Tuesday, 26 February 2013

In Memory of Max

Last week my beloved dog, Max was put to sleep. Max had become such a crucial part of my writing life that I felt I had to write a tribute to him here . . .

 I got Max eight years ago from The Dog’s Trust. They had found him as a stray so we never knew his actual age or where he had come from. However, within minutes of getting him home it became clear that wherever he’d been before he’d been very badly treated. For the first few weeks with us, he refused to leave the house for a walk and stayed stuck to my side at all times. In the end it took a box of his favourite cocktail sausages to get him to go out anywhere other than the garden. I would have to walk ahead a few feet and hold out a sausage to entice him to creep forward. It took us about half an hour to get to the end of my road! The first time I got him into a park I discovered that he had an absolute phobia of footballs – I can only imagine that whoever had him before must have kicked balls at him because just the sound of a ball being kicked would send him fleeing in terror.

But, as the months passed, Max gradually came out of his shell. It was so rewarding to see his fears dissolve and a fun-loving, affectionate dog appear. And for me as a writer, he provided the perfect companion. Writing can be such a solitary profession but whenever I sat at my desk, Max would plonk himself down at my feet and wait there patiently until it was time for his next walk. And our walks became an intrinsic part of my writing process too. Over the years we walked for miles and miles together. And as we walked, I would work on my book-in-progress in my head and every time without fail, plot problems would solve themselves, and characters would become more fully formed. And Max would be there next to me, every step of the way.

In the past few months, old age had started to set in, and my fun-loving, bouncy dog became tired and in pain. As Max had had such a traumatic start to his life I didn’t want him to suffer in old age. The vet told me that having him put to sleep would be the most loving thing to do. It also turned out to be the most heart-breaking. But Max died quickly and peacefully, with his head in my lap being fed his favourite treats.

For the first couple of days afterwards, I wandered around in a daze. My constant companion of eight years had gone and I felt utterly bereft. Then, on Friday night, I had to give a reading at an event at Keats House in London. It was my first reading from my upcoming novel, Finding Cherokee Brown. I always get really nervous when I’m reading from a new book for the first time, and when the host called me up to the microphone my heart was pounding. But as soon as I got there something really strange happened. A picture of Max appeared in my head and I imagined him plonking himself down at my feet. I instantly felt calm and my reading went really well. My trusty writing companion might no longer physically be at my side, but he’ll always be in my heart.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Diary of a French Book Launch

Being a writer is a real Jekyll and Hyde job. For months and months on end you lock yourself away and write – only coming out to do essential stuff, like feeding the dog and the son – and then, suddenly, Publication Week arrives.

Publication Week means three drastic changes to your daily routine:

  1. You have to stop wearing your favourite writing outfit of choice (in my case baggy jogging bottoms with an attractive hole in the crotch, a pair of woolly knee-high socks, and an ancient Washington DC sweatshirt that I bought one time in an airport to use up my leftover dollars).
  2. You have to start wearing ‘respectable’ clothes, involving really uncomfortable things such as heels, and belts, and zips.
  3. You have to venture into the world outside of your imagination and talk to people that you haven’t actually made up inside your head.

This week, the French edition of my next novel, Finding Cherokee Brown was published. So, I had to do all of the above, and go to Paris and do it in French.

Once I’d got used to wearing a dress again it was so much fun. And I wanted to share my French adventure here because there was a time, not so long ago, that I didn’t know if I’d ever have a book deal again – let alone one in France! So, to all you aspiring authors out there, take note – this is what can happen if you refuse to give up on your dream…

My day began ridiculously early as I had to get to London in time to catch the 8.30 Eurostar. Over night, it had snowed quite heavily, so I was first notified that my cab had arrived when I heard it crashing into the wall opposite my house. Despite this rather shaky start, the cab driver managed to get me to the station just in time – and provide me with a whole new range of swear words. I got to St Pancras to discover that the Eurostar had been delayed, due to ‘the wrong kind of snow on the line’ but at least it was still running. And the extra hour of the journey flew by once I got into an engrossing discussion about Come Dine With Me with the guy sitting next to me.

My lovely French translator, Marie Hermet, met me at the station, where we caught a cab to the publisher’s office. On the way she told me that she is also translator for one of my writing heroes, Roddy Doyle, and I had one of those, if I die right now, I’ll die happy moments. Which very nearly came true as it turns out that French cab drivers are even crazier than English ones …

The ‘wrong type of snow’ meant that we were now too late to go out for our planned lunch, so I met all of the lovely team at Flammarion and they ordered lunch in instead. As we tucked into a delicious desk buffet of salad and assorted French cakes we compared notes on the French and UK book industry – I’d rather naively assumed that it would be exactly the same, but it’s not at all. It was really interesting to learn that YA blogging is only just starting to take off over there and Flammarion were just in the process of setting up their own blog.

After lunch, I was taken to a meeting room and an afternoon of interviews with French journalists began. Now, my French is embarrassingly bad, I literally know about twelve words (which includes the numbers from one to ten) so thankfully Marie was there to help me out. I had imagined that the questions would be pretty basic but au contraire, it turns out that French interviews are just like their movies – intense and emotionally forensic.

Being interviewed - French style!

Every so often, I would have to pinch myself that not only had these people read my books, but they had analysed them for themes and meanings, and had really got what I’d been trying to say. It was massively humbling and affirming – especially as the message behind my books is so important to me.

After the interviews were over my editor asked me if I would sign a few copies of my book. 

I think you can see me behind them. I have to tell you, my signing skills were slipping a bit towards the end!

I left Flammarion feeling like one of the luckiest people on the planet. Much as I love the months of writing hibernation, it is so nice when your writing sends you out on an adventure like this.

My day ended in a cosy Parisian restaurant with my American-friend-in-Paris, author / illustrator Doug Cushman. We chewed the fat about life, the universe and books then returned to his studio, which also doubles as a hotel for Hen & Ink authors whenever they’re in town.

Now I’m back at my desk in the UK, in my trusty Washington sweatshirt and woolly socks. It’s still snowing outside, but I’m keeping warm drinking gallons of hot chocolate – from my brand new I Love Paris mug.