Wednesday, February 29, 2012
One of the best things about Stonewylde for me is the new experiences I've had since writing the series. Our social network group has flourished for several years now and members meet up regularly all over the country. Last Sunday saw one such get-together at Kensal Green Cemetry in London. Ten of us met up there, and were given a private tour by Sue who's a huge Stonewylde fan and also a volunteer guide at this amazing cemetry.
She looked after us for over three hours and it was one of the best afternoons I've had for a long time. Sue is such a knowledgeable guide and admits that she particularly enjoys the scandal. We learned all sorts of naughty things about the inhabitants of the cemetry and what they got up to when alive. It's a myth of course that everyone was prim and proper in Victorian times - some of the tales that Sue told us would really make your hair curl!
Apparently the cemetry was opened in 1833, one of seven I think in London to cope with the high mortality rate. It's over 70 acres (no wonder I felt so tired at the end of the tour) and is still very much in use today. Kensal Green has its share of famous bodies, including writers such as William Thackary and Anthony Trollope, and historical figures such as Lord Byron's half sister and wife. To be honest, there was so much interesting information that not much of it has stuck in my addled brain.
There are some amazing tombs, monuments and graves, some very simple but many incredibly ornate if not downright vulgar, reflecting the taste of the time. Rich and poor are buried at Kensal Green, and even some royalty too. My favourite part of the tour (but also my worse) was visiting the catacombs. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos down there so I can't show you just how terrifying and grim it was. There were coffins in various stages of decay everywhere - it was a city of death, with streets going off the main thoroughfare and all full of hundreds and hundreds of coffins. I was thoroughly spooked by the whole thing, although it was an experience I'm so glad I had.
Sue was fantastic, and I certainly want to go back there again as there was just too much to take in on one visit. Many thanks to her for such a wonderful private tour for Stonewylde readers. Thanks too to Sam for the lovely handbag charms she made for all of us, and Ros for the delicious lemon drizzle daisy cakes. What a great afternoon it was! For more information about Kensal Green cemetery and visits, click here.
Tomorrow, 1st March, is World Book Day and I'm off at the crack of dawn (actually, while it's still dark) to Dorset. I'm speaking to children at St Osmund's Middle School in Dorchester, followed by a coffee with Loose and Leafy blogger, and then a signing session in Dorchester Waterstones. I'm really looking forward to it and will post about it soon.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
I read somewhere that there were 900 guests and 500 bottles of champagne - not sure if that's correct, but the champagne was lovely and there was a lot of it. And delicious canapes too. Certainly it felt like 900 guests as the place was packed. We were sent name badges (posh ones - not sticky labels) and most people wore theirs, but even so it was hard to find people you wanted to talk to, or see the names of those you were talking to. Peering at someone's chest to decipher their name before making eye contact feels a bit rude!
I had a marvellous time despite my nerves. I was a little late (Hammersmith Flyover trouble) and in the queue to leave coats, noticed that Ian Rankin was standing behind me! He addressed the audience later, talking about his history with Orion and how just that day he'd signed another two book deal with them. He was one of the very first authors to sign with Orion when they set up twenty years ago - and everyone's done very well from that deal!
There was also a speech from the CEO who's a lovely man called Peter Roche. I spoke to him at the Gollancz 50th Anniversary party last November and he told me that he hadn't read Stonewylde. Understandable really, given how many books Orion publish and that he's firmly a crime/thriller fan. But at the party on Monday night, I bumped into him (I kept bumping into people literally as it was extremely crowded) and he recognised me and told me he'd now read all four books!!! I said, 'Wow - I only hoped you might read one!' to which he replied, 'Once you've read one, how could you not read all four?'. I felt so honoured!
I spoke to many very interesting people, lots of new authors who looked lost, and established authors who didn't. I had a lovely chat with Essie Fox, who's debut novel The Somnambulist was recently featured on the Channel 4 TV Book Club and we agreed to read each other's books. I also had a chat with Greg Mosse, who's invited me to speak at the college where he teaches an MA in Creative Writing - that will be great, if it comes off. We started talking because my Stonewylde charm bracelet had become entangled with my lace dress - and he extricated me! I had a good chat with fellow Gollancz author Suzanne McLeod about the merits of attending some of the big conventions such as SFX Weekender, Eastercon, Fantasycon, etc.
