Sunday, 29 September 2013

Beyond beyond twilight

I drove back from Lancaster yesterday morning.  I enjoy a long drive through the British landscape providing there are no major hold-ups and the weather is not too hideous.  This particular journey was very smooth and the sun was shining most of the time.

I had driven up to Lancaster on Thursday and gone straight to Lancaster Grammar to talk to a hall filled with two or three hundred boys.  I had not slept a wink the night before and was at the end of a wretched cold so who knows if I made any sense, but they were incredibly attentive and asked very good questions at the end.  They bought quite a few books too - and that's never a bad thing.  Thanks to all of them, to the staff at the school and to SilverDell Books for providing the books and moral support.  It was my first school visit with The Dead Men Stood Together and that is always a little nerve-jangling.  Thank you to Lancaster Grammar for making it such a good start.

From there it was off to the Holiday Inn. I tried to catch a quick nap, but a fire alarm put an end to that.  I staggered about blearily until I met up with Marcus Sedgwick and Celia Rees and her husband.  I've met Celia many times and its always a pleasure.  Marcus I hadn't met before, but he is very good company.  It is endlessly fascinating to meet writers and see the different ways people get started and the variety of impulses and inspirations that move them.

At 9am the following morning we went to Lancaster University for the Beyond Twilight event - along with Sarah Singleton whom we had met at breakfast and the last of our gang, Paula Morris.  Some went in a taxi whilst Celia and I got a lift with Marcus, who was going to have to leave straight after the proceedings had come to a close.

I had been to Lancaster the year before - with Celia - for the inaugural YA Gothic event, but this was a much larger affair, incredibly well organised by Dr Catherine Spooner and Chloe Buckley of the Department of English, Creative Writing.  Chloe did a wonderful PowerPoint presentation of Mister Creecher and Celia's Blood Sinister.  As Celia said afterwards, it is really satisfying and touching to have your work taken so seriously.

Celia talked mainly about Blood Sinister and Witch Child, Marcus about White Crow and My Swordhand is Singing, Paula about Dark Souls and Ruined and Sarah about Century and The Poison Garden.  But we all talked more generally about our relationship to the Gothic, how we got into writing and so on.  Terry Lee, Bloomsbury's Area Manager for the North of England and Scotland was also on hand for the round table discussion at the end to answer questions relating to branding and marketing.  Marcus has a background in publishing and also spoke a little about the process of getting a book into print.

The audience were mainly students and sixth formers, and so it allowed for a level of detail in the analysis that made the discussions really interesting.  I think that just occasionally - too much would be distracting - it is useful to take stock like this and really think about what it is that you are trying to do in your work, over and above simply trying to entertain your reader and earn a living.

I like doing events with other authors.  It takes the pressure off me a bit, and I get to meet some very nice people.  I'm always interested to see what other people do in their author spot - as I am always very critical of what I come up with myself.  Some used PowerPoint (or Prezi in Marcus's case) to illustrate their talks. I didn't and neither did Paula.

I came away still not convinced of either route being perfect.  There is a lot to be said for having something up there on a screen - I just need to come up with some solution that works for me.  Celia made the point to me ages ago that it provides a framework and a set of visual bullet points to keep your talk on track, and I think that is undeniably true.

Also some books seem to demand images.  I did an illustrated talk for Mister Creecher because it felt like it needed it.  I had packed a lot of stuff into that book - much of it visual - and I wanted to try and get as much of it across as possible.  I'm less sure about The Dead Men Stood Together, although it would be nice to introduce kids to the illustration work of Gustave DorĂ© and Mervyn Peake.

Being a visual artists, it may seem odd not to employ visuals, but I think it is because I'm of this that I endlessly dither about it.  In the end I usually just go back to me and a book.  Even with the images on show in Lancaster, the best thing for me about the author talks were the readings.  It was a reminder to me, never to forget to include a reading in my own talks.

What came across very strongly, however it was framed, was the enthusiasm we all had for what we were doing - an enthusiasm that had been fired by our reading (as well as film and TV watching) when we were children and teenagers.  We may not all have decided we wanted to be writers that early, but our idea of what a book can do and what it should read like, was being forged then, whether we knew it or not.  Certainly our tastes - especially, in this case, a taste for the Gothic, was being nurtured very young.

A really enjoyable event.  Thanks to Catherine and Chloe for looking after us so well and to all the students who came along and made the day so interesting and enjoyable.  I for one am hoping for another invitation....

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Upcoming events....

I thought I'd just keep you up to date with what I'm up to in the next couple of months.

The first thing is that I am signing books and talking about The Dead Men Stood Together at David's Bookshop in Letchworth on Thursday 19 September.  This will be the first event I will be doing on the back of this new book.

