Tuesday, 3 May 2016

My favourite things from the year so far...

We're almost halfway through the year now - and I can't believe how quickly it's gone! The mornings and evenings are lighter, everything's turning green and flowers are appearing. I've even been out without a coat several times. Late spring is definitely my favourite time of year.

I've just come back from my annual pilgrimage to Fowey and all the scenery that inspired Daphne du Maurier's books. God, I love it there! Every time I see a sign for Fowey, I hear the end of chapter eleven of Frenchman's Creek in my head...

'And then, stretching her arms above her head and smiling, and glancing back at him over her shoulder she said to him, "Where are we bound then?"
"We are bound for Fowey Haven," he told her.

So for the last three days, I've been wandering around Fowey Haven. I've been across to Ferryside on the Bodinnick ferry; I've swam and sauna-ed, listened to the gulls and the waves slapping against the harbour, bought multi-coloured bonbons from my favourite sweetshop, and eaten fancy fish and chips - followed by a dessert pizza (surprisingly delicious!)

And - of course - I walked down to the beach where Maxim shot Rebecca! 

'We were standing in a little narrow cove, the shingle hard and white under our feet, and the sea breaking on the shore beyond us.
Maxim smiled down at me, watching the bewilderment on my face.
"It's a shock, isn't it?" he said, "no one ever expects it. The contrast is too sudden, it almost hurts."'

Before we went away, I had a run of celebrations only a few days apart, which might as well have been known as the 'Festival of Chocolate' - including my birthday, Mother's day and Easter, so I was given flowers, chocolate and fancy notebooks. I do love a fancy notebook!

We went to the Rococo Gardens - as usual - to see the snowdrops, which were late this year, but very pretty. There were also some fantastical tree sculptures.

After that, came my Leipzig trip - which was pretty thoroughly covered by my last blogpost, but it'll definitely remain one of my highlights of this year. It still makes me smile every time I catch sight of the phone cases I brought back for myself and my eldest son.

Last but not least, I spent a lovely afternoon in Birmingham last month, chatting to authors, bloggers and friends. I was on a panel of authors who write historical fiction for children and teens, as part of 'History Month' at Birmingham Waterstones. It was organised by Rhian Ivory, author of the brilliant 'The Boy Who drew the Future' and the lovely Jamie from Birmingham Waterstones. Also on the panel were Lauren James, Emma Carroll and Katherine Woodfine - all of whom have written books I've read and loved. I was very lucky to be in such company! We talked about our books and the people or places that inspired them; and the research we did; and the reasons we love historical stories and so on. Afterwards there were questions and answers, and book signings. It was lots of fun. We've since had so much enthusiasm from other branches of Waterstones, there's definite possibility of the history girls going on tour. Rock and roll!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Leipzig Book Fair 2016

WOW...just wow!
For most writers, being published is the best thing that can happen. To see your name on a cover. To find your book in a bookshop. To read a review by someone who loved your story. It's the best feeling in the world.
But sometimes there's even MORE!
Sometimes a foreign publisher might just offer you a long weekend in a beautiful German city. A weekend of book signings and interviews, of aeroplanes and hotel breakfasts, of Aperol Spritzes and huge marble bathtubs, of meeting the friendliest bloggers and wandering around the biggest, busiest book fair until it feels like your eyeballs are going to pop out.

That's what happened to me last weekend.
When the wonderful Anja from Carlsen Verlag invited me to come to the Leipziger Buchmesse, it seemed as unlikely as a lottery win or - I don't know - a falling star landing on my head or something. I don't think I quite believed it until I was on the plane!

God, I love flying. As soon as we've taken off, I get that whooshing roller-coaster feeling of wanting to clap my hands and shout: "Again! Again!" all through the flight. But I am a grown-up, so I just grin a lot and take a million photos through the window.

Everyone knows what views from a plane look like, so I have deleted most of them - I swear! But I can't not post this picture where the clouds are so thick they look like desert or sea ("Again! Again!").

 And - look! - there's our shadow chasing us towards Amsterdam! It's right what they say about Holland - it is very flat! And I'm totally going to stop with the plane pictures now.

