Wednesday 30 March 2011

"Well, I'm Back."

Today I end my journey - today is the last stop on the long road 'West of the Moon'. And I'd like to thank all of you who've come along with me, even for part of it, for your tremendous patience with this slightly odd business of an author hyping her own book.  I mean, gosh, it's not really the way my mother brought me up.  I, like you, was taught not to blow my own trumpet.  You were supposed to receive a compliment with a deprecating smile and some such remark as, 'Oh it's nothing, really'.  The phrase 'He's not backwards at coming forwards!' was not used with approval.

But times have changed, and I'm not sure now how useful some of that advice really was. There are a lot of books in the world, and to assume (or hope) that one's own will attract attention while one stands modestly in the wings waiting for the applause, may actually be more arrogant than to go out there and tell people about it.  If it was worth writing, perhaps it's worth talking about.

I hope I haven't bored you.  I hope I've managed (I certainly tried) to find different approaches, different ways of saying - effectively - I spent getting on for ten years writing this book, I loved doing it, I love the characters, and I love the folklore and mythology which overshadow and permeate it.  I want to share my enthusiasm and joy not just in the book I created but in the wider and greater context of all the stories I discovered along the way - folktales from Iceland and Norway and the Orkneys, the Icelandic sagas, the Eddas, and the stories and legends of the Mi'kmaq of Canada.

Anyway, today I am delighted to have been asked to talk about anti-tales (and anti-heroes) at The Paradoxes of Mr Pond .  Here you will find me talking about characters such as Bluebeard, Lady Mary, Mr Fox and my own Harald Silkenhair.  And to celebrate the end of the tour, there's also a rather unusual competition at The Hog's Head to win a signed copy of 'West of the Moon'.

It'll be back to normal on Seven Miles of Steel Thistles after this.  But I've enjoyed every step of my journey and met some wonderful people along the way.  Especial thanks to all the fantastic bloggers who hosted me. And now at last I can say (drawing a deep breath):

"Well, I'm back."

Monday 28 March 2011

Diana Wynne Jones - In Memoriam

I never met her.  But many of you will know exactly what I mean when I say that in a way, I feel as if I had known her for years.  That mysterious connection between reader and author, between the storyteller and those who love to listen, worked its inextricable magic and linked us forever.  And this feeling is particularly strong when the author concerned is one whose work we first met and loved as children.  I was in my early teens when ‘Wilkins Tooth’ came out in 1973, and I’ve never stopped reading her books from that day to this.

And such wonderful books!  Diana Wynne Jones is – for as Jane Yolen has said, her writing will continue to shine for us – a writer whose warmth of personality fills her work.  Her range was extraordinary.  Sane, witty, exuberant, compassionate, yet also eldritch, eerie, poetic, tragic.  There’s the wild fantasy of the Dalemark Quartet, a world in which the gods come and go in a way that raises the hair on the back of your neck, yet – typically for Diana, a grounded writer if ever there was one – a world full of complex politics, flawed heroes and difficult moral choices.  She understood anger.  She understood grief.  She knew that bad things happen to good people, and good people can do bad things.

Many of her heroes are underdogs, people who feel insignificant and disadvantaged - until under pressure they discover hidden talents, hidden strength.  On the other hand, she also wrote about the responsibilities of power.  In ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’, she shows us why young Christopher uses his power to help his uncle exploit other people in other worlds – unloved and na├»ve, he falls for his uncle’s flattery – but his innocence is not really an excuse.  We see that Christopher hasn’t used his intelligence.  When he finally does put two and two together, it is too late for the mermaids.  Christopher feels guilty and he deserves to.  As Chrestomanci, it will be his duty to police the world of magic, to ensure that power is harnessed, not abused.

