Sunday, May 29, 2011

You take the high road...

In nine days we are moving to Scotland.
I am sitting here at my desk in our house in Flanders, looking out at cloudy Flemish skies and next door's fruit tree swaying in the wind and the patio covered in the kids' chalk drawings, and finding the idea almost impossible to believe. I think part of the problem is that we have a very full and varied (not to say complicated) life here: the Scouts, the Guides, the swimming club, Dutch lessons. In Scotland we have a house that I have seen twice and hubs has only seen once from the outside, we have school places and a car, but it doesn't feel as though we have a life there yet.
The other thing is, we're not ready. Hubs has spent days, weeks, tidying up the garden and renovating our rental house here in the hopes of avoiding punitive charges when we leave. I've thrown out what seems like a hundred brown big bags full of things we no longer need, or don't need enough to make it worthwhile taking them to another country. I've given things away, sold things. Still the house is a mess although I know that by Thursday morning it has to be clean and tidy, everything ordered and ready to be boxed away and loaded into the removal van. Vast amounts of work lie between now (Sunday) and then (Thursday) and although I would rather crawl back under the duvet with a good book, there is no time left for procrastination. I shouldn't even be blogging; I should be stacking the school books we have agreed to donate to a friend, and cooking some of the stuff left in the freezer so it doesn't have to be thrown out on Wednesday night.
Although we are not travelling to Scotland ourselves for another nine days, we have already said many of our goodbyes. The coming week is half term, so this week we had the last ever Scout meeting, the last ever Guide meeting, the last riding lesson, the last day at school. (The last Dutch lesson, alas, is the night before the removal men come, and I am sitting the 3rd year exam that night whilst trying not to worry about the work that still needs to be done at home.)
Driving home from the school on Friday with the boot stuffed with text books, art projects, lunchbags, etc. I imagined the first day back at school after the holidays. My daughter's class will all be there at their desks, everything will go along as normal, except that she won't be there. Ditto my son. Guides will restart and my daughter won't be there. The swimming club will meet and all the "white caps" will be there ploughing up and down the lanes but my son won't be among them. It all feels rather scary, as though we are dying. We're closing down our life here and the new one is unknown country.
I think a lot about the day we left the UK, back in 2001. We have a photograph of the four of us which my father took just as we were about to get into the car to go to the airport, to fly to Germany. Hubs looks younger, I look scruffier (the kids were tiny then and personal presentation was not top of my to-do list). Our daughter is a toddler clutching a stuffed animal, our son is a placid-looking baby waving plump fists in the air. We had one-way tickets to Köln. Now, ten years later, we have the return tickets. It is a very strange feeling.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How I nearly missed my own launch party...

Here are some great pics from the launch party for Wish me dead at Treasure Trove Books in Tervuren (Belgium) - thanks to Treasure Trove for taking them. I was thrilled to celebrate at Treasure Trove Books - and also a little relieved to have made it to the bookshop on time. Earlier in the week things were looking a little dubious as ash from the new volcanic eruption started to affect flights in the north of Britain - first I was worried that I wouldn't make it to the Leeds Book Awards, and then I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get home again! At one point not only had Edinburgh airport closed but Carlisle was apparently also closing - it felt as though the ashes were closing in and I was starting to wonder how I was going to get back to Brussels in time. Perhaps I have an overactive imagination (OK, forget the "perhaps") but I was envisioning some sort of Planes, Trains and Automobiles scenario in which I would have to make my way to Dover and blag my way onto a ferry... Luckily by Wednesday evening all flights were running normally and there was no delay at all.
On Thursday however, I ran into a slight logistical problem. Small son had a swimming gala 8km in the other direction from the bookshop and at the same time as the launch party. For the last few weeks we have had two cars, one Belgian one which we have been using for the last two years, and one British one which we bought recently for our move to Scotland. In a fit of efficiency, hubs chose Thursday morning to take the Belgian car to the local dealer to see if he could sell it on for us when we leave. Yes, came the reply, so hubs left the car there. This meant that we only had one car but half of us needed to be in Overijse and the other half in Tervuren at the same time. No problem, I thought, I'll take the 18.38 bus.
I had not reckoned with being utterly unable to find my reading glasses. 18.38 came and went, and I was still turning the house upside down and howling curses. I was beginning to wonder whether in my tired and weary state the night before I had left the glasses on the plane. Finally I found them on the bookcase behind hubs' desk. I have no idea what they were doing there, nor any memory of putting them there. Daughter and I sprinted for the bus stop, but the next bus was at 19.08 and it was late.
We finally arrived in Tervuren at 19.22 and ran for the bookshop, arriving pretty much simultaneously with the first guests. Phew! It is not ideal turning up for your own book event red-faced and looking as though you have been dragged through a hedge backwards. Luckily Jane and the team at Treasure Trove were reassuringly calm (as ever) and by the time things really got underway I probably looked as though I had sauntered in at 19.00 and put my feet up.
The turn-out for the party was excellent - all but two copies of Wish me dead were sold and some of my other books too. It was fabulous to see so many friends there - we aren't having an official leaving bash because if we try and organise one more thing one of us will probably have some sort of nervous breakdown , so it was a chance to say goodbye to some good friends, including Martina and Sabine, Bettina, Emma and Catherine, Val... Thanks, everyone, for coming! I was also very touched that two Flemish speaking ladies attended (dank u Birgit!) - it's a testament to the fabulous language skills of so many Flemish people that they are happy to attend an English language book event and take the books home to read too!
I talked a bit about Wish me dead and my other books, and read three chapters, and after some questions I was able to let my own hair down a bit and enjoy some of the sparkling wine. The Treasure Trove team very kindly presented me with some gorgeous chocolates and a beautiful album to put my photos in. It was altogether a wonderful evening.
This morning, however, it was back down to earth with a bump: the school had organised an eco-transport day so we were all supposed to cycle to school. If you ever think of cycling 8km at 7.15am in the morning after a launch party, my advice to you is: don't...