There were several other authors I'd hoped to speak to but never found - we'd made contact on Twitter but the Natural History Museum is so huge and there were so many people that it was impossible to track down individuals - especially if you didn't know what they look like! I did manage to talk with my agent, my editor at Gollancz and some of the marketing and PR team too, and said hello to Malcolm Edwards, head of Gollancz. So in a networking sense it was a successful evening.
But on another level it was almost like a timeslip film/novel, and this must have been the same experience for everyone there. I remember my father taking me and my younger brother to the Natural History Museum when we were children in the 1960s. I remember standing there being totally awestruck by the dinosaur and the sheer size of the place. I stood there on Monday night feeling amazed and overwhelmed that here I was, an author at a publisher's party mixing with loads of other publishing professionals, authors, agents, etc. And I imagined that small girl standing in the same place with her father and her little brother, not knowing that one day she'd be there in such a glitzy capacity. It always was my childhood dream to be a writer, and here I was. And I bet the same was true for so many of the people there. Nobody who'd visited as a child would have any sense of this destiny. It would make a great film or story, wouldn't it? I wonder how many of the 900 people had visited the museum as children? I wonder if this thought struck any of them too?
We were given a goody bag of books as we left (all very welcome - each one is a title I want to read) and my wonderful Mr B was waiting outside for me. We had a quick supper in a nearby restaurant with some other authors (I've done enough name-dropping so won't bore you with more) and then drove back to Reading. It was a fantastic night altogether, and I'd had just the right amount of champagne too. These photos of me were taken at home by Mr B before we left.
If by any chance anyone from Orion reads this blog - thank you for a magical evening!
Monday, February 20, 2012
I'm afraid my promise last Monday to blog soon was broken. What happened was that suddenly the fifth book started to flow and I didn't want to stop writing! I'm now almost half way through (though not quite) and I have just under six weeks to finish this first draft. I'm living in a state of moderate panic which never leaves me, and I'm not sleeping that well either because of it. Last night I had a horrible nightmare about one of the characters in the book which really disturbed me.
Anyway - back to the Horse Chestnut Tree. I think, given that it's my tree of the year, it deserves capital letters. Today I'll post three photos, but I'm afraid they won't always show just the tree. It's a perching place to so many birds and squirrels and obviously a feeding place too. Horse Chestnut Tree dominates the view into our back garden and is particularly visible from our bedroom window. I stood gazing out at it the other day and saw something very special. I tend to spend hours doing this when I'm thinking of what comes next in Shaman of Stonewylde.
It's a little nuthatch - so beautiful! I watched it creep all over the great chunks of bark on my tree and was really glad to get these photos. Not only is the tree a huge, magical presence in my garden, but it also attracts the most wonderful creatures. I'd never seen a nuthatch before.
Mr B said recently that he felt the tree was male, and this interested me. I know on my Stonewylde network we've had discussions in the past about trees being male or female. In tree folk-lore, any books you care to read on the subject, say with great authority "The oak is a male tree..." and other such statements. Obviously this isn't a biological observation but a more imaginative one. I too had felt that the Horse Chestnut Tree was male, and was pleased when Mr B said this entirely unprompted. He's not quite as fanciful as I am about these matters and it always makes me happy when his fancy does take flight. So ... you can imagine my sense of disillusionment when he explained why the tree, to him, was masculine.
Anyway, moving on ... last week was a very lucky week for me - I won prizes in THREE competitions! I never win anything so this was very exciting, and I shall tell you all about it in another blog later this week.
Tonight it's the big, posh, glitzy Orion Authors' Party which this year takes place in the Natural History Museum (no jokes please about old dinosaurs). I'm very excited and nervous too. It's only for authors, agents and other publishing professionals; partners aren't invited, so I won't have Mr B there by my side. Don't get me wrong -I'm a confident person and all that. But this is a huge do, and I know very few people but they all seem to know each other! It's also enormous (last year it was in the Royal Opera House) so the chances of finding the few people you actually do know are slim. It's very daunting and last year I coped by gulping at the ever-flowing champagne until my nerves had gone, along with most of my other faculties! This year I shall be sensible and if I feel a bit lost and lonely, I shall merely stand at the edges and people-watch.
