Saturday, 23 May 2015

Review of The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature

My review of The Oxford Companion to Children's Literature, edited by Daniel Hahn, was in the Times Literary Supplement last week. It is available online, but you have to subscribe. Also reviewed with it were Brian Sewell's The White Umbrella, and Elizabeth Taylor's Mossy Trotter.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A Writer's Week

 A Writer's Week

People seem to be quite interested in how writers and artists deal with their time - not least my family. (It is a proper job, I promise.)

Following on from Sarah McIntyre's post about the life of an illustrator, I thought I would post a fairly typical week from a writer's point of view.

The actual act of writing a book - of putting words on the page, whether by hand or by keyboard, (and I do both) - takes up, as you will see, a very small amount of time. 

Others will have their own routines: my days are always different, which makes setting aside composition time crucial. I don't have word limits, but I have something better: guilt.

Generally speaking, I try to leave some time for my own reading - I have six or seven books going at once, which currently include: Samuel Pepys (ongoing for five years); J G Ballard, Claire Messud, Robertson Davies's The Cornish Trilogy, James Davidson's book on Greek Love, and Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake, each in various states of perusal, each clamouring for attention like hungry fledglings.

The best time for reading is between 4:30 and 6:30 in the morning; then I can snooze again for an hour before getting up properly. Piano practice comes and goes; as does exercise. As for a social life... well, that somehow sneakily manages to find its way in, proffering cocktails with a glimmer in its eye.

Monday 18th May

My week began at 615 am, as I woke up with a dog's (admittedly very friendly) snout in my face. She's only a pup, and she wakes up earlier and earlier as spring shades into summer, sprinting out of the front door like a racehorse. I grabbed the time - quiet, dawnish time is the best for creation - to work on The King's Revenge, the final part in my Darkening Path trilogy, which is out next year. 

I did so, in a happy semi-daze, until 10, when I was teaching a Latin lesson over Skype. It never fails to fill me with joy that I can pass on the words that Ovid and Vergil spoke, to a child inhabiting a high rise flat on the opposite side of the world. I'm sure those poets would have loved it. Perhaps it would be no different for them than communicating with a spirit, or a god.

The rest of the day is taken up with making editorial notes on someone's manuscript, and reading for the children's book round up I do biannually for Literary Review. Out of fifty or so books, every six months, I have to choose a mere dozen or so. Each year (and I've been doing it for about ten years now) it becomes harder.

In the late afternoon, most days, you'll usually find me jumping onto the underground for a face-to-face (that is what we call them now) lesson. Today, it's in Chelsea, and a young pupil doing her Common Entrance Latin. I don't mind train time, as I usually read, or, more excitingly, think, or stare at the passengers and wonder what they're all doing. Which is, no doubt, making notes for their own novels.

Tuesday 19th May

Another early start: I managed about an hour's work on The King's Revenge, whilst simultaneously brushing my teeth, taking a phone call at 7:30 from a colleague about a project we are working on that is soon coming to fruition, and preventing my dog from eating my toothbrush. I hustled onto the overground for a meeting concerning said project, in Haggerston: we huddled around the computer, making notes, until 1pm, whilst our dogs barked around our feet.

I hightailed it back for a quick lunch before a pupil arrived and we became immersed in Catullus for two hours - the longer poems, which I have always loved.

Then it was back on the tube for another lesson - this time in South Kensington, and with a much younger boy for beginner's Latin - before meeting an editor at 8pm. We discussed a potential project over dinner, which is slowly becoming less like an inchoate idea and more like a book.

Leaving her building, I got myself locked in to the hallway. Rescue soon came, but not before I envisaged sleeping on the mat. I could have made quite a nice bunk in there. Private, too.

