Saturday, 12 October 2013

Eastern open opening

I went to King's Lynn with my studio-mate John Clark today.  It was the opening of the Eastern Open exhibition at the Arts Centre and we both had paintings chosen.

In fact - to my amazement I had all three of the paintings I entered accepted.  It was fitting in a way, because all three paintings were created from old drawing in sketchbooks, done when we lived in Norfolk.  The two trees against a dark background were from drawings I made of trees in a field next to the track that ran up to our house and along which I would walk with my son every day on the way to school.  The one of the tree next to a road is from a drawing I made in our early days in Norfolk of a road not far from where we lived.  All three are acrylic on a smooth gesso ground on canvas.

Neither of us won any of the prizes on offer, the largest of which was a not inconsiderable £2000, given to a photograph of what I think was Orford Ness in Suffolk - the work the selectors chose as being the best in the show.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Prague again....

Here I am with Ríchard Klíčník from Argo at the Park Lane International School opening last week.

Here I am doing my bit - a very short speech as guest of the school.  This photograph shows off my ears to great effect I feel.

Here I am with the school administrator, Maya Kopecká, who was my point of contact with the school and who took care of all the arrangements concerning my visit to Prague.

And here I am afterwards, signing books in the school.  I look very smug here - but then we did sell a lot of books.  I loved the fact that so many of the parents were buying books for children who were far too young, with the notion of holding on to them until they grew old enough to be exposed to my stories.  Little ticking time bombs of terror....

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Dickens at last

I lived in London for over ten years and knew the area I walked through last Sunday very well.  I had a studio in Shoreditch and would frequently travel through it by bike or bus, or simply wander through taking photographs.

I have no idea how many times I walked or cycled along Doughty Street and past the Charles Dickens Museum.  But when we live in a place, we always think we will be able to come back tomorrow.  Well on Sunday I found myself once again outside Charles Dickens' house and this time I decided to go in.

I'm really pleased I did.  It was a beautiful day, as I have already said, and so it was tempting to stay outside.  But the house is lovely and is fascinating as much for the glimpse it gives of the vanished interiors of the many Georgian terraced houses that line the streets in Bloomsbury as it was for the Dickens memorabilia.  Though of course, it is very special to stand beside the great man's writing desk.

I am very glad to have finally visited and especially now as I have just written a novel tied to A Christmas Carol.  Maybe it was the right time....

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Dracula's guest

I returned from Prague via British Airways to Heathrow and had one day at home in Cambridge before heading back to London for the autumn meeting of the Dracula Society at which I was to speak.

I was honoured to receive the Dracula Society's annual Children of the Night Award in 2009 for Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth and have kept in touch with some of the members ever since.  I was asked to contribute to His Red Eyes Again - a small anthology of short stories the Society published to celebrate its fortieth anniversary, and I was delighted when Tracy Lee asked if I might speak at the meeting this year.

The meeting took place in a suitably Dickensian pub in a little lane off the Strand near the Law Courts. A rather strange buffet was produced, with a seemingly random and never-ending selection of food and then, once the furniture was rearranged, it was my turn.

I talked a bit about my writing life and read from The Dead Men Stood Together.  I also read the story I added to the rejacketed edition of Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - Skating.  It seemed to go down well.  As always, I probably talked too much.  But there were lots of questions and we sold a few books afterwards, which I signed.

It was a very pleasant evening and nice to meet everyone - and particularly good to see Tracy Lee and Tony Lee again.

I stayed overnight in a hotel in Charterhouse Square near the Barbican and after a leisurely breakfast I walked through Clerkenwell and Bloomsbury on a beautifully sunny and quiet London Sunday morning.

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...