Thursday, 19 March 2009

**Stop Press** Publication Day for Hootcat Hill

How nice it is to have friends on Publication Day! Yes, it's Thursday 19th March 2009--which is when the lovely new paperback of my first novel, Hootcat Hill, lands in the shops. The hardback was published last year to some very flattering reviews, and now the nice people at Orion have once again given me a beautiful new and eyecatching cover (left), complete with scary, red-eyed purple dragon and a lightning bolt. So far today I've had many wonderful messages, as well as alerts from the Bookwitch and from Fiona Dunbar to say they have mentioned me on their blogs--and the Witch has given me a lovely review, which I am very happy indeed about.

Knowing that my book is in the shops (albeit only in a new incarnation this time round), is a funny old business. I feel hopeful and excited, of course, and proud too--everyone has worked so hard, editor, design, sales and marketing, publicity to get it to this point. Now I just need people to buy it and read it. Naturally I feel nervous about this in a recession. But then I think, where else, for the relatively small outlay of £5.99, could you buy escape to another world, thrilling adventure, a feisty heroine, cutting edge technomagic, a furiously beastly dragon, a malicious and scary green elf witch with pointy teeth and a slug bag, a dwarf with a living beast tattoo, gory death, epic destruction, a blacksmith with a burned bum and scarlet motorbike leathers, talking owls, beer which makes you grow horns (or a tail...or claws), and, well, too much more to mention? It seems to me that the power of the imagination is far greater for a reader translating words on the page into pictures in his head than it is for the player of a computer game that someone else has already imagined on the screen. Also, it's better value and cheaper.

So, welcome to the world again, Hootcat Hill. May you give pleasure to all who open your pages. Personally, I'm off to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Blow the credit crunch--it's not every day I get a book published! I can go back to the bread and water tomorrow.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

What If...I'm Over at The Other Place Again

I'm writing about The Power of What If over at the Other Place today, if you want to rush on over and take a look....

Monday, 16 March 2009

**Breaking News** Scribble City Central honoured with Sisterhood Award

I am amazed and delighted to have been given the blogging Sisterhood Award not once, but twice. The first came from the lovely Mayra Calvani, who has come up with the intriguing blog idea of getting Amigo (her golden retriever) to interview lots of authors' pets. Unfortunately, my dandie dinmont, Willow, was only too glad to oblige, and has now spilled the beans on me in a very indiscreet way. I really love reading what Amigo's interviewees come up with--who knew that writers' lives were so interesting to the creatures in their lives? The second award came from Frankie Anon, whose blog, in her own words is about 'things--things that tell a story about life, relationships, society, culture. Things that are in some way significant, beautiful, historical, necessary, or useful.' I salute her wit and wisdom, and I advise you to go to both blogs forthwith and read. My own nominations for sisterhood are below--mostly book related--but then that's what I read and like.

Robin McKinley's Blog: Apart from being the writer of what is some of my all time favourite fantasy books, Robin blogs every single day, come rain, shine, fog, frost, snow or other natural disaster. Her wry humour, unashamed occasional grumpiness (she is not known as the Hellgoddess for nothing), knowledge of roses and green stuff and the most complex footnotes in creation are the reason that I turn to her posts first thing every morning. It's a whole other world for you to discover!

Fiona Dunbar I particularly love Fiona's Wonderfully Wacky Wesponses. The life of an author on the Front Line. High five, Fiona!

Liz Kessler Liz has been travelling round France, Spain and Portugal since last year in a campervan--and her blog is full of great posts about places I dream of going to. I am also in awe of the fact that she has actually managed to write amazing books while doing all this--and surf, and fly kites. You are Officially Awesome, Liz!

Bookwitch Ah! The lovely Witch! She sniffs out any interesting stuff that's going on in the children's book sphere, and writes bloomin' good reviews and interviews with authors too. Always something new to think about in here.

Candy Gourlay makes me laugh, is insightful and wise and cheers me up. She writes a really fine blog about all sorts of stuff--and books of course.

BookChildWorld Books, travel, funny stuff, being a writer, plot problems--it's all here and all great. Go Leila!

