Monday, 30 May 2011

The afterlife for books

Slowly but surely I am getting rid of my books. No more stacking them into bookshelves or piling them in corners or under desks. Once read, they go. Doesn't matter if they're signed first editions or the 'must have' YA of the season, I have to clear my shelves. In fact, if you're in South London there's a good chance you will find quite a lot signed YA novels, I've offloaded a few quite recently and some of them are BIG NAMES.
Now, if course, the only reason to clear the shelves is to put new books in there, which is, after all, the best thing about this strategy. NEW BOOKS. New, pretty packages of words with fine covers, a sensible thickness and weight. I love books.
There are specific books that I love more than others, ones I will not get rid out. The first copy of Wizard of Oz I ever bought with my own pocket money. My first Dungeons and Dragons PHB, which I coloured in myself and at some point, will finish colouring in.
My daughter's moved onto Harry Potter so we're holding onto them, but not for sentimental reasons.
After all, I do have a library down the road. Whatever book I need, I can get. For example, I recently gave away my entire Percy Jackson collection. Then, suddenly, I needed Lighting Thief. My editor and I were debating how much gratuitous sex, violence and profanity I could put into a mid-grade novel and she suggested I check out the first Percy book.
I'm somewhat amazed to discover that the answer was NONE AT ALL.
So, you'll be pleased to know my next novel will be considerably shorter than anticipated.
The only books I did feel a slight pang of pain when I gave them to the charity shop was Phillip Pullman's Northern Lights triology. But they had worked their magic on me already, so let them be freed to work their magic on another!
I love browsing for books in charity shops. There used to be loads on Charing Cross Road , now sadly converted into cake and coffee shops mainly. I still miss the Virago shop that used to be down there and the Islamic bookshop too. The main attraction is their shambolic shelving. Everything is just squeezed in, irrespective of genre or popularity. It's an adventure. You might stumble onto anything and, at 50p a pop, risk a gamble and pick up something you wouldn't otherwise try. That how I ended up reading the autobiography of Reggie Kray, Born Fighter, for example.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Devil's Kiss in Italian

Sometimes I feel a bit in awe of the publishing process, and a large part of that centres around the talent behind the bookcovers so I'm perticulary pleased with this, the Italian cover of Devil's Kiss, which has just come out.
My translater, Giorgio, contacted me to arrange an interview for his Italian website, but his questions were cool and different from what I'm normally asked, I'm uploading the interview (in English), here.