I don’t know which of her books is my favourite.  There seems to be one for every mood.  It could be ‘The Time of the Ghost’ – a tour de force of such intricate construction that even though I’ve read it countless times I still sometimes can’t remember the identity of the narrator, the poor speechless ghost who goes whirling through the tragi-comic chaos of her past life.  Or it could be ‘The Homeward Bounders’, that wonderful take on the legends of Prometheus, the Flying Dutchman, the Wandering Jew – and on war-gaming – in which displaced Jamie wanders forever between the worlds, trying to get back Home.   Or it could be ‘Dogsbody’, or ‘Eight Days of Luke’, or ‘Drowned Ammet’, or ‘Fire and Hemlock.’

And she was so funny.  Think of the hilarious Sci-fi and Fantasy convention in ‘Deep Secret’ (clearly drawn from life!) and the indispensable ‘Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ which will unerringly lead the would-be author – safe, but goggling – past every one of the innumerable potholes and mantraps on the road to writing a fantasy.

I fancy that Fantasyland has fallen very quiet today.  And that every pennon of every castle, from the Tower of Sorcery to the Dark Citadel, has been lowered to honour the passing of the queen of fantasy.  Diana Wynne Jones, a great lady and a great writer.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (17)

Things have got a bit ahead of me over the last few days - I was busy most of yesterday with the Daily Telegraph letter, and although I don't know if they will use it, heartfelt thanks to everyone who signed it and/or sent emails of support.  As Pamela, in the 27th comment to my last post, points out, it's just daft to make speeches about promoting literacy while at the same time cutting libraries and library staff.

But now I'll get off my soapbox (which I rarely climb) and get back to the West of the Moon tour - which will end at the end of the month, you may like to know (it's really not going to go on for ever!) To return to the metaphor of the journey which which I set out, I'm over the Misty Mountains and have reached a safe haven at Serendipity - where I'll be until Saturday, answering questions and writing about this and that and generally lounging about having a good time.  Today is an interview about my 'Big Break' - the wonderful day when I finally got a publisher.

And if you missed the last couple of stops and would like to visit, recently I've been at Girls Without A Bookshelf (how do they manage?) issuing my Ten Commandments of Creative Writing, at The Book Mogul trying desperately to choose my Five Favourite Books of All Time - and at Bloggers[heart]Books - where they asked me some really lovely questions - including which fantasy world I would like to visit, and my definition of love. (Wow.)

Thankyou all for staying with me - the end is in sight!

Tuesday 22 March 2011

'Leading Authors' to propose list of 50 books children should read.

Having read this article in the Daily Telegraph, which reports Michael Gove as about to begin an initiative to get children reading 50 books a year, with the help of a list of suggested titles to be compiled by 'leading authors', we, the undersigned, have written to the Telegraph as follows:

Dear Sir,

Everybody must approve of children reading more, so Michael Gove’s wish to raise the number of books we expect our children to read is no bad one in principle. However, the idea of a list of 50 titles ‘that every child should read’ sounds prescriptive and inflexible - likely to concentrate on classics or high-profile books which teaching professionals will already know.

There are plenty of guides to good reading for children: for example the School Library Associations's 'Riveting Reads', or ‘The Ultimate Book Guide’, published by AC Black, which lists more than 700 titles, chosen by a broad field of over 170 children's authors, with short descriptions and links leading from one book to another on the ‘what to read next’ principle. 

But in any case there are skilled, professional people who know more about this than we do: librarians.  What is needed is a flexible approach which can offer children the books most suitable to their ability and preferences. Librarians can do this.  It’s no good suggesting to a child that she ‘should’ read ‘The Wind in the Willows’, if she doesn’t actually like it. Instead of a golden standard, the list of fifty books could become just another bugbear. 

It seems perverse to begin this initiative against a background of the proposed closure of a high percentage of English public libraries and the sacking of many school librarians. Fifty books a year would cost well over £300 per child: much better to share them!  Perhaps Mr Gove should consider protecting school library provision by law. 


