Wednesday, 11 November 2009

November P.S and sorry

This is a big apology to Harrie Evans' sister who I met at the wonderful party and who of course  is called Caroline and not Clare. I am so sorry, Caroline, I really can't think how it happened, I knewk perfectly well. . My brain is turning to mush, from too much writing, that's the only excuse I can find. Not very impressive.  Blog followers, please look out for other non-deliberate mistakes in future and let me know. .  And Caroline, I'm very sorry again. 
Penny V

November November...

How I hate November. I know I'm not the only one (any November lovers out there please write in and identify yourselves, I'd really like to congratulate you on having some of sunniest natures in the universe) But I think it's horrible. Shorter days (getting shorter all the time too, so that unless  you have lunch at one on the dot it could be suppertime, it's so dark) and murky mornings that hardly deserve the name. Plus an increasing panic about Christmas with none of the excitement that December brings. There's actually a poem about it, the last lines of which are 
"No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees.
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds
If anyone knows the rest of the poem, then again could please let me know. It just about sums the whole horrid time up.
It's particularly horrid for people like me who are early risers. I get up at six every day and go for an hour's walk on the Common with my dogs Or rather, my dog, we only have one at the moment, but there is one in the wings, so to speak. I think. We do like to have two, they keep each other company) That's actually when I start work, I stomp round plotting, thinking about my characters and what  might be happening to them that day. I know everybody I meet (although often only by their dogs' names, those of you who have dogs will understand this) and we have very brief conversation. This is not because I, and certainly not they, are unfriendly, just that everybody knows that I'm working. People actually say to me "I won't keep you because I know you're working" Which is very kind and must seem quite funny to anyone who doesn't know the form the work takes.
Anyway, I can tell you that walking across a completely black common is not a lot of fun; although I do kind of walk into the light, (which sounds slightly biblical, seeing it written) But I still do it, because sitting in a nice warm study staring at the screen just doesn't work in the least. And anyway, that's it for the day, exercise done; and I get back to really excitingly literary things like putting on the washing machine, but---my head  full of ideas. 
However, we did escape to the warmth and light of Barcelona and Madrid for a few days (which made November here seem even worse) We were very cultured and did all --well most of-- the museums, but also sat in the sunshine quite a lot, and ate some lovely food, including lunch at what is the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin it's called, in Madrid, and if you go to Madrid do please have a meal there. It is incredible, been open 300 years, so they obviously know a thing or two--including that their original stove does better than any modern nonsense, and there it is, an amazing cast iron range-y thing, which I actually saw. I fear Health and Safety would have it whipped out in minutes if they were there; thankfully they're not. It's a literary place too, is Botin,in a way, actually mentioned by Hemingway in Fiesta; we didn't quite match his lunch, which was suckling pig, their speciality and a bottle of Rioja--well we managed the Rioja-- but I felt pretty excited to be there at all.
I also had a lovely escape the other night to a most wonderful literary party--my ex-editor, Harriet Evans, known to all as Harrie, has decided she'd rather write her own books than edit mine, can't imagine why--and her latest was launched last week. It's called I Remember You and it's wonderful. Harrie manages to be funny and moving and page-turning all at the same time; no easy feat. Anyway, it was a very smart affair at a very smart London club called One Alfred Place; although Harrie and her editor, Lynne Drew, kicked off their killer heels and stood on the sofa to make the obligatory speeches, (rather than mounting a podium) which was rather heart-warming.  Harrie was presented with a cake-stand  (again apparently rather non-literary, but turns out  the heroine of I Remember You,  Tess, has a thing about cake stands) As well as being rather a grand party--Harrie's agent, the eternally youthful, eternally handsome Jonathan Lloyd  was there, and so were a lot of her friends and ex-colleagues from my publishers, including Martin Neild, the ultra-charming MD, and we all got very misty eyed and said how proud of her we were and how much we missed her. And also there were her parents, (her mum, Linda Evans, is an incredibly important editor, and one of the nicest people on the planet) and so was her sister, Clare, (who I discovered is a good friend of a good friend of my Number Four daughter, small world) so there was a great family feel about it all as well. Which is just as it should be. Go buy the book! 
And here's to the end of November. 

