autograph hunters hoping that I might one day have the kind of fame that would make my signature something worth selling on eBay.

Two of the performers from the play - Lucie Radimerská and Michael Hnátek read extracts and there was a question and answer session with Dominika Krestánová the mother of my Czech translator - who is a translator as well - acting as interpreter.  Again, everyone involved was incredibly supportive and friendly.  And I signed quite a few books in the end.

In the evening Richard picked me up from the hotel and took me to a restaurant to meet Milan Gelnar and Alena Pokorná from Argo and Lucie from the cast of the play.  Again, it was a humbling experience to sit and be able to talk about books and life and so on with people who were able to do this in another language.  Yes, they might struggle to recall a word here and there, but we covered a lot of ground and I enjoyed myself, but felt a little guilty in making everyone speak English.  Milan assured me they needed the practice, but still it must have been exhausting.  I managed to go the entire trip without speaking a word of Czech.  Not good.

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