1) Billi SanGreal: a kick-ass heroine who’s not just brave and strong, but also well trained and highly educated miles away from the image of an inactive princess waiting for her prince charming to make her happy. Are you trying to tell young readers something about the role of women in modern society?
I have two daughters, so I knew I was going to write a heroine. But I wanted the books to have a mythic quality, after all we’re talking about Templars and monsters and archangels. So I based Billi on the mythic heroines like Athene, like Boudica and the Rani of Jhansi, all powerful warriors as well as being female.
Athene is perhaps the biggest inspiration. She’s the goddess of war and wisdom, and wisdom is what Billi’s chasing. How does she know she’s making the right choice? Because her father told her so? Because society expects her to be like that? She questions, and that is what’s important.
I think, even now in the 21st Century, there are still old-fashioned gender expectations which, sadly, get reflected in a lot of literature aimed at girls. I think it starts early with stories like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. What do these heroines actually do? Cinderella looks pretty in her dresses and Sleeping Beauty just lies there!
This seeps into a lot of YA fiction too, where the heroine is fundamentally passive and it’s the male love interest that holds all the power. That’s not the world I want my daughters to inherit.
2) "What is Hell? Hell is the cry of a starving infant. Hell is the begging for mercy then denied. Hell is the betrayals between man and wife. The lies between father and child. Hell is where the heart is.”
OMG! That certainly leaves not much room for Heaven! What can we do?
Remember who you’re quoting, it was the Devil and he’ll have a fairly negative view of humanity, so I wouldn’t trust his opinion on anything.
But Devil’s Kiss is a grim, dark story. It’s not your usual paranormal romance where the girl gets the boy and they all live happily ever after. I wanted the horror and brutality of the world Billi lives in to be authentic and sincere, she’s playing for the highest stakes imaginable.
Billi and the Templars are about the struggle. They know they’ll never win, the best they can do is keep the darkness at bay for a little longer. That takes a particular type of bravery, knowing it will never end but carrying on regardless.
It’s too easy to let morality and common humanity fall by the wayside as you pursue your ambitions. The Templars are heroic because they fight to defend humanity when at times they may feel humanity is no better than the creatures they face. That’s especially true in Dark Goddess when Billi realises the enemy is just as dedicated as her, and they may be right, not her.
3) As translator of your book I had to do a bit of research before starting to work on the text and I believe a book, when is well written like in this case, has the power of pushing the reader to find out and discover a lot of information he didn’t know or care about before. How important was research for Devil’s Kiss – or any other book you wrote or are about to write?
I do a lot of research for all my books, for me it’s half the fun. Firstly, they all have some historical aspect to them and they’re set in real locations, I need to get those right. Book 2, Dark Goddess, is set in Russia so I spent a week in Moscow because I knew a large part of the story would happen there. I read up on Russian history to get a few ideas, visited the museums and read some of their literature (The Master and the Margerita by Bulgakov is awesome).
Before I wrote Devil’s Kiss I read everything I could on the Templars, probably for about six months.
The new series is set in India, so again lots of reading and a trip out there to walk the streets and alleyways of Varanasi. By actually being there I get a depth of realism I couldn’t get any other way.
Remember, my first book is set in my home town. I need all my other books to have the same level of detail or else I’ve failed.
4) I would say London is not just the setting of your first book, but a real character that makes the story unique. 3 must-see places in London by Sarwat Chadda’s travel agency?
I love London. I’ve lived here most of my life and I never tire of it. I’m glad you think London had a character of its own, that was exactly what I was after.
Temple Church (of course). The entire area of Temple is great, so bring some sandwiches and explore.
Then try Southwark from Tower Bridge, the walk along the Thames through to Waterloo. You’ve got the cathedral, the Globe, London Bridge and brilliant views of St. Paul’s. I’d do that at night when the city’s lit up.
Finally I’d spend a day in Knightsbridge, visiting the museums. You’ve got the Victoria and Albert, The Natural History and the Science Museum all next to one another. There’s Kensington Palace, Harrods and the Albert Memorial.
5) Turning page after page of Devil’s Kiss I found it highly visual and often thought “Gosh, this scene would look great on a big screen!” or “I’d love to see this fight”. Should we readers get the pop corn ready for a night at the movies?
Ah, I hope to be able to make an announcement on that soon. There’s been screen interest on and off over the last few years and I’d be so happy if something like that did happen. I love epics!
6) Any tips for all the new writers wishing to make a name for themselves in the crowded children’s literature world?
Do not follow the crowd. It will serve you best in the long run. Write what only you can write and don’t try to copy someone else.
Each of us has a unique view of the world, and something we truly believe in, that is what you should write about. Aim at writing the best book you can, not something you think will sell. If your heart’s not in it the reader will know.
7) As a child, what were your favourite readings? Were you a frequent reader?
Oh, I read a lot! I loved the Hobbit and I still think it’s my favourite book. I was also hugely into the Greek myths. I had a story book about Jason and the Argonauts and spent ages copying the pictures.
I don’t read is much as I’d like. I read most on holiday when I make sure I am not working. The problem I find is when I’m reading at home I feel I should be writing. Plus I have less patience for a poorly written book nowadays, so have a tendency to stop books half-way through if I’m not enjoying them.
8) From engineer to acclaimed writer. What skills from your old profession did you take along with you?
Planning. I have some writer friends who just launch into their books, not having any idea how it’s going to turn out. Alas, I can’t operate like that. I need a clear idea of where I’m headed before I start. Now that doesn’t mean it won’t change and it invariably does, but I do plan my books and my time in quite a lot of detail.
More directly Devil’s Kiss climaxes on a building site so that’s been directly drawn from my life in construction.
9) What’s your perfect “writing habitat”?
I’ve got a fairly standard routine. After I’ve dropped the kids at school I write almost straight through until I pick them up. I aim to get 2,000 words down per day. I also work in a cafe a few days a week, just for a change of scene and I enjoy seeing people. I’ve written two books in that cafe so the locals know me well. Writing can be a very lonely profession so it’s good to work in company.
10) I know you recently toured the US. How was it? Any chance to see you in Italy in the near future to get our copies signed?
I’ve been to Italy three times in the last four years! There was Rome for my wife’s birthday, then Bologna for the book fair and recently to Naples to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum.
I studied Latin at school and have been fascinated by Roman history ever since, so going to Pompeii was a life-long ambition of mine, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. The period of the Julian Caesars is probably my most favourite period of history. Without giving too much away Mount Vesuvius and the fate of Pompeii has a direct relevance to my second book, Dark Goddess.
I’m sure I’ll be in Italy soon enough and it would be very cool to sign some of my books.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

