Monday, 7 October 2013

From Reading to Prague....

I know many authors who are on a perpetual Bob Dylan-ish world tour.  I don't do that much touring, but I have had - for me - an active couple of weeks.

After coming back from the Beyond Twilight Gothic YA event in Lancaster, I had a few days at home, before heading off to Reading for a Booktrust librarians event.  It was a really nice opportunity to talk about what I do - particularly in relation to Mister Creecher which is (rather fabulously) part of the Booktrust Future Classics Library Pack for schools.

I think it went OK.  I enjoyed it anyway.  I was trying to speak up for teenage boys as being a bit more complex than we are often led to believe, and not necessarily only interested in fast-paced thrillers full of sex and/or violence.  Some want that, sure.  But by no means all.  There is no template for teenager - boy or girl - and we need to make sure there is the range of books out there to keep them all reading.

After the event I got a cab with Ian Lamb, the publicist at Bloomsbury, and we headed for the train - his back to London, mine to Heathrow where I stayed at the rather noisy Yotel so that I would be ready for my morning flight to Prague.

The Park Lane International School had invited me to Prague as a guest for the grand opening of their new campus in the old Indian Embassy at the foot of the Castle.  And very grand it was too, with dancers and music and speeches (including a very short one from yours truly) and very delicious finger food.  Afterwards I signed books (we pretty much sold out) and chatted to children and their parents.  It was all very nice.

It was a lovely school with very confident children and very friendly staff, many of whom were English.  One of them asked me if I knew who had written the creepy story about a woman who turns people to apple trees and then prunes them.  'Me,' I said.  'The story is called Winter Pruning.'  I had Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror in my hand at the time.  He had read the story out loud some time in the past and had loved it.

I had been picked up from the airport by the school administrator Maya Kopecká who took me to the school where I looked around, met the Principal, Paul Ingarfield, and spoke to the children, reading Climb Not for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terrors.  The youngest of the children was eight (the oldest eleven) and English is a second language for many, so it was probably a bit hard for them, but despite sitting on the floor, they were very attentive and asked really good questions at the end.

I had a few hours to myself after checking in to the very nice hotel the school had arranged for me and spent them wandering through the sunny streets of Prague taking photographs.  I decided to risk my fear of heights on climbing the tower of the Old Town Hall and was pleased I had, despite the terrifying spiral staircase and the traffic jam of tourists at the top.  The views were incredible.

My friend Richard Kličník from Argo was at the evening event, taking photographs and helping to sort out the books, and afterwards we went for a drink or two at Mlynská Kavérna on Kampa where we talked about publishing and politics.  Richard tells me that my books are doing well in the Czech Republic, which is great.  I feel very relaxed in the mill cafe, exercising my internal Czech intellectual.  Added to which, Karel, Prince of Swarzenberg, Czech Presidential candidate came in while I was there.

The following morning I met Petra Jíšová, my guide from the last time I came to Prague, and we walked along the river, crossing at the rickety rail bridge, and doubling back on ourselves.  It was good to catch up on what Petra was up to and to hear about Lucie Radimerská and Divadlo Puls, the theatre company that I came to see in January, about the floods earlier this year and about the trials and tribulations of being young in an evolving Czech Republic.  Petra was very good company as always, and endlessly patient at listening to me blather on in a foreign language.  We walked a big circle and came back to where we started and where she had to leave me to go work.

I wish I could have stayed longer.  Lucie was having a birthday party later that evening and Divadlo Puls were doing another performance of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror a couple of days later.  Ah well - I'll just have to come back...

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