Thursday, 24 April 2014

Watermouth Castle

 We spent last week on holiday at our castle. There it is, up there, look!

And also up there - a bit closer.
Only it isn't really our castle, of course, It belongs to the Haines family who have restored it and now run it as a theme park with half a dozen holiday apartments in the castle itself. This is our fourth or fifth holiday at Watermouth and it's the setting I chose for my first book.

There it is in the days of sepia. Not only is it not our castle, it isn't even a real castle. It's a country house built to resemble one. A folly. For some reason, this makes me like it even more. 

Now that my book 'The Secrets of Darkmere' is going to be published, I was even more excited than usual to be back at Watermouth Castle. It was a similar feeling to the excitement that comes over me in bookshops. When I was on the receiving end of rejections from agents, I had to stop going into Waterstones for a while. All those published books made me feel sad and defeated. But now I love book shops again - and as I get near to the YA shelves in particular, I come over quite tingly! 

I've wanted to write a story with a grandiose and spooky setting ever since I first read Rebecca (about thirty years ago!) Manderley has to be the ultimate country-house-as-character in a book.

Some of my other favourites are...

Godsend Castle from I Capture the Castle                                   Brideshead
San Salvatore from The Enchanted April                                     Pemberley
The Great Gatsby's mansion                                                      Gosford Park

And Fiercombe Manor from my friend, Kate Riordan's book 'The Girl in the Photograph' which is completely awesome and will be published next year.

There are beautiful gardens in the valley behind the castle, full of fountains, topiary, tropical planting and the sort of rhododendrons and azaleas that Daphne du Maurier wrote about.  



Apart from the gardens, there are several other things that I've mentioned in my book - and that I revisited last week. These include...

This weird little pepperpot building that looks out to sea from one of the Watermouth cliff-tops...

 The woods...

These old gateposts hidden under the ivy...

And this long path carpeted entirely in wild garlic.

Although we had a lovely time, I'm not convinced we'll be going back to Watermouth any time soon because - yikes - no wifi! Husband and self wondered how much we'd miss it and decided we could cope. We would read improving books and perhaps even talk to each other (yeah, right!) But we couldn't have known how dependent the boys had become on their ipads. Very - is the answer.
It's mostly the fault of this individual...

Damn you, Stampy - for being as addictive as crack to 7 - 11 year olds everywhere! Almost every day we had to seek out restaurants and cafes with free wifi so the eleven-year-old could check out what his favourite YouTubers were uploading. And without the internet to keep both boys quiet, self and husband had to (horrors!) entertain them ourselves. So the holiday was an endless round of swimming-then-crazy golf-then-a trip to the beach-then swimming again until we were exhausted. By the third or fourth day I had the sort of muscle aches that usually follow excessive aerobic and weight-lifting exercises. Pah - so much for relaxing and catching up on my reading!

Eleven-year-old contemplates the path of garlic and wonders why there are still parts of the world without instant access to images of MrStampyCat laughing insanely as he falls into yet more molten lava...Why, cruel world? Why? 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Rubbing shoulders with Piers

Yes, this is exactly how I write. 
Like all the best writers, I think up my stories whilst lounging in high-heels, occasionally looking up with a wistful face - as if I might be wondering whether to open another box of bon-bons.

In related news, Liane, who is one of my agents, emailed me to ask for a photo to go on the agency website. Just like that - as if I might have dozens of authorly photos lying around. Which of course I hadn't. Because I am not a photogenic young teen, but a normal person who disappears like a magician's assistant whenever anyone takes out a camera. So I had to ask  for some time to organise a photoshoot. (Ugh! Even the word photoshoot sounds awkward when we're talking about a middle-aged mother-of-two.) And she said, "Yes, that’s absolutely fine! Given that you’re going to be next to Piers Morgan you want to look your best."
(I used to be so in awe of literary agents, it never occurred to be how funny they might be.)

And there I am - look - right next to Piers Morgan. Or if you prefer, right over Mary Portas' head. So many celebrities! And me! I've never felt so famous before (even though - deep down - I know I'm still not.) There's a chance that the number of times I've opened this page goes into the hundreds - possibly even thousands by now. My aim is to get it down to no more than half a dozen times a day. Maybe a couple more if I'm feeling particularly useless. I wonder how many times a day Piers and Mary click on themselves...?

This is the page that comes up if you click on my head. Ow! I totally feel it every time someone does that.

But if being up on the Furniss  Lawton website is one of my favourite things ever, the thought of undergoing the dreaded photoshoot was not. Luckily one of the mums at my children's primary school is both a good friend and a top photographer, so we organised a playdate with pizza and ice-cream, lots of dressing up and photo taking. I still managed to look painfully awkward in the earlier photographs, despite all Sally's reassurances and the ahem informal atmosphere of four children running around and twatting each other with light sabres. But it was worth it. I ended up with a handful of pictures I can use for websites - and possibly even the inside of a book cover one day!

And there's the photographer, up there, should you wish to have your own photoshoot. Sally can be relied upon not to laugh at you - even if you're lolling on a bed with your laptop and pulling stupid faces at her.

When I haven't been posing, I've been reading. And I've been going through (yet another) spate of books with plenty of magical happenings and weirdness - which are the kind I love best. Lately, I've read these...

And I enjoyed them all, but then I read this one...

...which has no magic or fantasy elements; no escapism (unless you count the fact that it makes your own life feel glamorous in comparison to the narrator's) and no fairytale ending. And in spite of all this, The Shock of the Fall was by far my favourite, because it made me think...and it made me cry...and I ended up talking about it with two friends (we all thought that the narrator would've managed to lead a reasonably normal life if the incident with his brother hadn't happened. And that led us off on separate musings about the events that had or hadn't happened in our own lives - and how fragile it all is.) I'm not at all surprised at the way this book's been winning prizes all over the place.

What else? Oh yes, Eleven-year-old is currently learning all about the Industrial Revolution at school. His teacher has been playing the class extremely loud factory machinery noises and setting them tricky maths problems to solve without being distracted - hahaha! So I've been reading this with him...

It's full of excellent descriptions of poverty and children being killed in factory machines...or up chimneys...or down coal mines, I'm sure you get the idea. It's also taught him about mudlarks and tosh boys, friendly societies and protection rackets and really, really terrible food. In the last night's instalment, Lucas - our hero, ate a breakfast of day-old porridge which had been made with cheap oatmeal, warm water and crusts picked up in the street. It was also frozen into a lump because it was winter time in the town of Blastburn. Lucas then drank a cup of tea made with hot water and um - nothing else. Before setting off for his job (it was 5am after all!) working down in the sewers with a delusional psychopath called Gudgeon. God, it's good stuff! Excellent words too. Last night Eleven-year-old had to look up the words - Clinker,  Hugger-mugger and Pokey...

So if you (like he) believe that the above-left is a Pokey (thanks Nintendo!) think again. It's a prison, above-right. Don't say you never learn anything useful on this blog!

Hopefully, my next post will be all about our upcoming week at the seaside, but even before that happens there's a lot I'm looking forward to. Next week - yes, next week - is the release date for the third and final book in Laini Taylor's Smoke and Bone trilogy...

I feel as if I've been waiting at least a year for this one!

And tomorrow! Aaargh - actually tomorrow - is season four of Game of Thrones! " Da-duh-der-der. Da-duh-der-der. Da-duh-der-der." *Hums theme tune for next twenty-four hours* Winter is coming and all men must die and fully-grown dragons - hurrah!

What I'd like almost more than anything else is to - one day - write something that people look forward to with as much hyperventilating excitement as I'm looking forward to both of these right now...

(Serious author is serious.)