What we could learn from Darth Vader

Firstly, check out the utterly brilliant VW advert, here, then come back, I'll be waiting.
Great wasn't it? Makes you wonder what life was like before YouTube. Did you check out the Thor advert too? Go on, it's as good. Don't be too long as I do have something important to discuss.
Seen them both? Great, let's kick off.
"Do or do not. There is no try." Yoday imparted these words of wisdom to young Skywalker in Empire when he was trying to lift the X-wing out of the swamp.
I would argue that's an incredibly damaging piece of advice to give a jedi in training, or anyone for that matter. In fact, the opposite is MORE important.
Let's say to try and build a Death Star to, y'know, rule the galaxy or something. To bring order to it and make sure everyone pays their taxes, unlike those bloody cheapskates in Naboo. Then some punk-ass kid blows it up. After all those years of effort! The ingrate!
So what, you build another one. You don't sit there moaning that it's not worth the effort, you tried once and failed, no point doing it again. No, you get out of your isolation chamber, put on the bad-ass helmet and you BUILD ANOTHER.
Which also gets blown up. Some people.
Not everyone can DO, but everyone can TRY. And the more you try, the more likely it is you will DO.
The Star Wars legacy carried a dangerous message as it expanded. First, you had Luke, innocent farmboy who, by effort and TRYING, became the hero of the galaxy. then, as the series expanded, we discovered he was the Chosen One, it was his DESTINY, to be what he was. It's all down to those bloody midi-chlorians. You can try as hard as you like, but if your midi-chlorian count is too low, forget it. Better just get behind the bar at Mos Eisley and leave the hero stuff to the CHOSEN ONE.
I hate that. I'm a republican (not in the let's go shoot a moose kind of way, after all what has a moose every done to me? but in that, c'mon, this is the 21st Century and we've still got a monarchy? WTH?). It implies status is something your born with (like midi-chlorians), that role and most of all, POTENTIAL, is not defined by effort, by hard work or by perserverence, but by pure, stupid, blind luck. It's utterly passive and the thinking of a small child, that deep down they're a prince or princess and sooner or later their real parents will come and collect them and they'll have a perfect life in a palace with servants and everything with no effort at all. What's a shame is that a lot of grown ups and people who should know better believe that too. Lottery tickets are a grown up version of that wish-fulfillment.
Look at the kid. Does he give up? No, he tries and tries and eventually, gets the car to come ALIVE. What's funniest is the dad, thinking he did it by pressing the button. Yeah, as if.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

She came, she saw, SHE KICKED ASS!

I received a very pleasant bit of news yesterday. Kirkus Reviews listed out their 12 most kick ass teen heroines and Billi SanGreal was in amongst them, hanging out with the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Dru Anderson.
The full list is:
Lady Katsa from Graceling (Kristin Cashore)
Clary from City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)
Maggie from Prom Dates from Hell (Rosemary Clement-Moore)
Katniss from Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Eona from Eona (Alison Goodman)
Kaede from Huntress (Malinda Lo)
Ai Ling from Silver Phoenix (Cindy Pon)
Hanna from Bleeding Violet (Dia Reeves)
Jael from Misfits (Jon Skovron)
Dru from Strange Angels (Lili St. Crow)
Tally from Uglies (Scott Westerfield)
And Billi SanGreal!
So, now there's no excuse to sit there wondering where are the self-rescuing princesses of YA. They're on this list. Check them out and stop reading about those moping minnies, y'hear?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Jamila SanGreal

It remains a constant source of amazement amongst the Templars (especially Percival) how on earth someone like Arthur married someone like Jamila.
Born and brought up on the borders of Afghanistan Jamila saw a lot of war as a child. Daughter of a local teacher she spent most of her childhood amongst the refugee camps on the Pakistani-Afghani border. It was perhaps there she decided her vocation, to be a doctor.
Soon after qualifying she joined a NGO (non-government organization) that provided medical services to some of the most dangerous places in the world, helping civilians in war zones and disaster areas. Arthur joked Jamila had more scars than he did.
She spent the early 1990s in places like Somalia, Gaza, Bosnia, Iraq and Chechnya. She worked as a doctor for Medicine Sans Frontiers and the Red Crescent, one day offering advice on chest colds the next pulling out shrapnel from children's bodies.
In the mid-90's she came to London, working in a charity hoping to raise funds for one of the NGOs. It was meant to be a temporary gig before she headed out into some new war but there she met Arthur. He was like many of the war-wounded she'd helped over the years, mentally broken and terribly damaged emotionally. It was about this time he met Gwaine, and was being recruited inot the Knights Templar.
It was after a botched ghul encounter he was brought, mauled and near death, to her. She stitched him up and saved his life. That night Jamila entered the world of the Bataille Tenebreuse. Over the next few months she became close of Arthur, tending the wounds of the other knights, learning of their world, and becoming good friends with Elaine.
I think Arthur realises how lucky he was that someone like Jamila fell in love with him. Deep down he still feels he didn't deserve her, and perhaps that's why, following her death, he couldn't stop blaming himself. She'd tried to get him to leave the order, knights weren't meant to marry let alone have children, but he always thought he'd just do the next mission, then quit.
No-one in the SanGreal Chronicles casts as long as a shadow as Jamila. Arthur and Billi are defined by her. Their relationship is mirrored by Arthur's feelings of failure and by the void Billi feels by not having known her mother.