Monday, May 31, 2010

Book signing, Cirencester, 15th June.

I'm delighted to say that I shall be doing an author visit and book signing event at Waterstone's in Cirencester (14 Cricklade Street) on Tuesday 15th June. I'll be - ahem - "appearing" (hmmm, makes me sound like a prize pig...) at 2.30-3.30pm and 4.30-5.30pm.
It's going to be a busy week as I am spending the rest of it zooming around the country doing Carnegie-related school visits, but I'm very glad to be visiting Waterstone's as I've spent several very happy hours in that particular branch stocking up on English language books to take home with me to Brussels!

Thanks BSB!

I had a brilliant time this morning making my first Carnegie shadowing scheme-related school visit, to the British School of Brussels (BSB) where I chatted about The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, and answered questions from the shadowing group - super questions too! I love it when anyone asks me whether anyone in my books is based on a real person. (The answer is yes, but only one; Pia's mother Kate was based on myself, just for fun. I often say those crabby things to my kids - "Clear it up or it goes in the bin" etc. When I showed my manuscript to several agents I was somewhat dismayed when one of them said "Love the book, but Pia's mother - she's such a bitch!")
It was a really lively session and I could happily have continued with it for another hour! I'll be back at the BSB in the autumn anyway as part of their Book Week. A big thanks to all concerned - especially for the box of pralines, which are always welcome!!!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Update from the "Ghosts and Scholars" Roving Reporter

On Wednesday I realised a long-held ambition to visit Marcilly-le-Hayer, in Aube, France. As I've commented before, I'm a huge fan of the English ghost story writer M.R.James, and a regular contributor to the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. In fact, the Newsletter was the place where I first cut my teeth as a writer, long before I dared attempt a 100,000 word novel! My first article for the Newsletter was about Steinfeld abbey, scene of MRJ's tale "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas"; although MRJ never actually visited the abbey, part of the story is set there, so I went to see whether the abbey is really just as it is described in the story, or not, and indeed whether there is really a well there (there are several).

Since then, I have also visited Viborg (scene of "Number 13") and St. Bertrand de Comminges (scene of "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book"). Other writers have covered the British locations of MRJ's stories, and the Swedish location of "Count Magnus", and I personally hope that one day there will be a book containing the collected "Jamesian Traveller" articles!

Marcilly-le-Hayer is the scene of a story fragment which you can read here:

The plot is also summarised in MRJ's essay "Stories I have tried to write", although some details differ from the above longer version. Although "Marcilly-le-Hayer" is unfinished, it represented an irresistible challenge as far as I was concerned. It was impossible to have seen so many of MRJ's other foreign locations and miss out on this one!

Although we live in Brussels, it's still a drive of over 400km to Marcilly, so we planned to combine it with a climbing/walking trip to Fontainebleau. The trip was actually booked in February and then at the last minute both I and my husband fell ill, and there was deep snow. The combination was enough to put us off going - neither of us felt fit enough to dig the car out of snow etc if we got stuck anywhere. So we cancelled at the last minute.

School holidays rolled around again in May, so we decided to have another go. This time we opted for camping (I should perhaps have learnt from my recent experiences with the Brussels girl guides - it rained AGAIN this time, and we are still drying out wet gear...). I traded 4 nights in a tent and a lot of hours hanging around the boulders in the Foret des Trois Pignons whilst the others went climbing, in exchange for a day trip to Marcilly.

Wednesday was a fine sunny day and around noon we finally crested a hill above Marcilly and drove down to the town between rows of lime trees. I'm not going to describe what we found there, and how it relates to the story fragment, because I haven't written the article for the Newsletter yet. But I can say that I had some fruitful discussions with local residents, including a very charming lady of 91.

I thought that once I had visited Marcilly, I would have satisfied my yearnings to visit Jamesian locations. But no... before we got back to the campsite I was already leafing through my battered copy of Collected Ghost Stories, looking for new locations. "Casting the Runes" makes a brief passing reference to Abbeville. Might be worth a visit...