Katherine Langrish
Keren David
Ellen Renner
Charles Butler
Nick Green
Jackie Morris
Marie-Louise Jensen
Tamsyn Murray
Adele Geras
Debi Gliori
Maria Nikolajeva
Susie Day
Bryony Pearce
Frances Thomas
Annie Dalton
Fiona Dunbar
Liz Kessler
Gillian Philip
Mary Hoffman
Celia Rees
John Dougherty
Michelle Lovric
Dennis Hamley
Malorie Blackman
Joanna Kenrick
Catherine Johnson
Savita Kalhan
Dee Shulman
Jo Nadin
Philippa Francis
Malcolm Rose
Julie Sykes
Elizabeth Baguley

Monday 21 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (16)

Over at the Book Mogul today.  She asked me to list my five favourite children's books of all time. Yikes! For this way-too-difficult task, I got my daughter to help.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Finding Your Voice

This morning I am over at my other home, The Awfully Big Blog Adventure, collective blog of the (British) Scattered Authors Society, where I am thoroughly enjoying myself.  You see, yesterday I hauled out all my old manuscripts going back to when I was ten, and took a look at them.  In between cringing, laughing, and occasionally exclaiming 'Wow - not bad...!' I had a  heck of a lot of fun, and thought I would share with you some of the steps along the way to what is called 'finding your own voice'.  I don't know if there are any short cuts.  There weren't for me - but I loved every minute of it.

Friday 18 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (15)

I'm spending this morning  at My Favourite Books where there's a lovely review of the first part of 'West of the Moon', plus a giveaway, plus an interview in which I answer some questions about what, for me, is the hardest thing about writing, what makes an author 'successful', researching folklore and more.

(Incidentally when you've read it, scroll down to Liz's review yesterday of the new Melissa Marr novel, which sounds rich and dark and wonderful.  Can't wait!)

Monday 14 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (14)

I've been stopping at The Bookette for a couple of days now, and - hooray! - today there's a lovely review from Becky the Bookette herself, along with a giveaway of 'West of the Moon'.  Hurry on over there if you'd like to see what she thinks of my book, and perhaps also check out my yesterday's post of British YA and children's book recommendations. 

In the (highly unlikely) case you haven't seen it before, the logo above is for Becky's initiative, the British Books Reading Challenge, promoting our wonderful home-grown titles.  Not that we don't love ALL YA fiction, you understand, but sometimes it's good to wave the flag a little!

Saturday 12 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (13)

Today I get a welcome break from talking about my own books.  Vicki and Lyndsey at Heaven Hell and Purgatory Book Reviews run a great feature called 'So I Say Thankyou For The Books', in which guests get to talk about some of the books we've loved and which have influenced or guided us.  You're bound to recognise many of the titles that have meant so much to me over the years... what would your own list contain?

Friday 11 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (12) Scribble City Giveaway!

THE WINNERS OF THE WEST OF THE MOON GIVEAWAY on Scribble City Central can be seen here .  Many thanks to Lucy Coats for hosting the event and to all of you who commented or retweeted!

The tour continues tomorrow at Heaven Hell and Purgatory Book Reviews, where I look forward to finding out how many of the books I read as a child are the ones you remember too.

Thursday 10 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (11) MG Harris blog swap

Today is blog-swap day!  The YA writer MG Harris and I are going to try out what life is like over at the other’s blog.  She’s coming here, and I’m heading off to her place, both to be interviewed by the same two young people.  Libby and Patrick are big fans of MG’s thrilling adventure series ‘The Joshua Files’, and also of my Troll trilogy ‘West of the Moon’, so they were the perfect pair to pitch us some difficult questions.

Just to introduce you in case you don't already know her, MG Harris was born in Mexico City, but with her mother and sister subsequently moved to live in Frankfurt, Germany, and then Manchester, England.  She and her sister made regular visits to her father in Mexico, and at the age of 15, MG fell in love with the mysterious Mayan ruins of Yucatan.

Although she loved writing stories as a child, MG also had a passion for science, which blossomed into a career in biotechnology.  She began writing again after a severe skiing accident in 2005 forced her to spend weeks recuperating… it was, she says, “a techno-thriller which combined my two intellectual loves – molecular biology and archaeology.  Like most first novels it was rejected by every agent who saw it.  Curses!”