That was a lie. Stopping with the plane pictures is too hard. I took this one between Schiphol and Tegel airports. Look - it's right what they say about Holland - it is very canally! Luckily for you, I flew home in the dark - so that was the end of the plane pictures. I had a chance at one perfect shot of Berlin all lit up at night, right before we went through the clouds, but when I tried to capture it, my phone refused, claiming its memory was too full up with plane photos. Stupid phone!

After that came all the excitement of taking a bus through Berlin to the Hauptbahnhof  - which is humongously big and made entirely of glass. From here we caught the train to Leipzig and it was on this leg of the journey that we discovered the German people have no more respect for other people's pre-booked train seats than English people do. Which left us helpless since we didn't know how to say: "Oi - you're in my seat!" in German.
It's also a phrase I ought to have recognised whilst sitting somewhere other than in my pre-booked seats, because the German person whose seat I'd stolen, came and said it to me. But nope, I made the mistake of thinking she must be asking to see my ticket - even though she was far too glamorously-dressed to be a ticket-collector. When I'd finished smacking my head, I decided there and then I would be learning some German before my next visit.

I felt better after I had tracked down the traditional German dish of coffee and doughnuts at the station. This is probably what sustained them all during the famous Battle of Leipzig and ended Napoleon's presence in Germany. 
Leipzig Hauptbahnhof was every bit as jaw-dropping as the station in Berlin. It was the biggest railway station I've ever seen and it had more columns and arches than a cathedral. The Costa Coffee alone was so gilded and decorated with plaster-mouldings, I felt certain it must be architecturally important. I bought Ritter Sport there for added German authenticity.
*Although I bought Ritter Sport everywhere I went that weekend, to be honest.

It was early evening when we finally walked through Leipzig in search of our hotel. The city centre was lovely to walk through, with lots of cobbled streets and squares. It was quiet and clean; all the buildings were widely spaced and there were some awesome shops and restaurants. I don't think it would have occurred to me to visit Leipzig before this weekend, but now I'm already dying to go back. We found our hotel pretty easily. To be honest, the Steigenberger (above) would've been hard for us to miss. We were even greeted by a doorman in a top hat - and I was so thrilled, I was probably muttering "Again! Again!" under my breath.

The Steigenberger is fabulous. If you Google it, you can see pictures of George Clooney hanging out there. George Clooney and now - ME! I was due to meet Anja in the lobby at 6pm, which didn't leave much time for playing with all the fixtures and fittings in the hotel room, so I had a lightning-fast bath in the marble tub and wrapped myself in a Steigenberger fluffy robe, while my husband raided the mini bar and worked out how to access the wifi before I ran up a bill for squillions on Data Roaming. Then we FaceTimed our children so we could show them around the hotel room and the view from the window (above). The building that looks like a Chinese pagoda is Riquet - one of the remaining old-fashioned coffee houses in the city - it's decorated with carved elephant heads and - Anja says - sells the nicest cakes in Leipzig.


Anja... I'm not even sure where to start with Anja - she's just one of my favourite people. I first met her at the Groucho Club in January last year. My book wasn't due to be published for another seven or eight months, so Anja was one of the first publishing people to tell me she'd read it and loved it. Her enthusiasm was overwhelming. And luckily for me, it still is! She arranged my visit to the book fair, bought me drinks, organised blogger meetings and even acted as my translator - all with endless good humour, warmth and lashings of bookish gossip.

If I had to find fault with Anja - and obviously I don't have to - I might raise an eyebrow at her map-making skills. She drew me a sketch of the Book Fair to show where the exhibitors' entrance was located. The sketch involved a couple of wavy oblongs, a sort of arched box, a random arrow and an ink blot. But Anja insisted (quite proudly) that it was an accurate representation. The next few photographs show what the Leipzig Book Fair actually looked like...

Thanks at this point to the lovely Martina from Hohle der Leseratten (Cave of Bookworms) - not only for allowing me to use these photographs, but for presenting me with some astonishingly beautiful bookmarks when we met. So much niceness!

I know I keep on saying that everything was really big, but seriously - the book fair was on another level. There were three vast halls linked by glass tunnels and by the time I arrived, they were all so crammed with book people, it wasn't easy to move around. Martina must've arrived super early in order to take photos which still show some floor space!
I really enjoyed myself, wandering around, buying things and admiring all the cosplayers until I found the Carlsen stand, where I was tutted at by Anja for my failure to follow the 'map' correctly - which made me giggle.

