Friday, June 25, 2010

So farewell then, Carnegie shadowing scheme 2010...

I doubt it's news to anyone that the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2010 was won by Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book, the tale of a boy raised by the dead and mentored by a vampire. Although it is any writer's dream to win the medal, I am thrilled simply to have been on the shortlist. It's obviously very nice to have the publicity which goes with a shortlisting, but it was even nicer to be invited to various Carnegie shadowing scheme events - I enjoyed those hugely. As well as last week's mad dashes between Somerset, Warwick and Cardiff, I had a final event on Wednesday at the Tomlinson Centre in Hackney, where I talked to pupils from local schools and listened to their presentations of the shortlisted books. The Hackney event also included some discussion groups, and it was fascinating listening to the differing views expressed of the shortlisted books. I've experienced this already through the shadowing scheme website, where the posted reviews of my own book vary widely, ranging from the very positive to the extremely negative! I heard several of the teen reviewers express the opinion that the shortlisted books ought to be chosen by the target audience and not by adult librarians. That isn't the nature of the Carnegie medal, but it's an interesting point. What makes a "good" book? What is more important, literary merit or popularity? If 9 out of 10 people love a particular book, does that make it "good", even if it is light, with no highbrow literary pretensions? I asked the group I spoke to whether they thought Twilight should have won. Yes, they said without hesitation! It would be fascinating to see a shortlist of 8 books chosen by that group - I wonder whether my book or any of the other shortlisted books would be on the list?!

The awards ceremony itself was very interesting since it was only the second such event I have ever attended, the first being the Booktrust Teenage Award last November, also won by Neil Gaiman. I have often thought, looking at the author photos which accompanied the Carnegie shortlisted books, that Philip Reeve seems a very dapper chap, and having seen him in the flesh (and even stood next to him for the group photo) I can confirm that he is! I also spoke very briefly to Freya Blackwood, who won the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her acceptance speech was so sincere, and she was so very obviously overwhelmed to have won, that I felt like cheering for her. It was also very moving to see Neil Gaiman being presented with a braille version of The Graveyard Book - it's a brilliant aspect of the Carnegie medal process that the books are made available to braille readers too.

Sigh. Well, it's all over now. Back to work!

The importance of cats

I am very, very sad to say that our beloved cat Mika was struck by a car on Monday and killed. I debated for a long time whether to mention this on my blog. People who aren't keen on animals will probably think, "What's the big deal? It was just a cat." But I think blogs should cover events of significance, and for me this was one of those, though not in a nice way.
We adopted Mika in 2007. We were driving to the riding stables in our then home in Germany, when we saw a very young kitten in the road. As we were miles from the nearest house, the kids were very anxious about it. Eventually I was persuaded (reluctantly, I am sorry to admit) to go back and look for it. The stables provided a cardboard box and we took its small and very fierce occupant to the local vet for assessment. He had to put on a kevlar mitt before examining her, as she was doing her best to defend herself with claws and fangs. He pronounced her female, starving and too unwell to be immunised for the time being. "Are you sure you want to keep it?" he asked me doubtfully. The kids looked at me pleadingly...and that was it. A new addition to the Grant household, and the plans we had had to get a little dog were scrapped.
Mika's endearing habits and ways would probably not mean anything to anyone outside our family. But as this is a writer's blog, I would would like to say that Mika was the only living thing I could stand to have around me when I'm writing. I never try to write anything when the kids are at home, and my husband is banished upstairs when I am working. Even Ginger, our other cat, is not particularly welcome since he is terminally restless, and can't seem to tolerate my sitting at the computer for more than 3 minutes; his demands to be let in and out are vociferous and hard to ignore. Mika, however, could happily sleep in the space between the keyboard and the screen without disturbing me at all. Sometimes she even slept on the printed-out manuscript of The Glass Demon (my friends suggested she was editing it). She was the perfect pet for a writer - and I miss her terribly.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The week ends in wonderful Warwick!

