Dear Voyager…

RyanairFlightphotoThe airport wasn’t crowded (no queues at Pret for the in-flight sandwich) though that may have had something to do with the hour – it was 5 a.m.. That’s the downside of my Ryanair flight to Jerez, the only flight available. There’s no public transport at that time in the morning either, but Pepe, my cabbie from Congo, was fun to talk to on the way. The cab from south London wasn’t cheap, but then the flight tickets were, so…  My flight, on time and comfortable, was far from full.

The bureaucracy was a pain, but not too much of one. A Spanish Document Control complete with QR Code was the result of my completing the required online form and, given that I am doubly vaccinated, that was the limit of it going out. There was a little additional business at the Spanish airport, but not much. Once there, the sun shone, friends whom I hadn’t seen for ten months awaited and my little flat was as lovely as it ever was. PatioWriting

The State of Alarm in Spain was ended sometime before the Emergency COVID measures were lifted in England, so the wearing of face masks isn’t obligatory in either country and nor is social distancing, though it is strongly encouraged in Spain. Most Spaniards choose to wear face masks, outdoors and in, except when eating and drinking. People without them are oddities and looked at as such.  I was, however, pleased to see they were no longer worn on the beach.

Returning to the UK is more problematical, with much more documentation needed e.g. the Vaccination Passport, certification of an authorised and negative test taken 48 hours or later before returning and Plateroswithmasksevidence that a PCR test has been booked for one’s return. I had organised these last two before I’d left the UK and the arrangements worked well, especially the Antigen Test with Zoom, which I did when there in collaboration with a nurse who was online, somewhere else in the world. This method was considerably cheaper than any other that I’d found and entirely acceptable to the UK authorities. 

I didn’t think I’d caught COVID, I had no symptoms and I was staying in my own home, mixing with people whom I knew. Nonetheless I was, I confess, a little anxious while I waited the twenty minutes or so for the test to work. So what, I reasoned, even if I have it, I just have to stay in this beautiful place for a couple more weeks, but, of course, self-isolation isn’t that much fun anywhere, so I was pleased when the test result was negative.

I needed to complete a Passenger Locator form too ( that took rather longer than I’d anticipated ), at least I received theSunset at ElPuerto code which successful submission generated on my phone.  Rather more than a fellow traveller on the return journey had managed. He was in transit only through Stansted and hadn’t completed the Form but the Ryanair people insisted.  They turned another woman away, who had failed to take a test. Her excuse was that she had planned to take one at the airport – it didn’t work,  Jerez airport is very small, without any testing facilities. Other airports may offer this service, but she really should have checked.

So, my advice to a voyager is, take this seriously, ensure everything is arranged before you go and then do what you have arranged. If you do, it’s relatively plain sailing. 

Ditch your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep and direct your sandaled feet, to the sunny side of the street. Can you hear a pitter pat, that’s the rain in dear old London, a double vax is so neat, on the sunny side of the street. Why not walk in the shade, when the town’s on parade, no need to be afraid, this rover’s crossed over. A Day Two test and all that, will await until you’re home and, don’t forget it’s sweet, on the sunny, sunny side of the street.

With apologies to Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. Here’s Dinah Washington singing the real thing.

 

 

Christmas in July

LondonChristmasLights3…is what I’m experiencing as I edit Opera.

The three books in the Cassandra Fortune series take place, successively, across four months from September to December (with a one chapter addition in January). So Opera begins on Monday (all the books begin on a Monday) 12th December and concludes on Christmas Eve.

There had always used to be, and probably still is, a special atmosphere in Whitehall during the pre-Christmas period. On one hand there’s a hurrying to get business done before everyone leaves for the holiday (and the Houses of Parliament usually rise a week or more before Christmas) but, on the other, there’s an anticipation of the holiday, with office Christmas lunches, Christmas parties and a general relaxation. Anyone who has worked in an office at Christmas time will recognise the latter.

There is also a specific London element, with the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square and the decorative lights along theLondonChristmasLights2 major thoroughfares and in shops, pubs and public buildings. The carol concerts at St Martins and St Johns, the pantomimes in theatreland, the ‘Christmas show’ at the National Theatre (I have seen many over the years) and at least one, often two, productions of The Nutcracker ballet. All this contributes to the backdrop against which Opera takes place.