She took revenge by telling all the bloggers and reviewers who interviewed me that afternoon that I spoke fluent German. When in fact I know six words - Bitte, Danke, Tschuss, Ja, Nein and Buchmesse.
The interviews were brilliant fun, though! I'm sure I must have talked far too much, since each session overran, but the bloggers were all so funny and interesting. Every one of them was passionate about reading and writing, so it was like being out for a drink with bookish mates, only not nearly long enough. And - of course - they all spoke excellent English, which once again made me determined to just Learn More German already! Jeez.

So I want to say a huge Thank You to Sabrina from Bookwives and Nicole from About Books who came to talk to me first and were so friendly and funny it was impossible for me to be nervous. I also chatted to Katrin from Kathrineverdeen who brought me a cake! I'm not convinced my measly six words of German were worthy of cake, but as you can see from the picture, I was pretty pleased about it. Then, as if my language-shame was not complete, I met lovely Sophie from A Reader Lives A Thousand Lives who is studying International Communication and Translation - she's the ultimate language expert - yeep!

Next I met with two young readers from Literatur Initiative Berlin - who were just hilarious! In between asking me questions about my book, they talked about what they wanted to be when they left school (aiming quite high - a dictator was one suggestion!) also which characters they shipped from Harry Potter and who were the hottest guys from Cassandra Clare's books. And their questions for me were easily the hardest I've ever had to answer...
 'If Anna hadn't had the carriage accident and had married St Cloud, would they have been happy together?' and 'If Elinor had run away with Nick and married him, do you think he would've got depression later?' and 'Why is Hat-man Dan called Hat-man Dan?'  
My answer to every question was...'What? Yes! No! Wait - God, I don't even know!'

Afterwards, Anja took me out for a traditional Leipzig dinner with lots of other Carlsen staff. We went to the Thüringer Hof which was a free house in the 15th century, so that seems pretty traditional to me! The food was delicious. I chose Rosa gebratene Lammfilets auf einer Balsamico-Honig-Sauce mit Rotweinfeigen which turned out to be lamb with red wine figs - and I would cheerfully go all the way back to Germany to eat it again. I shared my end of the table with Anja, Renate, Ute and Ulrike from Carlsen and they talked about the history of Leipzig and the university...and Bach and Goethe...and politics and foreign travel...and where to find the best chocolate (Anja obvs!) And it was one of those dinner conversations which was so interesting I almost put my elbows on the table and forgot to eat and drink. The entire weekend really made me fall in love with people!

Saturday was our last day in Leipzig, so we got up early to have a good look around. There might've also been some shopping. Luckily for our finances, most of the shops didn't open until 10am - some not even until 11am! But we found more supplies of Ritter sport which was the main thing.

The main event of the day for me was the Carlsen blogger meeting or Bloggertreffen at the fair. We arrived in time to have tea with the very beautiful and poised Rebecca Wiltsch who was hosting the event. I'd gone pretty quiet by this stage. Rebecca claimed to be nervous too, but if you're nervous in a very beautiful and poised way, I don't think it counts. I was nervous in a sweaty, white-faced and feeling queasy kind of way. Especially when I saw how big the room was and how many empty seats were waiting...yikes!

The room filled up quickly and I began to feel much better when I saw Sabrina, Nicole, Katrin and Sophie among the bloggers. They felt like old friends already - and they all gave me a wave or a hug or came over for a chat. This encouraged a few other bloggers to come and say hello too - which made me feel a lot more comfortable!

Up first was Ute Nöth who's in charge of blogger relations for Carlsen. Then Rebecca introduced Julia Reuter and Barbara König who presented two upcoming books for Carlsen (Just Three Words by Becky Albertalli and Jane and Miss Tennyson by Emma Mills). And finally it was my turn - with Anja's help translating questions from the audience and my answers. Thank you, Anja xx

Including another photo from Martina Schutt here - so you can actually see us!

Soooooo many people!

I was afraid we'd have lots of books left over, but they were all snapped up pretty quickly and I had a long signing queue. I wish I could mention everyone who was there - they were all so nice it turned out to be one of my best days ever.