"It's Friday so it must be Warwick." Well, it was starting to feel like that, but then I arrived at the fabulous Bridge Theatre at Warwick School, to a wonderful welcome and a really brilliant, enthusiastic, book-loving audience. I had something special for this audience and the one in Cardiff - a new story about Unshockable Hans. As I've mentioned elsewhere on my website, all the legends in The Vanishing of Katharina Linden are genuine Bad Münstereifel folktales, collected by Father Krause and published in the Eifel Club Newsletter from 1910 onwards. When I was researching for the book, I went to the Eifel Club HQ in Düren to get copies of the original published versions. Most of the stories about Hans feature in the book, but one didn't - so I retold it in English for the two bigger audiences.
It's been a fabulous week and a wonderful opportunity to meet readers. Since I live in Belgium, I don't have the chance to do so very often, so it's great to listen to their views, get feedback and answer questions. There were some very interesting questions at Warwick. Someone wanted to know whether I had any particular music in mind when I was writing my books. The answer is: when I was writing The Vanishing of Katharina Linden I don't remember having any particular music in mind, but when I was writing The Glass Demon it was Bach's Weihnachtsoratorium, and especially Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen. It's dynamic, passionate, and it's sung in German. Whenever I listen to it I think of angry angels. Perfect.
Big thanks to Angela Ballard for inviting me to the Warwick event. I'm back in Brussels for a few days now, but next week I'll be back in London for a final shadowing scheme event in Hackney, before the actual Carnegie award ceremony on Thursday 24th June. Can't wait!

Things get dramatic in Cardiff!

Here are some pics of a super Carnegie shadowing scheme event at The Gate theatre in Cardiff, on Wednesday 16th June (yes, I'm back to some semblance of order). About a dozen schools from the area participated. Pupils from the schools' shadowing groups were put into eight teams, each of which were allocated one shortlisted book, which they had to present dramatically to a team of judges, including the Carnegie nominated writer Paul Dowswell, author of Auslander. Here you can see the presentation of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. I was very impressed by all the presentations, which demonstrated energy, intelligent interpretation of the key points of each book, and in some cases humour! I was even more amazed though when I discovered that the teams had had less than two days to prepare, and that the pupils from the various schools had been mixed up, so that everyone was working with people they had never met before. The group who presented The Vanishing chose to dramatise the death of Oma Kristel and the subsequent ostracisation of Pia. The tensions within the Kolvenbach family were also well represented. I'm always amazed at readers' reactions to that; I've heard the disintegration of Kate's and Wolfgang's marriage described as one of the scariest things in the book, but when I was writing it, it just seemed like the natural background to the story.
The eagle-eyed in the audience may have spotted that the "model" who posed as Unshockable Hans for a mocked-up photo of the legendary miller was William Bond, who accompanied me as photographer. William also drove me everywhere this week, as I have not driven on the British side of the road since 2001. At last count he had driven me over 600 miles - so a big vote of thanks to William. Thanks also to Karyn Chapman for inviting me to The Gate!

Cirencester - a little out of order!

My blog is a little out of chronological order - these photos are from my book signing at Waterstone's in Cirencester on Tuesday 15th June, ie. a day before the photos from Stanchester Community School! I suppose if I were writing about time travel like Alex Scarrow does (Timeriders), this would be entirely appropriate. Sadly it just means I'm disorganised!
Big thanks to Octavia at Waterstone's for organising the event, and to William Bond for drumming up the local press!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

No pretzels, but lots of Swedish apple cake!

I did the first of three Carnegie shadowing scheme-related school visits today, at Stanchester Community School in Stoke sub Hamdon, Somerset. I'm pictured here with staff and pupils (some from Heathfield School), including the super Mr.Guy (group photo, at the back, right-ish, in front of the window) who invited me to the school, organised everything and even baked the utterly delicious Swedish apple cake! There was utterly delicious chocolate cake too but that was all scoffed up before I had finished speaking! It was brilliant to meet such a motivated, intelligent and (joy!) attentive audience. I guess any shadowing group is bound to be a self-selecting group of book-lovers and this was no exception. If everyone I talked to baked such delicious cakes I would be a very happy author, though perhaps a somewhat larger one...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Books in Blighty