Plague took place during the late gasp of sunny London summer, Oracle in the storms of November in the spectacular, snow-tipped mountains of Greece. In Oracle it is a grim, cold, wet December back in the city. Car headlights reflect in wet roads and puddles in the late afternoons, the bright colours of Christmas lights inside cafes and shops are smudged behind windows streaked by rain. The wind buffets down Whitehall and whips along the river as people hurry between buildings, collars raised, brollies blown inside out, clutching their briefcases and papers. Hooded and cagouled tourists wear determined smiles as they wander from Abbey to Palace to park and parade ground. This is a place and time I know.

LondonChristmasLightsEach book is organised on a day by day basis. Plague runs over ten days from Monday 9th September to Wednesday 18th with a final chapter on Friday20th. Oracle begins on a Monday in November with six days in Delphi and two more, a week later, in Athens. Readers say that they like this aspect of the novels, making events seem more real and immediate as well, I am told, as pacey. Opera is no exception and a lot happens in ten days, as, I hope, readers have come to expect.

For the moment I am busy recreating that pre-Christmas London. Cassie and Daljit meet in pubs which pump out the instantly recognisable Christmas pop tunes, there is an office Christmas lunch (at the Natural History Museum) whichLondonChristmasLights4 gives our main suspects an alibi – but wait, who arrived when and who was late? The Palace of Westminster becomes relatively deserted as Members head off to their homes and constituencies and it turns into the haunt of the permanent staff and the tourists, who, while the Houses aren’t sitting, get let into the Chambers.  N.B. For anyone who hasn’t visited the Palace of Westminster, the Christmas recess is a good time to go, there are generally fewer tourists than in the summer months.

For me, it is Christmas in July.

The Real Thing

thekissI know nothing about sculpting, though I like looking at sculptures. So I found Tate Britain’s exhibition, The Making of Rodin, fascinating, focusing as it does on HOW Rodin went about creating his works. Outside the exhibition is a version of The Kiss, but the show itself begins with a bronze, the only bronze sculpture in the exhibition, the rest are in plaster. This is The Age of Bronze, the figure of a young Belgian soldier named Auguste Ney and it replicated real life so perfectly that Rodin was accused of making the cast direct from Ney’s body rather than modelling it. Rodin refuted the allegations of ‘cheating’ with a passion, having photographs taken of Ney to demonstrate the differences between the subject and the sculpture. Thereafter he was to move away from the conventions of classical sculpture, with its ideal of human beauty.

Rodin worked by modelling in clay, then casting in plaster and dipping the resulting casts in plaster slip or ‘lait deabattis_2 platre‘, which softened the sculptures, smoothing their angles and filling their craters. But a perfect finish was not what he was after and he left seams visible between joints as well as gouge and nail marks. Multiple casts of a single piece, or part of a piece were made and used in a variety of ways ( see the Giblets or abattis laid out in one vitrine, arms, legs, torsos originally to be part of The Gates of Hell, but used for many other works ). He reworked his casts, remodelling parts of them, with elements being used in any number of larger works, dismantling and reassembling existing sculptures in endless combinations. So The Head of a Slavic Woman appeared in multiple works, repositioned and rotated. The Son of Ugolino moved from prone point of death to an aerial figure. 

ThreeShadesRodin took repetition to another level when he included multiple casts of the same figure to form a sculptural group. So The Three Shades consists of a single figure, originally to represent Adam, presented in a group together (see left). He also changed the scale of pieces and the exhibition has some truly large versions of elements of other sculptures, Rodin was said to be particularly fond of the undulating surfaces created by enlargement. We see the head of one of the Burghers of Calais, but twice the size, a massive version of The Thinker and a super large plaster version of Balzac. The versions of this last sculpture are particularly illuminating, showing a nude figure in various sizes and a head in various forms, plus the dressing gown (so accurately represented it seemed that the fabric would fold in your hand), which were used to inform the final work.

There are some of Rodin’s drawings in the exhibition too. The exhibition guide tells usrodindrawing that Rodin used drawing to study movement and the internal dynamics of the body, asking his sitters to move around the studio. The works on show are all of impersonal female nudes in graphite and watercolour and they are full of movement. I liked them a lot. As with his clay sculptures, Rodin would use the sketches again and again. The drawings on display are annotated with his notes, rotating the pages around to show the figures differently depending on aspect. The other element I admired was his use of antique artefacts –  a very modern concept – though Rodin used the real thing, not copies, thus effectively negating the work of the original potter, or ceramicist (not so admirable).

burghersofcalaisOne room contains a life-size ( i.e. bigger than actual life ) plaster model of his famous Burghers of Calais, such a fabulous and powerful sculptural group, the bronze version of which stands outside the Houses of Parliament. This made me want to go and see that sculpture again, but the plain white of the plaster version somehow renders the self-sacrificing burghers even more exposed than their bronze equivalents. Other rooms are dedicated to works depicting the Japanese actor and dancer Ohta Hisa – Rodin made over fifty busts and masks of her face – and Helene von Nostitz, his aristocratic German friend. 