However, after reading a book about the decipherment of Mayan writing, ‘Breaking the Mayan Code’ by Michael Cole, MG was inspired to write the first book in her YA series, “The Joshua Files: Invisible City” (Scholastic 2008).  This is a rip-roaring edge-of-the-seat thriller, a wonderful mixture of ancient Mayan cities, mysterious curses, dreams, and futuristic sci-fi, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  MG’s hero Joshua has barely time to take in the news of his father’s tragic death in a plane crash in Mexico, before all sorts of sinister things start to happen.  His house is raided and robbed, his laptop stolen, his father’s books disappear.  Soon his mother is in hospital, and Joshua is setting out for Mexico with a couple of newfound friends, to try and find out what really happened to his father.  Was it accident or murder?  Who can he trust?  Are UFO’s to blame? What is the Ix Codex?  And will the end of the world really come in 2012?

These books are brilliant fun!  And I really like the Mexican background, which of course MG knows and  writes about so well.  There's a moment in 'Invisible City' about tarantula spiders casually sunning themselves on the hot tarmac at the side of the road which made me open my eyes and wonder how much I really want to see Mayan cities... and yet I do... I do! 

The series continues with "Ice Shock" and "Zero Moment", while the fourth book of Joshua's adventures "Dark Parallel" will be out on April 7th 2011.

Now for Libby and Patrick's questions and  MG Harris's answers - and then do please come on over to MG's own blog to see how I'm doing...

1.                   What is the book you wish you had written and why?
If On A Winter's Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. It's a post-modern classic which plays with the idea of writing, reading and the 20th century novel. One quotation from that novel appears in The Joshua Files and the title of ZERO MOMENT is taken from the same quotation.

2.                   Who are your characters inspired by?
Benicio, Josh’s older cousin, is inspired slightly by my cousin Oscar. Both are cool, good-looking and brilliant (Benicio is an aeronautical engineer and pilot, Oscar is doing a doctorate in fluid mechanics).
I think it’s possible that Carlos Montoyo is in some way a version of my own father, who died when I was twenty. It seemed obvious after I’d finished INVISIBLE CITY – my father was also named Carlos. But I certainly didn’t plan it that way. My father was the Chief Executive of a mining company, responsible for many hugely complex projects. So Carlos Montoyo has that kind of taking-care-of-business attitude. Occasionally I have even quoted my father word-for-word, in some of the fatherly talks he has with Josh, things that my father said to me when I was the same age as Josh.

3.                   What can we expect from your new book DARK PARALLEL?
Putting a time-travel device in the plot is a bit like Chekov’s gun – if it’s mentioned in Act 1 then you can bet that it will be used in Act 3. In ZERO MOMENT Josh has repaired the time travel device – the Bracelet of Itzamna. He’s already tried to change the past and save his father. It’s given Josh a healthy fear of the unpredictability of time travel and he’s not keen to try it again. But someone else may have changed the past – and now the world is back on track for an apocalypse at the end of 2012. Josh’s hand is somewhat forced…and he’s thrown into a full-on time travel adventure. So we’re going into the ancient Mayan past, and into a parallel world of the present – but with a very different, horrific recent history.

There’s teenage romance too. The tension between Josh and his reluctant betrothed Ixchel finally erupts...

4.                   If your book was ever made into a film, who would be your ideal cast?
I’m not an expert on young actors and almost anyone who looks right now to play the youngsters would be too old by the time any film could be made! But here are some possibilities who right now could be ideal...
Carlos Montoyo – Edward James Olmos
Eleanor Garcia -   Olivia Williams
Andres Garcia – why not Andy Garcia himself?!
Blanco Vigores - Steven Berkoff
Susannah St John – Dianne Wiest
Simon Madison – Cillian Murphy
Benicio - someone like Diego Luna when he was in Y Tu Mama Tambien

Wednesday 9 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (10)

After two days escaping into the Brecon Beacons (the weather was glorious and the views from the top of  Pen-y-Fan, which is nearly 3000 ft high, sublime) - I feel almost as though I really have been on an adventure like Bilbo's or Frodo's, journeying up mountains... and so it's lovely to reach the Homely House of the Book Maven, presided over by wise, welcoming, and magical writer herself, Mary Hoffman.