In which I haunt two schools in Leeds....

This week two schools in the Leeds area were haunted by a strange apparition....the figure of an author carrying a stack of out-of-print books, a carved wooden cat, a pair of binoculars and a piece of paper with the words "Remember the well between four yew trees" written on it in red ink. Actually by the end of the week I probably will be half-dead, on account of rushing about all over the place as well as trying to plan for an international move - but that's another story.
Following the fabulous Leeds Book Awards (see previous post) I went to Morley Academy and Benton Park School to run workshops in ghost story writing.
Ghost stories lie very close to my heart. Long before I had my first novel published in 2009, I was penning supernatural tales, nearly all of which were published by small press magazines and anthologies (you can read one of them, The Sea Change, elsewhere on my website). Nowadays I write novels which are often categorised as "crime" or "thrillers", but I feel I learnt a huge amount from both reading and writing spooky stories. Ghost stories, as I was telling the pupils at the two schools, are (obviously) about ghosts, and not about serial killers, sparkly vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. As such they represent a challenge to the writer, since you are trying to make the reader's flesh creep rather than make them want to throw up in a bucket. It's fairly easy to gross someone out by filling a story with graphic dismemberment and gallons of blood; it's harder to make them so uneasy that they are afraid to put the light out at bedtime. So ghost story writing is a great way to hone your literary skills.
We spent some of the workshop talking about the structure of ghost stories and then did some group exercises about style; the final exercise was for the students to split up into small groups and produce their own outline for a ghost story plus, time permitting, the first sentence or two. I'd like to showcase some of the results at the end of this blog post. These are the story openings created by the pupils at Morley Academy. (Hopefully I will be able to post some of the work by Benton Park later.) I was amazed at what they achieved in a relatively short time (only about fifteen minutes) - especially the group who spent the first five talking about the Apprentice (you know who you are, boys! ;-) ). Each of the groups was given a "prop" from a classic ghost story - the aim was not for the group to recreate the original story, but to use the prop to inspire their own story. As well as the carved wooden cat, the binoculars and the note about the yew trees, I also gave out an opened padlock, a postcard from Stresa addressed to Miss J.Strangeways and a wooden doll's house doll. Can anyone correctly identify all the stories? If you can, I'll gladly send you a signed copy of my story The Red House at M√ľnstereifel, presented in chapbook form by Swan River Press. In the event of a rush of correct replies, the first correct answer gets the booklet! (NB A clue: don't forget I am an absolute fiend for the stories of M.R.James....)
Anyway, here are the opening lines produced by Morley Academy.

The binoculars (by Chris and Ryan)
A mere boy sat atop a hill, his eyes sore and his mouth dry, his binoculars pressed hard against his eye sockets. In the distance, there came an army of something not of this world, as though death had sent his pawns out to capture the lives of all which is good, and as they marched in perfect lines, they vanished...

