Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Dorothy Gale, the ultimate bad-ass

Next week DEVIL'S KISS hits the shelves. At times it's felt like it would never happen, but now it's imminent. Once, not that long ago, I knew personally everyone that had a copy of the ms. Now I've complete strangers contacting me with their feelings about the book.
One of them, Liz de Jager (cool name or what?) runs a great blog called in which she's written about her love for the BIG names in fantasy and science fiction. She's banged the drum on DEVIL'S KISS and her interview with me will be up shortly. Do check her blog out, especially if you're a fan of fantasy literature. Also she'll be running a competition on Monday giving away copies of DEVIL'S KISS, which is nice. You know you want one.
On the subject of fantasy lit, you'll see that I've dedicated today's blog to witch killer extreme, Dorothy Gale. I've been wondering 'what it's all about' and where I stand with the heroines of literature. We've Alice, and Alice in Wonderland is great, but she's passing through, caught up in events out fo her control and applying child's logic to an illogical world (which could just as well be how a child views the 'normal' adult world, full of hypocrisy and people swearing black is white until they decide white is black) and I wonder is she truly a children's hero, or an adult's hero, who happens to be a child. I know I find the book more interesting reading it as an adult than I ever did as a kid.
Not so with Dorothy. Okay, I did begin with the Wizard of Oz the movie (still one of the greatest films ever made and the ultimate quest adventure, yes, and that includes LOTR) but very early on, when I was 8-ish, I got a copy of the book. Now my daughters have that very same copy. Dorothy is a great hero. She bags both wicked witches and does it with style. She has her allies, and they are icons of the psyche themselves. How brilliant the Tin Man is, and the issue with emotion. There would be no Terminator if it hadn't been for him. I could go on, and may come back to this at some point. But Billi SanGreal owes a huge debt to Dorothy, and it's more than I originally suspected.
On other news, the Crystal Palace Book festival was a huge success! The Bookseller Crow was packed, and I think the audience had a great range of storytellers and workshops to keep them busy all day. Met a guy called Alexander Gordon Smith and checked out his series, Furnace, whcih is about a prison in the underworld. It's one of those concepts you wish you'd thought up first.
Many thanks to Alex and Jonathan for getting it all going and succeeding they way it did. Book me for next year.
The Bookseller Crow is a fantastic independent bookshop. We need more of these where the guy or gal behind the counter does it because they LOVE books and they handsell. It sound so inefficient and old fashioned but that's how we want our books sold. There's nothing better than someone recommending something new and strange and then just falling in love with it. I remember when my mate Nilesh told me about Northern Lights. That book set me off on this career. Thanks Nilesh!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Crystal Palace this weekend

This weekend will be the first ever Crystal Palace Book Festival, like it says on the banner. Alex Milway, the writer and illustrator of the wonderful Mousehunter, has done an amazing job in organising this. All the details are on:

I'll be there on Saturday, from 3.20 until 3.40pm at The Bookseller Crow on the Hill bookshop and we'll have advanced copies of Devil's Kiss for sale. So you'll finally know what the hell I've been going on about for the last year.
The workshops will cover a load of different writing genres and subjects, but must be booked in advance. So do get intouch asap, not with me, but through the contacts on the festival website. There's a display and Crash Bang Wallop gallery, and a lot of author readings and signings at the Crow.
Really, what's not to like?

Met a whole bunch of independent booksellers yesterday. What really struck me was the enthusiasm everyone had, especially in these times of economic hardship, about their trade. No one goes into publishing for the money and that applies doubly so to the independents, squeezed by the big retailers, the internet and all. Which reminds me. I have a link to Amazon below and that's fine if you really do live in the middle of no-where. Otherwise it would be great if you did do your book shopping locally. Perhaps you feel shy about approaching the shop owner, so I've prepared a short line for you to memorize and use from the 7th May onwards. Repeat it word for word or the magic won't work.