Emma Darwin I really admire and appreciate Emma's blog, and want to have one just like it when I am grown up. Fabulously erudite, and a bit like listening to one side of a really good debate on Radio 4, with added advice and stuff to make your brain expand its literary horizons.

Rhiannon Lassiter Rhiannon has directed me to all sorts of wonderful places I never would have discovered without her. And she really (no, I mean REALLY) knows her stuff on the book front. A goldmine of interesting information. At least it is for me.

Diana Gabaldon I discovered Diana's Outlander time-slip books when I was really ill, and have been an avid reader ever since, as well as unashamedly loving her main hero, Jamie Fraser. I enjoy reading about what Diana is doing--and her recipes are yummy. And I possess my soul in patience for the next book--it's worth waiting for every time.

The Womens' Blogger Directory This was such a good idea, I can't believe no one ever thought of it before. Lots of excellent women bloggers all gathered under one umbrella. Whatever you are interested in, you're bound to find someone writing about it here--and it's growing all the time. Sisterhood in action.

1. Put the logo on your blog or post.

2. Nominate at least 10 blogs which show great attitude and/or gratitude!

3. Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.

4. Let them know that they have received this award by commenting on their blog.
5. Share the love and link to this post and to the person from whom you received your award.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

V Thoughts from Abroad--Part 2

In an earlier post, I promised you Venice. La Serenissima. It has been and is still a place of endless fascination and inspiration to painters, sculptors, writers, filmmakers--the entire spectrum of creative arts in fact. I love its smallness, the way that getting lost in its twisting, shifting streets becomes adventure--getting lost almost anywhere else induces in me panic and a sense of helplessness. Not in Venice, though.

This was my third visit--for the last day of Carnevale. On the first two occasions I was a gaper, a gawper--too overwhelmed and entranced to do anything other than stare and gasp at the beauty of light and proportion--and certainly too enchanted to even think of taking notes. This time I was better prepared, and these are some of the things I saw in particular detail, small visions of Venetian life which, now written down, will be fixed forever in my memory, far better than any static photograph.

One old man, moving very slowly about his unknown business over the Frari bridge, elegant and stately in expensively cut coat and muffled against the bright cold. His freckled face had the look of a benign toad under a black homburg hat, set just so on his large head.

A small, fast-gossiping herd of very tiny and shrunken old women. Fur coats and hats, seemingly coloured the exact shade of their dyed and thinning hair, set over bird legs tripping off a vaporetto on high-heeled but sturdy shoes, polished to a high shine.

An incongruity of Native Americans whooping an energetic war-dance on the Riva degli Schiavoni, complete with feathered headdresses, deer hoof rattles, and S. Giorgio Maggiore looming out of the laguna at their backs.

A masked, costumed and incognito 'celebrity'--surrounded by hard-eyed minders with radios, earpieces and suspicious underarm bulges. On his own, he would never have been noticed. Who was he? Perhaps 'Hello' will know....

The mystery of the dressed-up, yet unmasked. Why? I wanted to ask them? Why not add that one last essential piece of costume?

With the mad tricorned crowd, dancing (slightly drunk on grappa and love) to the music of a faux-Abba band at midnight in the Piazza San Marco.

Everywhere, confetti underfoot--red, blue, pink, green, yellow, white, orange--the visible outward sign of a Venetian hangover.

A busyness of small yellow minitruck trains pulling trolleys of dismantled greenery--loaded by whistling workmen onto lorries perched precariously on flatbed barges.

The proud winged green lion of Carnevale--a colossus towering above the crowds on Monday, now, on Tuesday, denuded of his greenery and reduced to three pieces of white and green stained polystyrene pussycat, each looking slightly ashamed of itself.

The sound of suitcase wheels on stone bridges.

The Bridge of Sospiri--muffled in sky blue hoarding and diminished to an advertising accessory.

The unexpected gift of glasses of homemade myrtille--strong and sweet as rubies--from walrus-whiskered waiter Fulvio in Al Covo--where the fritto misto is unsurpassed and Diane's Panna Cotta a revelation of velvety sweetness and delight.