Monday, 12 October 2009

Book-ish news

Well, I never thought I'd enjoy writing this so much. Or that anybody would (apparently) read it. But I do keep being told by people that they "love" my blog; and having promised myself and my publishers and my lovely publicity person, Georgina Moore, that I'd do it once a month, then I guess it's time to hit the keyboard again. In fact I'm hitting it a bit late. I'd specially like to thank all the lovely people who wrote on my Facebook page to say they enjoyed it. 
And of course, who write to say how much they like my books. This is always such good news; as I'm always saying, writing is pretty solitary and on a bad day (plenty of them) I do feel I'm only writing for me and the dog. So--please--keep on reassuring me! We writers are very insecure. 
I haven't actually written much of the new book this week, as I was asked to write an article for the Daily Telegraph about Mr. Rochester (of Jane Eyre) who came top in a poll of fictional heroes . As I fell in love with Mr. Rochester aged 13 or thereabouts, and have loved him ever since (along with Rhett Butler and Max de Winter of Rebecca) I couldn't resist. It was altogether a very interesting list, with the classics featured heavily (Mr.Darcy and Heathcliff) but Rupert Campbell Black, Jilly Cooper's wonderful hero, was there too. I now have a new ambition: to have one of MY heroes featured in a poll.  My special favourites  are Miles in Old Sins and Sebastian in the Lytton trilogy; not sure if they can compete with Mr. Rochester though!
The Wimbledon Bookfest came and went; very succesfully and  thank you to everyone who came along to it. I was completely thrilled to meet June Whitfield again; we were together many years ago on a radio programme called "Quote Unquote" and I can tell you, she is a total star, witty and fascinating as well as terribly nice.   
My Girls Night Out culminated in a very drunken dinner party at my house, attended by my wonderfully  funny and glamourous fellow Girls Night Out-ers, JoJo Moyes and Jessica Ruston and a few other people in the business, including the aforementioned Georgina Moore, who makes me laugh almost more than anyone I know and who can make the most exhausting publicity tour fun. 
I did feel extremely ill the next day; but recovered enough to interview Sadie Jones, the  author of  The Outcast and Small Wars. She's an incredible new talent on the literary scene; I can't recommend her books highly enough. Incredibly moving and very very atmospheric. 
I'm now off for eight days' holiday in Spain with the Dear One; it's part research, as Barcelona is figuring in the new book. It's such a boost for a plot when it moves around the globe: and for me following it! |But seriously, whole new storylines seem to happen, just because I'm in a different place; it's all part of the odd thing of plots taking me by surprise, and being shaped by the characters, where they are and what they're doing.  In due course you, as well as I, will find out what takes place in Barcelona! I hope!
Penny V

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Interim news

This is not the main point of this particular blog, but I thought (maybe self-centredly) that it would be an idea to include a picture on it. It certainly looks more interesting. 
This is me (furthest left) with most of my family taken last Spring  in Wales. Next to me is my husband, and then sundry daughters, husbands, partners and grandchildren.  It was a particularly happy day,  with the sun rather unusually shining. Oh, and it was my birthday. Missing are Daughter Number One and her husband and children, (all resident in Sydney)and Daughter Number Three's fiance, who was taking the photograph. He is now her husband; they were married later in the year ( already covered in Another Blog)
It may be the last picture you'll see here for some time, as I don't quite know how I managed to get it onto the page in the first place (see first blog re my complete lack of technical expertise. I went to the Apple Store in Regent Street the other day and it was like landing on the Moon; very beautiful and futuristic, and full of wonderful, magical things, but they speak a different language from me there.  Not only did I not understand their answers, they didn't understand my questions. They were charming and helpful, though and we managed in the end.)
Anyway, what this blog is really all about is something that occupies both my time and attention a great deal at this time of year and that is the Wimbledon Book Festival, known as the Bookfest. I am one of the  patrons, and in three years it has grown into something truly impressive. None of the credit to me, but to the proper organisers, who do all the work. It was the brainchild of an absolute whirlwind of a person called Fiona Razvi, who decided one day that what Wimbledon needed was a literary festival,  and set about bringing it to life in rather less than six months (she's that sort of lady) together with the  Chairman of the Festival, Tony Kane and other equally gifted and determined people. It runs for ten days or so, and is launched by the Mayor of Wimbledon on the morning of Saturday October 3rd,  at St.Mark's Place, next to Wimbledon Library, Wimbledon Hill Road. There   will be  storytelling in the actual library, and several authors will be signing their books,  including Michelle Paver from 10 to 11, June Whitfield from 10.45 to ll.15 and me from  10.30 to 11.30. The other events I'm personally involved in are my "regular" event, Girls Night Out, on Monday October 5th when two other authors and I basically just sit and chat about our work and take questions from the audience over a glass of wine or  two. That is to say the audience gets some wine too. It really is great fun; joining me this year  are JoJo Moyes, whose new book The Horse Dancer is the most brilliant and intriguing tale, and Jessica Ruston, who's just published her first blockbuster,  Luxury, and very good it is too. That's at Wimbledon's rather posh hotel, Cannizaro House at 8 pm (doors open at 7.30) I'm also interviewing  Sadie Jones, whose first book, The Outcast won endless acclaim and awards and whose second, Small Wars is so totally gripping I couldn't  put it down. That's at Waterstone's on Wimbledon Bridge, at 7.30 (doors open at 7) and you also get a glass of wine, or a soft drink if you're that way inclined. (I'll be the one with the wine. )
I can't list all the other events, but they are many and wonderful, ranging from an evening at the Polka (the famous children's theatre in Wimbledon and another passion of mine) with Gyles Brandreth, Julian Fellowes, script writer extraordinaire,  talking about his latest novel, Deborah Moggach discussing her work, Max Hastings on Churchill,  and a Literary Lunch with June Whitfield.  There's also a children's Literature Festival at the Polka on Saturday October 10th . 
It'd be lovely to see you there. I'm so proud of being part of it. 
Full details on the Bookfest website,