"Hello. I'd like a dozen copies of Sarwat Chadda's magnificent DEVIL'S KISS, please." Pause for dramatic effect. "On second thoughts, make that two dozen."
Got it?

Writing's been a real slog this month and I'm not quite at my ridiculously low monthly target of 10,000 words. Finding a new voice isn't as straightforward as I thought it would be. My hero's slowly gaining flesh but it'll be a while before he's really living and breathing. Still, he's already in a world of hurt and I'm just into chapter 4. I'm not into writing groups but at times like this I recognise how useful they might be in launching a new idea. Ah well.

Sunday, 19 April 2009


Just saw Let the Right One In, an awesome Swedish vampire movie. It may well be the first Swedish movie I've ever seen and it blew me away.
It's set in 1980's and Oskar, our hero, is a bullied and isolated 12 year old boy. He makes friends with Eli, the mysterious girl from next door.
There was Frostbite and 30 Days and Nights so snow-bound vampires are obviously in. It's the dash of blood on the virginal white snow. It just looks right.
I like my vampires to be vampires. They kill. They drink blood, and the victims don't swoon, they scream and struggle and they DIE. HORRIBLY.
Old school vampires. Doing what they do best.
Eli is a vampire like no other. Just when you thought it had all been done, here we have a mutilated child who is truly alone and loving and pitiful. Just see the scene when she enters unbidden. She really loves Oskar in a way that's so undefended it's heartbreaking.
It's made me think, there's life in the old vampire yet. I must admit I'm a sucker for vampires (no pun intended). I even saw all three of the Underworld movies. Now that's dedication. There's room in the crypt for the Edward Cullens, Lestats, Draculas and Spikes. We never tire of them, I wonder why?
Ther's been the sexy aristocrat thing since Polidori, but it's something more basic than that. We are the vampire's food. We are prey. And though they look like us, do they really care? That's why our heart beats so much quicker.
Eli's final act of retribution is horrific. We're in deadly territory here, when we discuss her victims and responsiblity but it's natural to her to react the way she does. She is lethal in a way that's a mixture of tenderness and terror. It's all love and death with her.
See this film and welcome back the vampire. We've missed you.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Me at the BBC

Arrived ridiculously early Easter Monday morning for my interview on BBC Asian Network. White City was like a ghost town but I found a Costa Coffee and spent an hour gathering myself, checking through my notes and managing a mild panic attack.
Straying out of one's comfort zone has a tendency to induce those sorts of responses in me.
Frankly the last few months have all been a series of mild panic attacks (including one catastrophic public appearance) so I've probably gone a bit overboard with the breathing exercises, the endorphine-inducing runs and the constant interview practise. But you know what? Once the initial shock of a new school/radio station/festival/book fair/whatever is over, it's great fun. Incredibly ego-centric fun.
So, finally collected from reception by Bill, the producer. Shown up to the studio where the talent, Raj and Pablo, are on one side of the window, and I'm sitting with the producer and his team on the other. It's so much like Frasier it's uncanny. Okay, the facilities are up to date with tv screens overhead and a ticker-tape thingie with 'latest news' and it's all buzzing.
Then I got called in, introduced, and it began.
I've attached the link here, so go to Nihal and check out my performance. I'm on from about 1 hour 17 mins into the show.
Finished? Next stop, Woman's Hour!
Raj and Pablo were great hosts and what's more had read the book. My semi-sensible answers are because they totally put me at ease throughout the entire thing. Only the Bette Midler question really threw me.
I did bring up Project X, which is my new book. It's still at very early stages but I've got the villains in place and the hero making mischief. It's about a 12 year old boy, Ash, and one day he'll be as bad-ass as Billi. Right now he's a miserable little git who's about to get involved in something way over his head. I'm sticking to the guiding principle of action stories: MAKE IT WORSE!
But that's still some months down the line. I'm getting really excited about it but forcing myself to keep my big mouth shut until I've got something solid. But I will give you the title.
It's going to be insane.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Radio Interview

