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 Doré 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....


  1. You've said it all, Chris. You might dither about Powerpoint, but you are a decisive blogger. It was a really excellent event. I found it fascinating and stimulating, I hope the audience did, too. I'd like to add my thanks to Catherine and Chloe (and their students) for their superb organisation, generous hospitality and for their obvious enthusiasm for all aspects of the Gothic.

  2. Great to see you again Celia and let's hope we behaved ourselves well enough to get invited back!