Sunday, 6 September 2009

End of the holidays

Like most people, I still feel September is the beginning of a new year. Like when we all went back to school and got  new books and new teachers and made loads of resolutions to work harder and (in my case) really try at games, instead of hiding in the cloakroom (which I did if it was gym) and indeed during netball lessons would sneak into the garden of the empty house next door to my school, with my best friend, and occasionally one or two others, and spend the time reading and gossiping. Amazingly, we never got caught; my best friend was one of those lucky people  who just never did, and if I was with her I knew I was safe, whatever we were doing. Had I been with anyone else, I'm sure the games mistress or a prefect would have noticed our disappearance and we'd have been in terrible trouble. 
I don't know if it would work in grown up life, and being with the right lucky person could mean you could get away with driving a bit too fast through roadworks (one of my two  only conscious bit of lawbreaking) or paying your income tax late, (my other, but actually my accountant doesn't let me get away with that any more). 
Anyway, back to this year's new term; back in London, I have made lots of resolutions, like keeping my desk tidy (very unlikely)  dealing with my in-tray promptly (even more unlikely) and brushing my dog Clemmie's ears  (she's a King Charles spaniel) every day, instead of leaving half Richmond Park in them for weeks. Oh and backing up what I write every day, instead of once a week or whatever; I once lost five thousand words because there was a power cut overnight. 
We had a very good August, lots of visitors to our cottage--mostly children, but the occasional brave grown ups-- and Enid Blyton-like activities, riding, cycling, picnics on the beach,  sandcastle and moat-building, and a new game which one of our guests--another writer-- christened Extreme Paddling. Extreme Paddling, should you wish to try it, is dashing from cove to cove on a windy day, beating--or rather not beating--the waves as they crash in. We have the perfect beach for this, nicknamed by our family the Enid Blyton Beach, a mass of coves and rocks and huge caves you can explore, some of them linking and forming tunnels from one to the next (more opportunities for Extreme Paddling). And then lovely long evenings in the cottage, putting the world to rights, drinking too much wine and mulling over possible plots and characters...
Anyway,  I ended the holidays at an annual Gower Charity event, the Macmarathon, when people do a sponsored cliff and beach walk, 22 miles long, some of it really tough: raising money for one of my very favourite charities,  Macmillan Cancer Support. It takes place every September,  and  every year,  more and more wonderful people do it--almost a thousand registered this time-- and every year it raises more money. I'm ashamed to say I've never actually walked it, but the Committee very flatteringly asked me to sign certificates for the triumphant arrivals, saying they'd done it; I was supposed to be one of the celebrities, but in truth, there was  far more excitement and interest in  Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh International Rugby player, who was sitting next to me. And justifiably so: he's extremely charming and handsome as well as hugely talented, and a great local hero. 
 Still, quite a lot of people did ask me to sign their certificates as well, and I found myself engaged in all the usual discussions about my characters (you'd have thought people would  have been much too exhausted to care about such things, but astonishingly they weren't) and the very familiar requests to write a fourth book about the Lyttons. One day I shall have to give in, I think, even though Lady Celia has died; several people said they thought Jenna was a matriarch in the making and could take over from her in due course. I'm not so sure, but she was certainly (along with Fleur in An Outrageous Affair   and Jocasta in Sheer Abandon) one of my favourite characters ever, and I would like to know what happens to her. (As I've explained before, I never know what happens to any of my characters until I write the books.)
I am very much into the new book now, (managed to write a bit in between the Extreme Paddling!) and still enjoying it hugely; it is really starting to take on a life of its own, and fascinating new people keep wandering into it. No clues at all I'm afraid, except that it's not contemporary, and may well take me to New York, and possibly the Southern States  for a bit of research. Oh, it's a tough life: but somebody has to do it......