On Easter Monday I'll be on BBC Asian Network radio, with Raj and Pablo (covering for Nihal), the two very cool looking guys opposite.
Very excited about this one, though I doubt I'll be doing any deejaying, I'll be on between 10-11am. The last time I was at the TV Centre in Wood Lane I saw John Craven, which only shows you how old I am.
Do tune in if you can.
It's all gathering pace, it's less than a month now until DEVIL'S KISS hits the shelves, and there's the Crystal Palace Book Festival on 24-26th April. Lots of fun things ahead.
On other fronts, the Japanese deal for DEVIL'S KISS came good, as has an audio(!) version of the book, so soon you'll be able to download it onto your iPod, how cool is that?
Project X has come to a bit of a shuddering halt, will try and give it a boot today and try and finish a few chapters. I may talk a bit about it on Monday, if the subject comes up.
So, tune in a do try and make it to Crystal Palace for the festival. It would be great to see you!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Heroine Addiction

Just over a month and DEVIL'S KISS will finally be on the shelves. If any of you can make the Crystal Palace Festival on Saturday 25th April, there'll be a few advanced copies there at the Bookseller Crow on the hill bookshop. I'll be there too so do say hello. Details are here:
Which brings me to ... the why.
Why a girl heroine?
The simple answer is that I have daughters, so it was probably a given that I'd write a female lead. However, very early on I was told, in no uncertain terms, that boys wouldn't read my book. Girls read boy heroes, no problem, but boys don't read about heroines.
Is that true? Hmm ...
It was Northern Lights that first inspired me to be a writer, and we've got a classic heroine in Lyra. What's interesting is how she portrays classic 'feminine' atributes. She's quick-witted and has intuitive powers. She's the brains of the outfit. It's Will who's the warrior, a standard sexual stereotype.
I wanted to turn this over for DEVIL'S KISS. Billi is the warrior and Kay, the boy, is the witch. Kay was as interesting to write as Billi ever was (but I'll save that for another discussion). I think I always 'knew' Billi. She's based on the 'reluctant' warrior, the Hector rather than the Achilles (sorry, I had to get my usual Iliad reference in) and very much inspired by historical warrior women. The two most famous would be Boudicca and the Rani of Jhansi. Both were forced to take the role of military leaders and found themselves naturally gifted at it.
That's Billi.
There's something terribly glamourous about the fantasy of war, for men especially. I can't comment particularly how women feel about it but so much of our literature and our entertainments are tied up with the image of a man with a gun or sword or whatever. I'm a total liberal and very anti-war (up to a point, if I must be honest) but still there's something about the idea of being a warrior that doesn't go away.
Billi doesn't have that. She's not conned by the glamour or the comraderies of the warrior cult. She knows its a dirty job but she's got to do it. That's why the relationships in her life get so much space in the book. The action is violent, extreme and intense and (I hope) demonstrates the emotion damage that violence brings, but it doesn't occupy that many pages. But Billi pays a heavy price for being what she is, a warrior and a killer. What drives Billi is her feelings towards Kay, towards her father and the other knights close to her. Without these conflicting emotions your character is a psychopath, something that is easily ignored in the typical 'kill and quip' style of Hollywood entertainment (and why Bourne is superseding Bond in today's 'modern' sensibilties and why Quantum of Solace was such a disappointment after Casino Royale). This emotional conflict was so much easier to write using a female protagonist, even if it means half the population won't pick up the book.
But this self-reflection on the nature of being a warrior isn't exclusively female. The early Fleming Bonds definately have it. Bond knows, deep down, he's something incomplete, and the Sharpe novels often have brief moments when Sharpe realises the dirty business he's in, but does it because he can't do anything else. He manages by being, ultimately, cut-off from his actions, and we've seen what happens to warriors like that, they loose what it is to be human.
The villain of my book is picked for that very reason. He's defined by blood and war, blinded by his own nobility and righteousness. I wanted someone who could be the ultimate 'good guy'. But in being the very best, he has become the very worst.