The carved cat (by Sophie and Chloe)
I thought he loved me. I told him, I told him on the night that he left me that I would die without him. He was my life.
After one year of being with me, I thought I meant something to him. On the worst night of my life - when he left - I told him that I would die without. He was my life.

The postcard from Stresa (by Charlie and Charlotte)
It was the first and the last time I had ever been climbing with the Strangeways. Regret consumed me the moment I left him...

The well between four yew trees (by Tonicha and Tom)
In the woods on the outskirts of the village, local legend told that a well would provide salvation for lost travellers. This well was positioned among four yew trees, and the lost traveller would find it when they needed it most.

The wooden doll (by Tom B, Tom S, Ben and Jack)
Every day I come home and find more is written upon the wall. One day I came home not to find it on the doll's house wall but my bedroom wall. The feeling of being watched disturbs me. I see the doll and it looks at me, a sign of menace in its eyes. In the dead of night it will come for me...

I was thrilled by these opening sentences. Great work - I'd love to see a finished story if anyone has time!

Leeds Book Awards 2011

I'm finally back at my desk after a very hectic few days! On Tuesday I flew over to the UK for the Leeds Book Awards ceremony - The Glass Demon was shortlisted. The 14-16 age group prize was carried off by L.Weatherly's Angel but it was still a great thrill to be at the ceremony and to meet so many young readers as well as friendly librarians and wonderful authors. All the shortlisters received a beautiful memento (pictured). I thought this was a lovely gesture - much nicer than going home empty-handed! Truth to tell (lowers voice to whisper) I like this etched crystal better than the actual award trophy!! I shall treasure it (and attempt to keep it out of my kids' hands....).
You can see some super photographs of the day on Candy Gourlay's blog here:
The ceremony was compered by Paul Sleem, whose energy and good humour soon had the audience whipped into a frenzy! As we authors were standing outside waiting to be introduced we could hear yells and cheers from inside - it was so loud that I commented to one of the others that I felt a bit like a Christian about to be fed to the lions! It's a great tribute to "MC Paul" that he roused so much enthusiasm for books and reading. It was a really brilliant event.
After the awards ceremony I stayed the night in Leeds and on Wednesday I visited Morley Academy and Benton Park School, before flying home to Brussels to get myself organised for the launch party for Wish me dead on Thursday night.
It seemed slightly insane to take on so many events this week when the removal men are coming next Thursday to pack up our things and move us to Scotland! Still, it was nice to have a couple of days away from the endless packing, planning and bureaucracy. And whilst I was in Leeds I managed to have black pudding salad for lunch, which was a first...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Wish Me Dead lands in store!

I was thrilled to log into Facebook today and find this lovely photo on Treasure Trove Books' wall. It's a pic of my new book Wish me dead, out in the UK at the beginning of June. Treasure Trove are hosting a launch event for the book on Thursday 26th May, a few days ahead of the launch, so their local friendly Penguin rep kindly ensured that stock was available in time. The party couldn't be any later because on 2nd June the removers arrive to pack up our things and move us to Scotland! My head is rather full of registering and de-registering utilities, getting the cats' paperwork in order, packing things etc so it will be great to have an evening talking and thinking about books instead. Everyone is welcome, so if you are based in Belgium do come along to Treasure Trove (Brusselsesteenweg, Tervuren, near the no. 44 tram stop) at 7.30pm for a glass of wine and a chat!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

NEW! Book trailer for WISH ME DEAD!

I'm thrilled to unveil the book trailer for my third novel Wish me dead, which is being published next month by Penguin Books UK.

You can see it here:

I'll also be posting some behind-the-scenes photos on this blog very soon - hopefully some comments from the cast too! Big thanks to Lumiere Productions for making this the best trailer yet!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Launch event!

I'm delighted to announce that I will be having a launch event for my 3rd novel "Wish me dead" on Thursday May 26th at 7.30pm, at Treasure Trove Books in Tervuren (near Brussels)! If you're based in Belgium, come and have a glass of wine, listen to me reading excerpts from the book and buy a signed copy.

This is probably going to be my last event in Belgium for a while as I and my family are moving to Scotland in early June - so please do come!

If you live in Belgium but haven't visited Treasure Trove before, you can find the address, phone number and a map on their shop website, here:

Everyone is welcome!