Saturday, April 23, 2011

De Groene Waterman 23/4/11

Vandaag had ik een geweldige tijd bij de Groene Waterman boekhandel in Antwerpen. Rebecca Benoot stelde me voor en interviewde me over mijn romans. Ik lees ook het eerste kapittel van mijn nieuwe roman De Glasduivel.
Een grote dank aan iedereen die aanwezig was, en Rebecca voor het organiseren van het evenement!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Memento mori

I just spent two days in Paris with my friend the Professor, visiting the catacombs and the sewers as part of the research for my next novels. If you'd like to see a short video of my visit to the catacombs, you can see it on my YouTube channel, here:
I decided to go around the catacombs because I was going to Paris anyway to tour the sewers, and thought this would be an interesting additional visit. My children begged to be allowed to come too, but on the whole I am glad they didn't. I didn't find the ossuary, with its (literally) millions of bones, particularly frightening - although I wouldn't fancy being down there all alone - but it was very affecting. The sheer quantity of Death is overwhelming. I read that six million Parisians are buried there.
The Paris catacombs are very deep underground. In Brussels, the sewers are usually the deepest underground tunnels, running underneath and alongside the Metro. In Paris, the sewers are at a relatively shallow depth, with the Metro below and the catacombs far below that, approximately 20 metres down. The tunnels and chambers which now comprise the catacombs were mostly the result of mining for gypsum and limestone. Around the end of the 18th Century, many of the cemeteries in Paris had to be emptied on health grounds, as they were full to saturation point. The bones were stacked in the catacombs, in neat piles often incorporating patterns using skulls and leg bones. There are stone plaques explaining which stacks of bones came from which cemeteries.
To reach the catacombs, you have to descend a circular stone staircase. There are 130 steps; it takes a while to get to the bottom. You then follow a series of tunnels which lead you to two chambers containing elaborate architectural carvings. There is also a circular staircase (visible but not accessible) leading to an underlit well. Shortly after that you reach an antechamber containing the entrance to the ossuary. Over the door is carved the splendidly morbid legend: Arretez! C'est ici l'empire de la mort. (Stop! This is the Empire of Death.)
Pass through this entrance and you find yourself in the first of a series of rooms piled high with bones. The bones on view are mostly femurs, end on, and skulls; I suppose the smaller bones are stacked somewhere behind these, out of view.
I have seen skeletons, and indeed mummies, many times before in museums, but there is something uniquely and gloomily impressive about the bones in the Paris catacombs. The sheer quantity of them somehow shocked me. This was entirely illogical considering that we all know that millions have gone before us and are now mouldering quietly in the earth. Still, there is a difference between knowing that and actually seeing it. We are all aware of death, and yet in a year we might hear of the deaths of one or two people we know. Considering how many people must die every day, I don't even see hearses particularly often. All of this seems to give Death a comfortable sense of distance. It is a shock, therefore, to walk into the catacombs and be confronted with the sheer scale of our mortality. And these were just the bones of the inhabitants of one city, for a period of a few hundred years! Every one of those skulls had a story of his or her own; every one of those leg bones was once helping to carry its owner about. I am sorry if this sounds unnecessarily morbid, but the fact of the matter is, I went to the catacombs expecting a slightly gruesome thrill, and instead found myself saddened and moved by it.
I think the Professor and I spent longer than the expected 45 minutes underground, deciphering the melancholy inscriptions in French and Latin. We didn't touch any of the bones; people evidently had, as some of the skulls are smooth and shiny, but I didn't like to. I was glad to have visited the catacombs, but all the same it was a relief when we had climbed the stairs back up to the street level and found ourselves outside in the spring sunshine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Glass Demon, US book trailer

The US version of The Glass Demon is being published in June by Delacorte Press - here's the book trailer!
You can see more videos on my YouTube channel, here:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview in Antwerpen

Ik zal geïnterviewd worden!
Op zaterdag 23 april zal ik bij De Groene Waterman
boekhandel in Antwerpen (Wolstraat 7) zijn. Ik zal geïnterviewd worden en zal ook uit mijn boeken lezen.
Het interview en lezing zullen in het Engels, maar het is ook mogelijk een Nederlandse vertaling van mijn boeken te kopen.

Lesung in Bad Münstereifel

Die Lesung am Freitag 15.4 im Erft Cafe Bad Münstereifel wird verschoben. Jetzt findet sie am Freitag 29.4 um 18.00 statt.

Ich lese aus meinem neuen Buch Blutige Scherben (The Glass Demon).

Sporrans and sewers

I realised with a guilty start that it has been ages since I last blogged...February, I think. Things have been somewhat hectic around here recently, as this summer we are moving from our current home in Flanders to Scotland. By the time we actually move, we will have been living outside the UK for exactly 10 years, so I am viewing the move with a mixture of interest and trepidation. At the moment, trepidation is winning, as there seems to be an interminable list of things we have to do, such as working out how to transport our cats (and gerbils) to Scotland, selling our car, renovating our rental house in Belgium, etc. As a result, not very much actual WRITING is happening at the moment.
I have however been doing some research for my next couple of books. I'd like to set the next couple of books in Flanders, so I need to do all my local investigations whilst we are still here; there is a lot you can do on the internet but nothing beats seeing stuff with your own eyes. Also, since most of the research involves poking around creepy locations, it's fun and takes my mind off the move for a bit. People often ask authors where they get their ideas. I get a lot of mine from visiting atmospheric places; I like to prowl around a cemetery or a ruined castle or an ancient church and see what suggests itself.
Just recently I decided to spend a morning visiting exactly the sort of place I find most inspirational: somewhere dark, dank and creepy. (It was also a bit smelly, but I didn't find that particularly inspirational...) I took the tram to Anderlecht and went down the Brussels sewers. Anderlecht is one of those areas that looks as though it was probably very affluent about a century ago. There are lots of grand old buildings that now look extremely tatty.
When I got to the tram stop for the sewers museum, I had some difficult in finding it. The intersection where it was supposedly located was not the sort of place where you want to stand about looking lost, so I decided to make a quick circuit of it and hope to stumble on the museum. It turned out to be one of two classical-looking buildings which faced each other across the busy road. When I went inside, the man who sold tickets told me in French that you go into one building, along the sewers and up into the other building. "At least," he added, "I hope so."
There were no other visitors at all, although apparently they do guided tours some days of the week. I had a look at the exhibition, which was quite interesting in a chilling sort of way. Apparently the section of metro which runs through the area around the Bourse in Brussels has a big sewer underneath it, but there are also overflow chambers at the sides which allow flood water to go into another sewer above the metro tunnel. So in theory you can be zooming along in your tube train completely surrounded by water. Somehow, I did not find this thought comforting.
After looking at the exhibition you can go down into the actual sewers. I made a short video of this. If you are interested in - er - sewerage - you can see it here:
The thing I particularly noticed was the noise. You can hear all sorts of strange booms and rumbles (probably trams and traffic overhead) and trickling noises. On the whole I was quite glad to get out again at the other end!
Next week I am planning to go to Paris with a friend to visit the Paris sewers and the catacombs. I'm not thinking of setting a book there, but I feel that the more I see of sewers the better; you can only visit about 100m of the Brussels ones. The catacombs are just for fun - but you never know, something may suggest itself!