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Writers as Readers

There has been some discussion lately about the link between reading and becoming a writer. As a prolific reader from an early age (see “In praise of libraries”), I would say from personal experience there may be a link. I was extraordinarily indiscriminate when young, consuming whole series of books by one author (Willard Price, anyone? Henry Treece?) before moving on to the next. A sort of book shark, always looking for the next meal. I read huge amounts of science fiction, historical novels, science books and assembled a shelf of favourites ranging from “The Gadfly” to “The Forsyte Saga”. The one thing they all did was to show me how powerful a good story could be. They filled my head with ideas, questions and new and wonderful places – it was only a matter of time before I started trying to create my own.

On the way I ran across John Buchan – oh what fun his stories were! Now I have the chance to revisit that early delight as part of the Middlesbrough Literary Festival when Southside Broadcasting present “The 39 Steps” as their book of the month. I’ll be meeting members of local reading groups at Thorntree Community Hub on the 24th of June, from 10am and we will be reviewing and discussing John Buchan’s most famous work as part of the broadcast. If you are around, please come along – it would be lovely to meet you.

In praise of libraries

I am a fan of libraries. Big ones, little ones, those wonderful book buses – show me a library and I find myself smiling. I owe my professional life to libraries – really. Without access to books I would not be writing this today. I would never have worked as a lecturer, survived the education system or become a writer. Libraries have been a lifeline for me.

I began to read very early, partly as I was bored, I think. I have dyspraxia – a form of spatial dyslexia – so I did not walk until after my third birthday According to my mother, I sat in a corner and shouted until someone brought me what I wanted – often a book of some kind, which at least kept me quiet. Then I went to school and the fact I could already read caused some consternation but I had a very smart teacher who pointed me to the Book Corner (remember those?) and, once I’d read everything there, let me sneak into the hall and take books from the Junior library. I was in heaven.

Then it all went wrong. Moving up to the second year Infant class, my new teacher (who’s name, fortunately, escapes me), decided I was not really reading at all, just showing off. She gave me the prescribed “reading book” for the term (!!) and asked me to read aloud. I couldn’t. I still find it hard and when I do readings and signings I practise for days beforehand. Aged six, I had a terrible stammer and half-way down the first page I burst into tears. Suddenly I was stuck with just one book for the term and until I read the whole horrible text aloud to this woman, I was barred from even the Infant library, let alone the now-forbidden Junior shelves.

On returning home that afternoon I told my mother I was never going back to school again. A remarkable and intelligent woman, she put me on the back of her bicycle and we made our way into the nearby town centre. Here I was signed up for the children’s library and given two pink tickets. Surrounded by more books than I had ever seen in one place, I agreed to go back to school – and keep my under-aged reading habit a secret.

That library kept me sane, in the midst of the crushing boredom of the second year Infants. By the time I was ten I’d consumed the Junior library too – dyspraxic, remember? So I never played out unless forced. I couldn’t skip, or catch a ball or even run without tripping over my own feet so I read – and read -and read. For my tenth birthday the local library staff gave me a quick test (to see if I really had read everything) and presented me with one illicit, precious grey ticket for the Adult section.

I wish I could go back now and thank them, show them all what a difference they made to my life.
I hope we will somehow salvage our library system and keep it safe, to pass on to the next generation of young readers. Yes, I’m a writer and I have a vested interest in getting them hooked on books but somewhere out there is a child just like me. I want them to have the same chances I had.

A lovely morning in Guisborough

Well, I spent a really nice couple of hours at Guisborough Bookshop yesterday (Saturday). They’d put up a display of the two books and a disturbingly large copy of the “gazing moodily out to sea” picture and I set up my stall, more books, pen and a heap of bookmarks.

People were very friendly – only one man refused a bookmark – and I had some interesting talks, met new readers and generally enjoyed the whole experience. It is so heartening to see an Independent bookshop flourishing. There was a constant stream of people, all ages from pensioners to babies in chairs. A good number of children who were as happy and excited as if they were in a toy shop. I remember my parents taking us to the “big” bookshop in Chelmsford when I was a child. Every birthday and Christmas we had book tokens and the Saturday after was book day. I thought that had passed away along with 80s hair styles and space hoppers but it is alive and well in Cleveland. So, so encouraging!

A special thanks to all the staff who were helpful, welcoming and willing to have me back. yes please. Hello and thank you to some of the people who took the time to stop, chat and even buy a book – John, Suzan, Ron, Charlie, Jill, Jenny, Jasmine (and her sister who would rather be a vet than a writer), Gareth, Janet, Wendy, Pamela and Lynda. Lovely to meet you all and I hope you enjoy the books – please let me know.

Seriously cheesed off.

Grrr.

On the one hand, great news as Waterstones in Middlesbrough have agreed to stock my two books. This is a major step forwards and I am so happy. They also suggested I might supply something that could be used as a bookmark. Excellent idea I thought. Yes, a little bit of publicity by the till, especially as the cover to “The Drowners” is so striking. (Forgive me but I think it is just great). So, off on the hunt for a print company who do bookmarks.
Found a good supplier, found a really good price for a large quantity, found an artist who put the designs together for me. All was going so well until – they needed a different format. Preferably Acrobat as, for some technical reason, this “keeps the internal integrity, dimensions and DPI of artwork and is resistant to digital compression when transmitted electronically”.