I'm off now to get ready, and must abandon my characters in the Great Barn where they're just about to start something rather special ...
Monday, February 13, 2012
It actually comes from around Weymouth, which is where I lived for 27 years and I so wish I'd met the lady when I lived there - she sounds lovely. She's a Tree Follower, and the idea is that you choose a particular tree and then follow it for a year. You take lots of photos (or draw or paint it, I guess, if you can) and blog about it whenever you feel so inspired. What a lovely, lovely idea! I bet many of my followers will join me in this - several of you whom I've got to know spring to mind immediately. If you follow this link and then go back to her Feb 5th post, she explains a bit more about it there.
So today is my first Tree Follower blog, and I'll probably do one of these every couple of weeks or so. Although it could be more as I can see how exciting this could become, for me at least. The tree I've chosen is one that really chose me. As you may know, we moved house at the end of last year and finally bought our first house together. One of the three things that sold this house to me - and the most important one - was the beautiful garden. Not beautiful as in it's perfect and full of wonderful plants, which it isn't. But beautiful because it contains several mature trees and it's reasonably private, considering we're in Reading, and it's full of birds and squirrels. I really, really love it.
I was just a tiny tad disappointed when we examined the garden closely to discover what the trees actually were. Horse chestnuts, lime, hornbeam and sycamore I think. Not entirely sure as all the leaves are now gone, but definitely horse chestnuts and sycamore and the other two are debatable as I don't know them so well. I was disappointed because my favourite trees are the ones I grew up with in the two gardens of my childhood. These were, in the first garden: beech (all-time favourite), oak (with mistletoe), sweet chestnut, silver birches, Scots pines and rowans. The second garden had a giant yew (a real favourite of mine), a massive walnut tree (so big it had its main branch held up with a kind of pit-prop) and a large orchard. I spent hours and hours of my childhood playing, reading, daydreaming and scribbling under each of these trees, and I can still picture each of them perfectly even though it's over 40 years since I saw any of them. It's because of these trees that I grew up loving nature and believing in magic and eventually writing Stonewylde.
So when I realised that not one of these special trees featured in my new garden, I was a little disappointed but determined, nevertheless, to make friends with the new ones, all of which are subject to a Tree Preservation Order. Not of course that I'd consider chopping them down! Plus I have a veritable nursery of baby trees that I've been growing in pots for the past four years until such time as we could afford to buy a house. So I shall soon be planting some of these in the garden - and they include most of my old favourites.
The tree that has demanded to be chosen is the one nearest to the house - a massive horse chestnut. It's a whopper and I really hope it doesn't invalidate our house insurance. This has proved to be a bit of a long blog so I shall end now with a picture of a bit of it, and write more about it during the week. I'm on a real roll at the moment with Shaman of Stonewylde and I'm itching to get back to it. So here's a detail of Horse Chestnut, with more to come soon. Have a lovely week, everyone!
Friday, February 10, 2012
I realised that one of the issues was this handfasting scene I'm trying to write. Several of my lovely readers are going to tie the knot in Avebury in May, at our annual Stonewylde gathering. I rashly said to them a long time ago that when I'd written this particular scene in the book, I'd let them have the text to adapt it for their own handfasting ceremony. So Chapter 7, the handfasting one, caused a massive block in my thinking. I was trying to write it for Avebury, for the Stonewylde fans, instead of staying true to the story itself. Once I'd realised this and overcome that hurdle, the chapter flowed and I'm now on Chapter 9. I'm sure the four couples who want to use my ceremony in Avebury will be able to adapt what I've written, and the log-jam has now freed itself and all is flowing again.
Since last weekend's snow, we've had more. The little robin above was snapped by Mr B this morning as he tried to grab some breakfast. I thought robins were ground feeders and wouldn't use these type of seed feeders, but obviously I'm wrong. We have several robins who visit us for food, which again flies in the face of what I'd always believed: that the robin is territorial and guards his place fiercely. Maybe the snow puts paid to all that and in the end it's only survival that matters.