Saturday, 8 August 2009

My blog

Hi there
 I am absolutely astonished to find myself even contemplating writing a blog. Not because I don't actually want to, I am very intrigued by the idea, but because I am the most un-technological person in the whole world and most machines and whatever I do on them just don't work. . I only have to look at a machine for it to go wrong; once I was taking  part in a quiz on the radio at Broadcasting House, and I had to press a buzzer when I thought I had the right answer. I managed to fuse not only my buzzer, but everyone else's as well; the whole programme was brought to a halt (luckily it was being recorded, but it was in front of an audience who found it very amusing) while mechanics were summoned and so on. The one who finally fixed it said he had never known it happen before.... Another time I fused the entire electrical system in the hotel I was staying in, when I plugged in my hairstyler to the wrong plug; and I can no more make my fax machine work than fly to the moon. It just sits there refusing steadfastly to  "send", just flashing lights and whirring crossly,  in spite of being serviced countless times, and my husband directing faxes on the self-same machine with great success. I am only a fairly recent convert to e.mail (although I do love it dearly and spend much too much time on it, like most of the rest of us) and get in a fearful state when I get messages on my Facebook page as I get mixed up with "comment" and "share" and all that stuff,   and worry about  offending all the nice people who want to be my Facebook Friend. 
However, I am assured this blogging business is really really easy; if you ever get to read it, however, you will know some kind of small (or possibly  large) miracle has taken place.  
I am writing this from the cottage in Wales where my husband and I spend as much time as we can; it is in the most beautiful place imaginable (well we think so) on the Gower Peninsula and as I sit here, in the room which contains not only my desk, but bunk beds for visiting children --nothing   grand about it at all, you see--  I am looking across some fields, then some sand dunes and then the sea. The whole family (four daughters, assorted husbands and partners  and grandchildren) love it too; my favourite occasions in the whole year are when we are all--or most of us-- here together, for things like birthdays. Or indeed as happened in June, when Daughter Number Three got married down here in Wales; it was  absolutely wonderful, one of the loveliest days of the year, we had a marquee in the garden, and as the sun went down, the bride  and groom and most of the  guests went to the beach and the bride went for a  paddle in her wedding dress. )
It all felt very  flat afterwards, especially as Daughter Number One and her family  went back to Australia where they all live; very fortunately I was booked on a promotional tour of South Africa, which kind of bounced me up again. It is the most beautiful, friendly, magical country; I did a whistle -stop tour beginning in Johannesburg, moving on to Durban and then down to Cape Town. Cape Town is a particularly lovely city and I stayed in a hotel called the Cape Grace, which was not only incredibly luxurious (I was extremely spoilt) but overlooked both the harbour and Table Mountain. I spoke at lunches and dinners, on the radio and TV and of course in bookshops and signed books till my arm ached, and loved every minute of it. I always do; I've toured in Australia, New Zealand and  the States and always have a wonderful time, it's an immensely privileged thing to be able to do, and you get much more of a feel for what  a country is like than just being a tourist. 
  It's when I go some  where  like that that  I am struck how extraordinarily far-reaching writing is. I sit in my study for a  year, all alone, creating characters and plots and so on, spinning them all out of my head; and then suddenly, I'm thousands and thousands of miles away, discussing why so and so did such and such in a book, arguing about it in great detail, with a great many people I've (obviously) never met before.  
People feel very strongly about what happens in the books, and often take me to task for it; I was once giving a talk at a ladies' luncheon in London and it was all going rather well I thought, when someone suddenly stood up and said, sounding really angry, "why did you let Barty  die?" (Barty is one of the main characters in my trilogy about the Lyttons, a publishing dynasty in the first fifty years of the last century).  I do try to explain that for the most part I don't actually plan for people to die, or fall in love, or whatever, they just do, it's part of the writing process and it's all to do with characters developing lives of their own, but it doesn't always satisfy as an explanation!. 
This time the book was The Best of Times, published over there a bit later than in England;  it was, as I am on record as saying many times, just about the hardest book I've ever written, probably because the main event in the book took place on Page One. Hard to keep up the excitement after that. I came pretty near to hating that book at times; now I look at it of course and wonder how I could have found it so difficult (bit like writing emails perhaps!)
People are always wanting to know which is my favourite book and I always answer (truthfully) that I don't have one, I find it impossible to choose.  I only know it's certainly never the one that I'm writing at the time. Unless it's page one, or even chapter one, which is incredibly exciting, and ~I know the whole book will just write itself. Problems kick in pretty quickly after that...
The rest of this summer we are planning to spend here, having people to stay and walking on the cliffs and beaches, maybe surfing a bit if it gets warm enough (it has to be very warm, even in a wetsuit) and--getting on with the new book.Which has already passed the easy stage. 
This has been fun; I shall hope you get to read it; and I shall write another one soon!
Penny V.