The exhibition made me think about the ‘real’ and how an imperfect representation of it could illuminate a greater truth. Rodin sometimes deliberately removed part of a sculpted body, a lower limb or a hand as well as making marks on the surface. This reminded me of Henry James’ short story The Real Thing, which prompts similar ruminations, though from a completely different perspective. I also speculated how a sculptor might have a different view of the human body to the rest of us. Rodin was a lover of women, the exhibition acknowledges his numerous relationships and one wonders how his day job impacted upon how he saw and reacted to his lovers, particularly Camille Claudel, a fellow sculptor. 

An engaging and, for me, fascinating, exhibition, it runs until 21st November at Tate Modern and tickets cost £18. 

Opera and ‘Opera’

Is it entirely coincidental that, at a time when I’m working on ‘Opera’, the next novel in the Cassandra Fortune series, I’m going to more opera than usual? No, of course not. The opera in ‘Opera’ is Tosca, Puccini’s ‘shabby little shocker’ (according to musicologist Joseph Kerman) set in Rome on 17th and 18th June 1800. The dating is precise because the plot is impacted by specific events, in particular the outcome, for some time in doubt, of the Battle of Marengo then taking place far to the north. The date of events in ‘Opera’ is precise too, though opera and novel have more in common than that. Both have a political backdrop of democracy under siege by the forces of repression and wealth, both have an arch-villain and a courageous heroine. I’m off to see ENO present this later in the summer.

It was a very different Puccini work which I went to see last Friday. Gianni Schicchi is a comedy, though its central character appears in Dante, the eponymous 13th century nouveau riche nobleman who is condemned to Hell for impersonating a dead man in order to acquire his property (including an ass). The company, St Paul’s Opera, is based at a Clapham church. It was set up by Patrician Ninian and others (who have since moved on) with the specific aim of offering accessible opera while encouraging and supporting aspiring young professional singers. Some of the finest were singing last week. It was, as it always is, a sell-out.

Friday evening was perfect, sunny and warm. The gates opened at a quarter to six and we sat, sipping wine and chatting before a pied piper, Musical Director Panaretos Kyriatzidis, appeared walked through the gardens to summon us to the first musical performance. This was of sacred music in the Eden Gardens, sung by many of the company who were to appear later in the opera.

We returned to our food and wine and, unfortunately, missed the second small performance, a string quartet playing, among other things, an old favourite of mine Night Music from the Streets of Madrid by Boccherini.  So we were determined to hear the third, a selection of aria from Puccini, Donizetti and Verdi, sung by some of that evening’s principals. Then it was everyone to the grassy area behind the church where the main event was to happen. Every part of the evening had, so far, been a delight and so was the buzz as folk drank up, gathered their jackets and walked down to the amphitheatre. What a joy it was to be part of a happy crowd of people again, all anticipating more fun to come.

The seating was in small blocks, with gaps between, just as the tables in the picnic area had been. The evening took place entirely outside, but social distancing was still in evidence. Not in the production, where the newly cold body of Buoso is surrounded by his grieving (and greedy) relatives, who, when the will is discovered, are forced to turn to the wily parvenu, Gianni Schicchi, to retrieve the situation.  As the sun set and the strains of ‘O mio babbino caro’ rang around the hushed churchyard, for a short time everything was right with the world. Here’s Kiri Te Kanawa singng the same.

Clapham Book Festival 2021

clapham book festivallogo2Clapham’s quirky and much-loved literary festival is back for 2021, taking place on 16 October. It will feature events in a variety of formats, including literary walks and livestreaming of events as well as the usual live author discussions. This year will also see a number of online literary events during the summer and autumn in the lead up to the event in October, which will be delivered in partnership with Time & Leisure Magazine.

Paula Johnson (Society of Authors, Associate Director Royal Society of Literature, Royal Literary Fund Trustee) has put the programme together, and will include literary walks, author talks, and will feature highly acclaimed authors including Sir Michael Morpurgo, and a host of new and established local authors.