We've had lots more avian visitors this week - in fact it's become quite ridiculous. I counted eight blackbirds today, and there could have been more rustling around in the leaves at the end of the garden. They're very bold, and I know they're plain birds but I do love them. We've also had a crazy amount of blue-tits, so much so that I actually wrote a blue-tit into the story today. I suddenly realised what I'd done and it made me laugh. Just as Baba Yaga has also appeared, after the wonderful blog post that I linked to on Katherine Langrish's site.
This has been a week of discovering some really amazing blogs. Of course I can't allow myself to be distracted as I just don't have the time for that, but how can I resist? In my next post I'll do some links to these lovely sites so you can all go off and explore them. I feel quite inadequate when I see what some people produce on their blogs. I must say this was one of the reasons I stopped blogging during 2011 - I felt I had nothing to say that would be of any interest. Now I'm starting to think that actually, a bit of rambling may be okay after all. I guess all blogs are different; some erudite, some clever, some entertaining. Mine's like you're popping into my kitchen for a quick cup of tea while I take a break from writing the fifth book.
So on that note, I hope you like this very acrobatic woodpecker who was just showing off to all the pigeons and magpies who couldn't get to the birdfeeder. I have filled up the feeders now, by the way, in case you were wondering about the dearth of food. Our garden has been awarded two Michelin stars by the local birds, and I had to keep running out flapping my arms at the flock of seagulls (yes, in Reading!) who kept trying to land today. They mistakenly took us for a drive-thru. It's back to work for me (10pm but that's no reason to leave Sylvie on the hill and Yul in the Barn) and I wish you all a lovely weekend. On Monday - hopefully - I'll tell you about the wonderful blog from Weymouth of all places (my old home) that I discovered today via good old Twitter, and how I'm now a tree follower. Can you let yourselves out and shut the door behind you please? Bye!
Monday, February 6, 2012
Out in my garden, all was dark and slushy. Even my room with a view didn't cheer me up nor inspire me. All I could see were my footprints in the slush where I'd been topping up the birds' food and water. Also, my chair is right by the radiator which was belting out heat, and this just added to my inertia and lethargy.
Malik, the brown Burmese, was still asleep in his basket - and this at 4pm! He'd been here all day after a quick, paw-flicking trip outside for a wee in the snow. I know the bedding in the basket looks a bit manky but they curl up together every night and love it. Please note the very considerate positioning of the basket - directly under the radiator. And there's more - the hot water pipes run underneath the basket so they have under-basket heating too.
So, nothing for it but to go for a walk. Mr B, who'd been working from home due to the snow, ice and fog, thought I was just a little mad and flatly refused to accompany me. I put on my pink wellies, hat and jacket and set off for the fields and woods that lie behind my house. Outside it was cold and damp, the sort that makes even straight hair go frizzy and sits on your eyelashes.
However ... I'm sure you can guess what I'm going to say next. Yes, as ever the sheer magic of nature got the better of me. Gradually, all those nasty grumpy, gloomy thoughts ('I can't write', 'I'm never going to hit the deadline', 'Might as well give up now', etc) melted away. I watched three crows messing about, found a lovely pine stick to add to my collection (sticks that may be suitable to make into wands), had a good old think about Chapter 7 and why I'm stuck, and even saw the almost full moon peering out from a chink in the freezing fog!
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
I'd also like to share a link to another post about Imbolc which you can read here. Only yesterday, I received a 'hot-off-the-press' copy of Kay's wonderful new book with a personal dedication inside and I was so very excited. I'll blog about this another day, but let me just say now that Kay Sheard's dictionary is absolutely fab and I thoroughly recommend it. I shall be using it in book 5 - say no more!
This is a quickie today as I took the day off from writing yesterday to celebrate my middle son Olly's birthday. He was 27, and all my children and some of Mr B's were here (nine of us) to eat an enormous dinner involving fajitas, nachos and birthday cake. It was a lovely but hectic day, with a lot of cooking, baking, hoovering and bed-making, but the evening was wonderful. Obviously no writing at all took place yesterday and I must catch up today.
So I shall leave you with an old-fashioned 'Riddle-me-ree' from Wild Roses, a huge Stonewylde fan and maker of fine jewellery (see her website here).
How cool is that - to have a special poem written? Thanks to Wild Roses, and a very lovely Imbolc to you all.