It seems a suitable point to stop, sit down in a comfortable chair, and chat about trolls and fearsome Viking warriors.  But don't worry, we're safe here, they can't get in.

Image: The view from Pen y Fan looking towards Brecon

Tuesday 8 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (9)

So here I am this morning over at the Bookwitch being interviewed by the Bookwitch herself, while her talented photographer prowls around snapping...

I appear to be talking far too much, and at a great pace too, but they are very patient with me and offer me sandwiches (probably in an effort to shut me up for a few seconds!)

I'm like this when I get excited.  And I seem to have confused them about watermills.  But I certainly had fun!

Monday 7 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (8)

This morning I'm writing to you from Wales (actually).  I'm sitting on a low, comfy, faded sofa in front of a wood fire, surrounded by old stone walls.  The dog is gnawing a bone.  Outside are beautiful mountains (which later on we'll be walking up); and when I woke this morning I looked out of the window and saw a beautiful red fox running towards the house over the grey frosty field.
However, such are the wonders of modern technology, I am also to be found this morning at wonderful Wondrous Reads, where I will be talking about monsters - vampires, zombies, the whole nine yards. 

Oh - and what happened when Frankenstein met the Wolf Man...

Saturday 5 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (7) The Realms of Gold

My host at Asamum Booktopia this morning, Emma, asked if I would write about what public libraries have meant to me, and as I did so, I realised more and more about how very important they've always been in my life.  To me, shutting down a library is like pulling out another of the foundation stones of civilisation.  They are one of the few public places left where everyone and anyone can feel at home.  In fact, I can't think of an alternative indoor public space where you don't have to pay, or explain your business, or dress a certain way or to a certain standard, or buy anything - even a coffee! - and you can stay quietly reading all day if you want to, in company with others, safe and warm.  And that's even before I get on to the books... Please come and join me in the realms of gold!

Picture credit: Eldorado, Dreamworks

Friday 4 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (6)

I thought it might be helpful to add a list of the places 'West of the Moon' has already been on tour - do click the links if you haven't seen them.

RECLUSIVE MUSE (in which I talk about the Nis, the little house spirit who befriends Peer)
SCRIBBLE CITY CENTRAL (in which Lucy Coats reviews the book and I answer her Burning Question)
MOSTLY BOOKS (in which I am interviewed)
MR RIPLEY'S ENCHANTED BOOKS (in which I talk about the creation of fantasy worlds) 

Now for the exciting part!  Head over to Scribble City Central  once again and find out how to win one of four copies  of 'West of the Moon' - and the competition is international, so everyone gets a chance!

And if you can't wait, and happen to own a Kindle, you can download the book here - or you can order it from any good bookshop or from Amazon.

Thursday 3 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (5)

Today's the day!  World Book Day and the publication day of 'West of the Moon' and my husband's birthday as well - so to celebrate, you'll find me over at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books, talking about the creation of worlds, large and small, and the truths that breathe through the apparent untruth of fantasy fiction.  Is it all childish make-belief?  Or something deeper?  

Here's the grand vision of world creation:

And here's the craftsman's:


Wednesday 2 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (4)

Today the tour makes a halt at 'Mostly Books', a vibrant little independent bookshop tucked away on an old street in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.  Here I've been answering questions from the owner, Mark Thornton, about 'West of the Moon', writing for young people, and some of the books I've read and loved for years.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

West of the Moon tour (3)

This morning the West of the Moon tour moves to fellow fantasy author and myth-enthusiast Lucy Coats' blog, Scribble City Central, where you'll find Lucy's lovely review of  'West of the Moon' - along with my response to her Burning Question!

And while you're there, do take a look at some of Lucy's fascinating posts, especially her series of Mythic Fridays - they inspired my own Fairytale Reflections, and are well worth checking out.