ADDENDUM 12th October 2012: if you are interested in reading the finished article, it is available in edition number 18 of the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. Details of how to order are here:
When the newsletter is eventually out of print I shall post the article online. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Carnegie Shadowing Scheme

It's just over two weeks since the announcement of the CILIP Carnegie medal shortlist and it's been fascinating seeing the Shadowing Scheme working. I have to admit that before "The Vanishing..." was Carnegie nominated, I was woefully ignorant about the scheme - perhaps because my kids aren't in the British school system, so we'd never come across it. It's a briliant idea - participating schools organise reading groups and events, and post online reviews of the shortlisted books. It's a great way to encourage reading, create debate and also stimulate some of the frankest literary criticism you're ever likely to come across as an author. Those reviewers don't pull their punches!

Here's a selection, ranging from the good:
Rhiannan: "This is one of the best books I have ever read, it keeps you on your toes and you get a good feeling about how Pia and the other characters feel. I really liked how the author included the German words. I think that it is one of the most mysterious books I have read and it's very scary. How it makes you lock your bedroom window at night!!!!!!!"

to the bad:
Lauren: "I didn't like this book. I thought it was really bad. The story line about girls being abducted interested me and the blurb and the cover made it seem quite interesting but overall it was really strange and uninteresting. It took a lot of effort to get into. It was very anticlimactic."

and - ahem - the ugly:
'Slattybatfast': "you're all wrong. wrong wrong wrong. its the lamest peice of drivvel i have ever had the missfortune to pick up. the charecter was an annoying girl that would be knocked over in a moderatly strong draft! the setting was weak and a bit cliche, the thing with the granny was funny but unnessercery. ect. ect. ect."

Who's right? No, don't answer that.... At any rate, I'm pleased the book has provoked a strong response!!!

I'm delighted to say that I have been invited to visit several schools in Britain (and one here in Belgium) in June to talk about the book and answer questions as part of the Shadowing scheme. I'm hoping to visit Wales, Warwickshire and Somerset amongst other places. Looking forward to meeting some of those readers for real!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Glass Demon, published today!

Phew. It seems like it's taken forever to get to today - publication day for my second novel, "The Glass Demon." Coincidentally, a pristine copy of the book arrived today from Penguin. I did have another one, but my daughter appropriated it the day it arrived!

I'm thrilled to see the book "out there" at last. I thought when I wrote "The Vanishing of Katharina Linden" that I'd put everything I had into it, but I think I love this one even more (though perhaps like the mother of children, one ought not to have favourites). It was inspired by the true-life story of the Steinfeld abbey glass, which has long fascinated me.

The Steinfeld glass was created in the 1500s by the master craftsman Gerhard Remsich, and during its history it was removed from the Steinfeld cloister several times to avoid damage during times of unrest etc. Finally when the abbey was closed in the early 1800s due to secularisation, the glass was sold and apparently vanished completely. A century later the famous English ghost story writer M.R.James was asked by Lord Brownlow to catalogue the stained glass in the chapel of Ashridge House in Hertfordshire, England, and recognised the Steinfeld glass from a latin inscription. The glass inspired him to write his story "The treasure of Abbot Thomas." The story's publication was briefly noted in the newsletter of the Eifel Club (in Germany). A German Roman

Catholic priest called Nikola Reinartz read the notice and was intrigued. On a subsequent visit to the UK he contacted MRJ to find out where the glass was, and went to see it in person. His articles (in German) about his correspondence with the famous writer, and the series of coincidences which led to his seeing the glass, make fascinating reading. The glass itself was never returned to Steinfeld; it was sold at Sotheby's in the 1920s for a sum equivalent to about 800,000 pounds in modern money.

The story fascinated me for several reasons. I was amazed that something as fragile as stained glass could be removed from the cloister windows without being smashed to smithereens. And I couldn't help thinking that if a second series of windows by the same craftsman were to be discovered nowadays, they would be almost priceless. And that was the starting point for "The Glass Demon", which is all about a set of lost stained glass windows supposedly haunted by a demon.