Wednesday 20th May

The website We Love This Book asked me to write a piece  about the state of fantasy in children's books, so the morning passed in its composition. I filed it smugly before lunch time, made some notes on someone else's manuscript, and spent the afternoon reading for the Literary Review round up, answering emails intermittently (as well as Twittering, blogging, and all the other social media ephemera we must contend with). A piece about writing fantasy, done for The Guardian, was published on their website today, so I dealt with  feedback from that, which can sometimes feel like pinging table tennis balls back and forth.

At 6pm I sped off to the bright lights of Soho, for the launch of Elizabeth Day's new book, Paradise City, which was in the Ham Yard Hotel. There were actual proper canapés, and gallons of wine, and I'm sure I saw Sebastian Faulks. There's nothing writers like more than parties, particularly with actual proper canapés and wine. It means you don't have to have any dinner. (And the mini-burgers were a delight.)

Thursday 21st May

My first full day at home for about a month, as one of my pupils cancelled her lesson in the evening. The King's Revenge occupied the morning; in the afternoon, I began to go through the edits of my book The Double Axe, coming out in Spring next year. It's a re-telling of the Minotaur story. I also started to compose a synopsis of it that the publishers need. In breaks I answered emails about a host of other things: forthcoming events; Tweeting a competition; arranging lessons.

In the evening I read - for my own pleasure: J G Ballard's Hello America, a trippy, steam-punky fantasy, which I am halfway through, and one of Claire Messud's novels, When the World Was Easy, about a pair of sisters on either side of the world. I am rather an admirer of Messud: she has a lucid, calm intelligence that is deeply poignant and precise.

Friday 22nd May

I am in the last third of The King's Revenge. Battles are forming; positioning my characters is becoming more crucial then ever; working out how they've developed over the course of two books, placing them into the final configurations that should - I repeat, should - put them into an explosive finale. 

Having woken up with glee, and eaten a whole duck egg for breakfast, disappointingly I only managed about 750 words with pen and paper, but I felt that they were good words. Perhaps I should try a bigger egg.

Another lesson took up the rest of the morning - Greek translation for two hours - and in the afternoon I turned back to The Double Axe, and my editor's marginal comments. Some are easy to deal with, others less so; but it's all part of a long process of shaping, forming and massaging, to get the script into shape. 

And so Friday afternoon comes. Although I have written TAXES in my diary, as I do most Fridays, that little green folder mysteriously fails to move itself to my desk.  I begin each tax year with a song in my heart and a new system; by about now, that system has reverted to my tried and tested one: otherwise known as Bernard's from Black Books

"This is March to... boobelyboo
[takes out more receipts]
Bernard: this is err... misc
[takes out more receipts]
Bernard: and this is... other."

And each time, I do it all in three days of spreadsheets, receipts, bank statements, random screaming, and scribbled notes. But just not today. Now, I feel, it might be time to have a glass of wine. Writers do get weekends too. Sometimes...

Frances Hardinge interview for Books for Keeps

I've interviewed the novelist Frances Hardinge for Books for Keeps. Read it here.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How to write a fantasy world: Guardian piece

Good afternoon. I've written a piece for The Guardian about writing fantasy, which you can read here.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Launch party for THE KING'S SHADOW

What ho! Here are some ace pics from the party last night, at Daunt Books, Chelsea. Find them on the Tatler website.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Publication Day for THE KING'S SHADOW

Now that I've got your attention, let us all celebrate the publication, today, of the second in The Darkening Path series: THE KING'S SHADOW.

Here's the blurb:

Simon's sister and Flora's brother are prisoners of the Broken King, and they have entered his land determined to rescue them. But here, nothing is quite what it seems. Who can Simon and Flora trust? What does Pike, their mysterious companion, stand to gain? As rumours of war and revolution swirl around them, and as the sinister Knight of the Swan dogs their every move, the pair must confront their terrifying final task. And if they can free their siblings, will they then be able to open the way between the worlds, and return home?"

You know what you have to do! The best thing is to go to your local bookshop and ask for it. The next best thing is to head, electronically, to the Waterstones website here, or the Foyles website here. Go forth and devour!