Monday 14th is going to be the start of a very busy week - I'm leaving the house, the kids, the cats and the gerbils to my longsuffering other half, and coming over to the UK for a programme of book signing and school visits. I can't imagine what that will be like - I haven't had that much time away from the hurly-burly of family life, with its endless round of fish fingers, homework and Dr.Who, since 1998! As one of my friends stoutly remarked, it will probably "do them all good".
I'm kicking off the week with the Puffin 70th birthday party in London. I'm panicking slightly about what to wear, especially after reading Amanda Craig's excellent blog about clothing for female novelists this week:
God forbid I should go "all arty craft about the neck and ankles". I've been picking the Bookwitch's brains as she has actually been to one of these events before. However, I think the fundamental problem is that I haven't quite moved on from living in rural Germany for 7 years. All my clothes are scruffy jeans (some with holes), cosy fleeces and practical dark t-shirts. I barely possess a single pair of high heels - useless when you step out of your door into six inch mud/snow (delete according to season). Sigh. Perhaps I'll find something in London on Monday afternoon...
On Tuesday I'm going to be in Waterstone's in Cirencester (14.30 and 16.30, if you're in the area that day), signing books. I know that particular shop fairly well as when we come to the UK to visit relatives I often nip in to stock up on English language books. You can get those in Brussels but generally they are a bit more expensive.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I am going to be talking to Carnegie shadowing scheme groups in Somerset, Cardiff and Warwick. I'm visiting the Stanchester Community School who sent me such a charming invitation that I couldn't refuse it - also they are allegedly going to have real German pretzels, athough I don't know where you can get those in Somerset. The Cardiff and Warwick events are both in theatres and groups from lots of different schools will be attending. In Cardiff the audience will be about 300-strong. At times like this I am very grateful for the 10 years I spent working in Marketing. (I worked on Twiglets and Mum deodorant amongst other products.) I've had to do lots of presentations before and once you've faced the northern region sales force and lived to tell the tale, you feel you can cope with anything. I have some gorgeous slides to show all the groups, plus a very special surprise indeed, which I'll describe afterwards, just in case anyone who's going to attend lays eyes on this blog.
I'll then be heading back to Brussels, laden with goodies from M&S and Waterstone's, and desperate to find out how my family managed without me (have the cats got into the guest room and eaten the gerbils? etc.). Will it have "done them good"? We shall see...

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Corks popped for The Glass Demon!

Corks popped this evening for the launch of The Glass Demon at Treasure Trove Books in Tervuren, near Brussels! Appropriately enough, the wine was a German sekt (the German equivalent of champagne) which I bought in Bad Münstereifel when I was there at Easter. We didn't drink all of it, though, because it was a blisteringly hot day in Brussels - instead, we got through litres and litres of mineral water!

I talked for a few minutes about the inspiration for The Glass Demon, including the true story of the Steinfeld glass, which I've talked about before on my blog, and the involvement of the famous ghost story writer M.R.James. Then I read chapter 11 of the book, in which a character familiar to anyone who has read The Vanishing of Katharina Linden makes a guest appearance to reveal the details of someone's horrible death!

Big thanks to the ladies at Treasure Trove for the gorgeous window display and for organising the event, also to Tom Alaerts and Richard Bishop for manning the cameras at short notice. It was also great to see representatives of the Brussels Writers' Group and the American Women's Club Writers' Group. A big hand also to German pal Gabi who nobly sat through the reading in English!
Finished the evening with a Chinese takeaway (too late to starting cooking, and I couldn't face it, either!); tomorrow the glamour factor in my life is going to take a steep nose dive as I tackle all the jobs that have been neglected today, starting with cleaning the house...

Launch party, The Glass Demon

Today I'm going to be celebrating the launch of The Glass Demon at Treasure Trove Books in Tervuren, near Brussels (from 5pm to 7pm, if you're in the area!). I'm going to be talking about the inspiration for the book, reading from it and signing copies - plus helping to hand round glasses of pink sparkling wine (appropriately enough, from Germany, where the book is set). Treasure Trove Books is, as far as I can tell, a unique phenomenon - an English language children's bookshop in Flanders. I held a reading and signing session for my first book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, at the shop last year and am thrilled to be returning with The Glass Demon. I popped in yesterday for a last-minute chat with Jane of Treasure Trove and found her hard at work creating a really fabulous window display designed around the theme of stained glass windows. If I can get some pictures (I guess stained glass is not the easiest thing to photograph) I'll post them later.
As for me, I was expecting to be skipping around like a spring lamb this morning, full of excitement, but I've had the mother of all migraines which started on Thursday afternoon. It's just as well it didn't start today as I don't think I could have read a word. The headache has gone but now I've got a "migraine hangover" and a glance in the bathroom mirror this morning revealed the horrid truth - I look like Bagpuss in drag. Let us hope that strong tea, fresh air and a hot shower can work a bit of magic, otherwise I may be mistaken for someone's granny this afternoon....