If you want to know more about M.R.James, take a look at the excellent Ghosts and Scholars website:

Father Reinartz is an interesting character, too. A passionate local historian, he was also an outspoken critic of Nazism. During my research I developed a real respect and affection for him, and gave his surname to Michel Reinartz, one of the characters in the book. The picture at the top of this post is of Father Reinartz's grave at Kreuzweingarten, near Bad M√ľnstereifel. I have visited it several times.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday's child

Wednesday's child is full of woe. Well, this one is, anyway. Wednesday is get-out-of-school-early day here in Belgium, so by 13.30 the house is teeming with kids - mine, and quite often other people's, too.
I was on a roll this morning - cantered through my daily 1000 words and was just getting ready to bump off a particularly nasty character in my current book - when I looked at the clock and realised it was 12.30; time to drive to the school.
Looking at the positive side, it probably keeps me eager as a writer, having to stop writing when I know there's more to come. But it's agony too!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The call of the wild

I feel as though a writer's blog should be all about writing, but this weekend I didn't do any at all, because I was (horrors!) outdoors and (even more horrors!) without my laptop. And not just without my laptop, but without a shower or a mirror or a flushing loo.
A few months ago the girl guide unit my daughter belongs to were planning a camping trip, and asked whether any parents would be prepared to come along and help. With the trip a safe distance in the future I volunteered to go, but of course, as with all Faustian pacts, payback time came around much more quickly than expected. Friday afternoon saw me packing like a fiend, and then driving through the rush-hour traffic to get to the campsite at the intriguingly-named Grobbendonk. (There used to be a character called Grobbendonk in the strip cartoon "Nemesis the Warlock" in 2000A.D. - but I don't think he was any relation.) In order to get to Grobbendonk we also passed through or by Lint, Lisp, Duffel and Bouwel. (That last one caused a bit of amusement as we debated whether the town had Upper and Lower parts.)
Way back in about 1977 I used to be a girl guide myself, and if I am truly honest I had had a sneaky suspicion that things had got softer since then. I mean, we had cotton uniforms which needed ironing, not hoodies and polo shirts... Well, I take back every unworthy thought. This was the real deal. In our particular field I calculated there must have been over 150 people, all sharing 1 standpipe and 5 portaloos. There were no showers at all, and no washbasins. Camp was set up on Friday and on Saturday all the guides and scouts went on an expedition requiring them to carry mountainous quantities of gear whilst completing various Sisyphean tasks, then build their own overnight shelter out of a tarp and pieces of string, and cook their dinner outdoors.
On Saturday night it began to rain and this morning it poured down solidly. One of my former hobbies was scuba diving and I don't think even that was as wet as this was. Amazingly, I didn't hear anyone complaining as they took down the overnight shelters, cooked breakfast, cleaned up and struck camp. If anyone's got softer since 1977 it's me...
We drove home with a wet tent, wet tarp and huge pile of wet kit steaming in the back of the car, dreaming of hot baths and cups of tea. When we arrived home it was to discover that the gerbils (whom a neighbour had fed for us) had, in an SAS-like maneouvre, leaped from their sleeping house onto the top of their water bottle, and gnawed a hole in the cover of their tank, through which one of them had escaped. So we spent rather a long time trying to catch him as he nimbly dodged from one hiding place to another, eventually falling for the old "Tupperware" trick (put a large Tupperware box at one end of his hiding place and then make a noise at the other end, at which the rodent will take fright and run into the Tupperware).
It was a much more eventful weekend than I was expecting (and a very much wetter one!) and I'm absolutely exhausted now. I mean, my normal working day involves sitting at the PC writing, with occasional forays to the kitchen for tea and chocolate biscuits. I can feel tiredness in muscles I'd forgotten I even have. The garden has a wet tent in it, the washing machine is close to a nervous breakdown, and the hallway smells of damp socks. But would I do it again? Definitely.