Lots of bloggers left cards or messaged me to let me know where I could catch up with their reviews of Darkmere Summer, so I've been having lots of fun discovering all the new blogs and putting them through Google Translate - which turns them into a sort of delightful modern poetry.
Big hugs to Sandy from Black Tea Books and Sandra from Piglet and Pooh - thank you both for all your friendliness and enthusiasm!
It was also fantastic to meet the Book Mermaids and NenasZauberwald and lovely Lotta from Lottasbuecher and OHMYGOSH, I'm in a video of the Book Fair over at Liberiarium - thank you so much to super-Slytherin Lea for posting.

Then - finally - back to the hotel to sign one last stack of books for a Chicken House Easter Give-away before it was time for me to stop acting like a famous author and get on a plane home. I am determined to come back one day, though. I had such a fabulous time!
(It would be great to end with that photo of the lights of Berlin at night here, wouldn't it? I bet Martina wouldn't have messed that up like I did. Stupid phone.) "Tschuss!"

Friday, 11 March 2016

School visit - achievement unlocked!

Not much news, but I'm updating my blog in response to being nagged by my brother, who prefers to hear from me via the internet instead of in real life with our real faces!

Hello, Charlie! How are you? I see you have a new website - to which you are now officially obligated to add more content, since I'm blogging here at your request. 

It was World Book Day last Thursday - the best and most bookish day of the year. I had to get up especially early in order to paint Nine-year-old's face for the occasion. He went to school dressed as Skulduggery Pleasant. A well-known book character - we thought - but a disappointingly large number of his friends (all of them) had to ask him who he'd come as...pfft!

"NINE books and you people still don't know who I am? Come on!"

The face-paint took ages as my hands had already begun to shake. I had been booked by the very lovely Angela Stone, the librarian of Pates Grammar School, to give my first ever author interview at a school. By 11.30 - I was shaking ALL OVER!

That's Angie over on the right - introducing the infinitely-poised Caitlin Devlin from year 12 and myself (desperately trying to look like an author).

I have very little memory of anything I said. In fact I don't think I really registered any of the words even as I said them. Because Year 10's are really intimidating en masse. And by that, I mean they were quiet and polite and interested - and I was wussy enough to be scared of them all anyway.

Not that I could see any of them because the spotlights made celestial-type beams across my glasses. Yes - there were spotlights. A microphone pack. A blow-up of my book on the screen behind me. Even a reserved parking space with my name on. I only wish I felt important enough to have merited so much attention. The whole thing has certainly refocussed me on  achieving that!   

There were questions after. Mostly bookish ones, although my favourite was 'Do you prefer Salt and Vinegar crisps or Cheese and Onion?' I suppose the boy who asked that one was being waggish, but at the time I just felt a huge whoosh of relief that it was such an easy question. (Salt and Vinegar if the crisps are Walkers, but Cheese and Chive if Pringles, obviously.)
One question that caught me off-balance was 'How much did you have to pay to hire an agent?'
Wow - if only it was that easy! I suppose I now spend so much time talking to authors, aspiring-authors, reviewers and publishers, that I'd forgotten not everyone knows the basics. 

The best answer to that particular question was demonstrated in a hugely-enjoyable program on Sky Arts the other night - still available on catch-up!

In which Giles Coren attempts to become a successful and acclaimed novelist by...um, having a famous father. He then interviews lots of actually successful novelists in order to find out why this didn't work.
Howard Jacobson tells him: 'You were absolutely not accustomed to failure, when failure is the ingredient you have to have.'
Rachel Johnson tells him: 'You have to write a good book.'
Jeffrey archer tells him: 'You've got to put the work in. When one word is wrong, you've got to go back to it. Never, never, never be satisfied.'
David Mitchell tells him: 'You have to craft a juicy, imperishable, beautiful, gorgeous gem of a sentence. Then - ideally - you have a few of them in every paragraph.'
Hanif Kureishi tells him: 'You have to learn how to write - however talented you are. You didn't take yourself seriously enough or you weren't prepared to sacrifice enough or you weren't prepared to suffer enough.'
Rose Tremain asks him: 'Have you got empathy? Have you got patience? And have you got imagination? Because without those three you can't write a novel.'
William Nicholson tells him: 'I wrote eight novels that weren't good enough to be published. You still haven't reached your prime yet.'

Perversely enough, Giles Coren ends the program inspired to try again. And I ended up feeling proud of having achieved something that it's clearly impossible to buy your way into. Still overwhelmingly envious of Giles Coren's house and garden, though. So perhaps he still wins after all.