Now, I understand that, just about. My pictures were rubbish when they appeared at the other end. So I dug out my copy of Adobe Acrobat 7 and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to install it on my new computer. Only after several hours did I discover it doesn’t work with Windows 7. In fact, a lot of the software I’ve come to rely on doesn’t work so well with Windows 7 – or XP come to that. So, if I buy a new computer (as sometimes I have to) I’m forced into also buying a new (and different) operating system that promises oh so much – most of which I don’t want and never use. The stuff I do want and use I end up having to buy again.

So, seriously angry. It was bad enough finding all my favourite games didn’t run…but that’s another story.

And the bookmarks? Looks like I’ve managed it. I used a free on-line converter. Hah!

A note about Sunday

Getting myself all prepared for the reading on Sunday 17th. Thank you to all at Saltburn’s wonderful “Real Meals” deli who are opening especially – and making their wonderful dark chocolate muffins with plum compote. There will be books available to buy and I’m happy to sign any you bring along – provided I wrote them, of course.

Just to put everyone in the mood, I’m trying to decide what to read. Will I go with the hands in a bag or the long, slow drowning in the marsh? Perhaps the intruder chasing Alex through the probation office at night…
You’ll have to be there to find out!

A busy week ahead

Now the new book is well and truly out there, I’m doing some appearances around the area. On Wednesday (13th) I’m on Southside Radio (107.3FM and via the web) at around 6.20pm. I’ll try to post the podcast on these pages after the broadcast. Then on Sunday (17th) I will be reading from “The Drowners” and signing books at Real Meals, Saltburn from 2pm – 4pm. I’ll have copies of both books available and if you buy both on the day you get a special price of £12 – and signed for no charge of course.

Do come along if you’re in the area. Real Meals have promised their wonderful Dark Chocolate and Plum compote muffins will be on the menu so it’s worth it just for that.

Update

See my podcasts here.

After long silence

So, a new year and a new book at last.

I must admit, I was very despondent at the end of last year when despite all our efforts “The Drowners” failed to make the shops in time for Christmas. We were so close to a December release but – there were problems with the cover and so we decided to wait and make sure it was as good as we could possibly make it before launching.

On the positive side, the cover does look very good now and the second book in the series is now available in paperback from Amazon, direct from Impress or can be ordered through any bookshop. The e-book is also ready and should be out in the next few weeks.

Although it is a sequel (the story picks up six weeks after “Death of the Elver Man” ends) “The Drowners” can be read as a stand-alone novel so if you are new to Alex Hastings and the world of the Somerset Levels in the 1980s, jump in and give it a try!

I received a compliment from a new reader last week. Well, I think it was a compliment, anyway. She came up to me in my favourite local cafe, stared hard and said, “I thought I knew you. I thought I knew what you were like.” There was a pause and she added, “Now every time I see a dead chicken, I think of you.”
If you’ve read “Death of the Elver Man”, you probably have an inkling of what she means. If you haven’t, well I’m not going to put any spoilers on here, just say I thought I was making it LESS gory. So much for all the psychology I studied.
It is a strange feeling, to know someone or something you made up is living and talking in someone else’s mind. Strange and really rather wonderful. No wonder I love my job.

Look, it’s just a story…

Please enlighten me if this is commonplace but it seems a lot of people I know or have known in the past are convinced they can recognise themselves in my books.

Now, like every writer, I tend to take a snippet of conversation, an overheard remark or an interesting personal foible and weave them in to the novels but none of my characters are based on real people – except for one who is fairly recognisable and she is quite happy about it.

There are echoes of real events too, but honestly, nothing like the events in “Death of the Elver Man” or “The Drowners” really happened and certainly not on the beautiful and peaceful Somerset Levels.

You see, it’s a story – I made it up.

Believe me when I say you are not seeing a reflection of yourself. Honest.

A sideline

Sat up too late last night watching “Terminator 3”. Not the best of the franchise (though not as dire as “Terminator Salvation” – whew, what a turkey!) but still quite enjoyable. My guilty secret – I love the first two “Terminator” films, partly as the title character is so compelling. The role model (if it can be called that) is, of course, the Golem, most famously Rabbi Loeb’s Golem of Prague created in 1580. This idea, of a clay man created to be a defender without fear or the ability to feel pain, runs through a lot of folk-lore and literature. It could be argued that Mary Shelley’s “Frankensein”, owes much to the idea.

Well, out in the thick fog this morning I found myself pondering this idea. Visibility was so bad it was impossible to see more than a hundred yards or so and the beach was completely hidden. A ship was making its way up the estuary, fog-horn sounding like a grieving whale and the ghostly echoes gave the whole scene a surreal quality. The road was deserted, ghostly, a setting for some strange and horrific event. Which is why I’m not working on the new novel today but fleshing out (excuse the pun) a new horror story.