The following week - Thursday 26 September, I will be heading towards Lancaster to talk to Lancaster Grammar Boys school, ahead of an evening event on 27 September - Beyond Twilight - with Celia Rees, Marcus Sedgwick and Sarah Singleton, looking at the Gothic in teen fiction.  The event is organised by Dr Catherine Spooner and I did a similar event here last year with Celia.  I'm really looking forward to it - and to meeting Marcus and Sarah.  I am also being interviewed by BBC Lancashire in the afternoon of the 27th - for four minutes, anyway.

The following Wednesday - October 2 - I am doing a Booktrust librarians event in Reading where I shall again be talking about The Dead Men Stood Together.  It's always a pleasure to talk to librarians, of course.

From Reading, I will be hot-footing it over to Heathrow where I will stay the night and then hop on a plane to Prague where the Park Lane International School is opening a new campus in the old town and want me to be a guest.  I am very honoured and delighted to be returning to Prague.  I will fly out in the morning, talk to the students in the afternoon, attend the event in the evening and then fly back the following day.  Hopefully I'll see some of my Czech friends in those few short hours.

The day after I get home on 4 October, I am heading back to London on the 5th, to attend the autumn dinner of the Dracula Society as a guest and speaker.  Their Children of the Night Award (for Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth) sits on my desk and it will be a pleasure to come and talk to them.

On 9 October, I am launching The Dead Men Stood Together with an event at Heffer's Bookshop in Cambridge.  Heffer's have been hugely supportive of me - and countless other local writers - since before I even lived in Cambridge.  I'm really looking forward to that.

At the end of the month I'm doing a very exciting event.  For Halloween, I will be sharing a stage with Sally Gardner and Susan Cooper, two wonderful writers.  Susan Cooper is over from the US and I'm so pleased to be involved in one of her events.  Reading The Dark is Rising to my son was a very memorable experience - for both of us, I think.

The day, on 1 November, after that I am off to Brighton to the World Fantasy Convention where I am doing a panel event on YA fiction.  This is my first time at the Fantasy Con, so I'm intrigued

I think that's all for now - for this year anyway....

Friday, 13 September 2013

His red eyes again

I had a very enjoyable day yesterday.  Not only was it my publication day, but coincidentally I had arranged to go for lunch with Anne Clark and Greg Gormley.  Anne was my wonderful editor on Jail-breaker Jack, when she was at Hodder and is now an agent.  Greg lives in my street and is a picture book writer and illustrator.  Greg needed an agent and Anne was looking for clients.  I was very happy to put the two of them together and it seems to be working out very well indeed.

On top of all that, I received a copy of His Red Eyes Again - a book of vampire stories by various authors to celebrate forty years of the Dracula Society.  I was very touched to see my story kicks things off.  It is story called Mrs Benson.  An American archivist stumbles upon a strange story hidden away among family papers from the nineteenth century.  They are in the form of a journal...

I must set down the events of the last hours and days immediately.  If I wait too long I will begin to doubt my memory, or even my own faculties.  Certainly those who may one day read this may doubt both.  All I can say is that what you read here is the truth.  Good Lord, look at how my hand shakes as I write!

I am sitting in the wilfully misnamed Grand Hotel in Abraham.  It is late - or perhaps, more properly, it is very early.  Dawn is breaking and I have not slept.  The westbound Frisco train will soon be here, but it will leave without me.  She - and he - will board, but not I.  I will not go another mile in their company - not for all the money in the world.

They are in a room just down the hall.  That fact alone may account for my inability to sleep and I confess that I have checked the lock on my door at least four times.  You are impatient to learn, of course, why a grown man should fear a woman and child, but have a little patience: it is a short tale.

And so we learn the secret of Mrs Benson and her son.  I wrote the story at some speed and on demand for the book, but I enjoyed heading off to the American West of the 1880s and I think the story has a nice atmosphere to it.  I may set something in that world again.

Bram Stoker has an uncredited walk on part in my story as he checks into a hotel with the actor Henry Irving whom he managed and toured with.  It seemed fitting.

And speaking of The Dracula Society, I am talking to them after their autumn dinner in a few weeks time.  I don't know whether to be honoured or very, very sacred.....

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Publication day

It is publication day for The Dead Men Stood Together!

I have a lot to live up to in that quote from Amanda Craig at the Times that graces what is a rather lovely cover, I think.  I would never describe myself as a master of anything, but I'm very happy to take the complement and look on it as a spur to greater things.

I shall be signing books at David's Bookshop in Letchworth next Thursday - 19 September - and talking about this book (and a few other things besides, no doubt).  If you are local, feel free to come along and say hello.

Next month I am launching the book with a get together at Heffer's Bookshop here in Cambridge on the evening of 9 October.  again I will be talking about the book and signing (hopefully!).  Heffers has been hugely supportive to me over the years and it's a real pleasure to be able to support these two great bookshops.

I have many things coming up over the next few weeks.  I'll be telling you more about them over the next few days.