The Bellini Madonna in the Basilica dei Frari. No photograph can ever do justice to her shining calm and beauty, nor to the tenderness and mystery of her slightly sideways gaze.

And finally...Franciscus Travaginus, Regiae Accademiae Britanicae, who lies in the same Basilica under a worn and yellowing cracked marble slab, opposite Saints Michele and Francisco. I wish him a peaceful rest under the hushed and wondering feet which pass over him in their multitudes every day, never even noticing he is there.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Visiting for World Book Day

This is one of the busiest weeks of the year for authors in schools. All over the UK today children will be being enthused by those 'at the sharp end' and (hopefully) inspired by the sheer power and energy of writing. I have been in a school all week--but not in the UK. Haut-Lac International Bilingual School is in Vevey, Switzerland, on the edge of Lac Leman. Its school dining room has, without doubt, one of the most beautiful views in the world, overlooking Alps currently covered in pristine white snow, and a lake whose waters look like oiled silk in the misty sunshine. The school has 44 nationalities, and a smilier, better behaved lot of children would be hard to find. The Marronniers (infants) was a riot of wonderful pictures of Elmer the Elephant in the snow, avalanche danger, chestnut trees, and cutouts of mittens. In one corner was the 'vet'--open once a week to tend to injured teddies. Language was no barrier--row row row your boat with screaming and waving of arms and shivering and scary bits is pretty universal, and I was delighted to be told that Jack and the Beanstalk translates as Jacques et l'haricot magique. It was therefore a two-way learning process. Myths and legends went down well in the primary with fun Q and A sessions (in spite of a lingering determination by one child to find out the intimate detail of why I have such an untidy desk). My appalling map-drawing skills seemed not to put them off, and they were fascinated to see the name of their school written in the Celtic Ogham alphabet. Two final sessions with the 11-13's were--no other word--fantastic, because of the children's huge enthusiasm. It was wonderful to find them prepared, interested and articulate. I shall look forward to reading the top entries in the creative writing competition I set them--I have a feeling that I shall be inspired and delighted.

On most of my days as a writer, I sit alone in a room with my characters, wrestling and wrenching a book into shape. But it is the days when I meet my audience which reminds me why I do this job. If my visit, my stories, my talking about what it is to be a writer, has lit just one candle in the mind of a child--helped them towards a love of literature and all the treasures contained within--then it will all have been worthwhile.

Monday, 2 March 2009

V Thoughts from Abroad--Part 1

Last week was Venice (of which more in a later blog). This week it's Vevey in Switzerland (I am working my way down the world's towns beginning with V, it appears) for my first 'abroad' author visit to an International school. I am told that school visits can sometimes be a nightmare of inefficiency and indifference (although in my case I have always been lucky enough to visit wonderful schools), but this one has started well. I am in a pretty hotel, overlooking Lake Leman and the Alps--or I would be if the fog was not curling in great grey drifts across the water. The church bells are tolling the hour in that slow, indefinably Swiss way which is somehow foreign to an ear more accustomed to English peals. Tomorrow I sing and read rhymes to the tinies, and then talk about myths to the older ones. Lunch is provided, as is a dinner 'dans les montagnes'--a case of autre pays, autre moeurs, perhaps. This is one of the parts I like best about being an author--the chance to meet my audience, and talk about the things I love most--books and writing. It will be hard work--think of it as being on stage for 4 hours and performing--but somehow this particular visit doesn't feel like work, but (rather guiltily) more akin to a mini holiday. Yes, I am 'losing' three days which could have been spent writing. But I think what I will gain in inspiration is well worth it. The children I meet are always full of ideas and questions, and meeting them reminds me of why I do this job. Maybe one day, in the far off future, some famous literary prizewinner will be asked how they got into writing. Perhaps they will say, "Well, there was this author who came to my school and inspired me...." Just maybe....

PS: The blog-hijacking dinmont now has his own blog here. Thank goodness. He will now no longer be writing rude things on mine. I'm quite sure he will keep dishing the dirt on my authorly activities in his own inimitable way, though. I hear he has a surprise for me on my return to England. I can't wait. Not.
Blog Design by Imagination Designs all images from the Before the First Snow kit by Lorie Davison