Says Paula: “Bringing back the Festival after a year of lockdown, our programme kicks off at 2pm with guided walksAnnemarie Neary author pic around the literary sites of Clapham led by local authors, including the novelist and award-winning short story writer Annemarie Neary and crime fiction writer, Julie Anderson. Clapham has a long and illustrious literary history and this is a unique way of exploring it, but ticket numbers are limited so be sure to get yours early. Although we cannot be sure what level of restrictions will apply in October, if any, the walks will take place regardless of all but the strictest of lock-down circumstances.”

At 5:30pm, Sir Michael Morpurgo will be at Omnibus Theatre. The former children’s laureate, multiple award-winning author and creator of the world famous War Horse, will be discussing his new book When Fishes Flew and his life and work. This is a perfect event for all ages. At 7:30pm, Ben Macintyre, historian, biographer and columnist for The Times Ben Macintyre USE - credit Justine Stoddartnewspaper, will be discussing his most recent book Agent Sonya, a biography of Soviet agent, Ursula Kuszinsky and trading stories of legendary spies with local author and broadcaster Simon Berthon.

Come and meet the authors and have your books signed (authors’ works will be on sale at Omnibus thanks to the support of partner, local independent bookshop Clapham Books). There will also be live streaming of both performances, for those who cannot attend in person, with a copy of the author’s book included in the ticket price. Tickets for both types of event will be on sale at the start of September via Eventbrite, as well as for the literary walks.

The Book Festival will also be presenting a series of live author events and discussions online in partnership with TimeElizabeth Buchan author pic & Leisure Magazine. This is a new departure for the Festival. It will bring high quality author interviews, often with local authors or writers connected with Clapham and south London to a wider audience all year round. Panel discussions and conversations are planned. The first of these, with best-selling local author Elizabeth Buchan, whose new book Two Women of Rome was published in June, will be taking place on 28 July.  Elizabeth will be discussing her work, the settings for her books and the importance of history in her books. This is a free event to inaugurate the programme but please register at  Eventbrite here.

What Do Words Matter?

In his opera Capriccio, Richard Strauss posed the question, is the music in opera based on the words or are the words based on the music? He personified it in the form of two men competing for the love of one woman and left the answer somewhat ambiguous. Yesterday evening I went along to a local church to hear two librettists discuss this and other questions. Very interesting it was too.

Meredith Oakes is a playwright, dramaturge and violinist who is also a very successful librettist, working with Gerald Barry (The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, 1995) and Thomas Ades (The TempestPhiliphensher, 2004), the latter opera performed around the world. She is currently working on a piece to be performed in her native Australia. Philip Hensher is better known as a novelist, twice listed for the Man Booker Prize (The Mulberry Empire, 2002 and The Northern Clemency, 2008) but has an abiding love of opera and produced the libretto to Thomas Ades’ debut opera Powder Her Face (1995). His latest book is A Small Revolution in Germany (Fourth Estate, 2020). The discussion was marshalled by Jonathan Boardman, Vicar of St Pauls, Clapham, where the event took place.

We began at the beginning, how does collaboration between composer and librettist start? For Hensher it was almostPowderHerFace by chance, it was he who suggested the subject of Ades’ first opera, the scandalous divorce between the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, which became Powder Her Face. He described the process as a suggestive and seductive one, the librettist leaving a trail of breadcrumbs (words) to entice the composer into following creatively and then to exceed the limitations of those words. Oakes described the process differently, more of a collaboration in joy. She took on the task of writing the libretto for an opera based on Shakespeare which was filled with particular challenges. She described the process as being like ‘walking around a monument, seeing it from different angles and bringing out its different aspects’. Should she adopt iambic pentameter, the verse form used most frequently by Shakespeare? Yet it might constrain or run directly against the meter of the music. Should she use it occasionally, or abandon it altogether? She also had a particular problem in that, in the play the heroine Miranda, daughter of Prospero, says very little. Oakes had to get inside the head of this character and give her more of a voice, bringing out her hopes and fears in order for her to act as a balance within the opera.

The discussion ranged widely. Is the collaboration improved by the composer and librettist being friends? Both theOakesthetempest librettists speaking last night remain friends with the composers they had worked with, but there are some examples of the relationship between collaborators breaking down. So much so in Harrison Birtwhistle’s case that one of his librettists alleged that Birtwhistle had tried to run him down with his car! Gilbert and Sullivan cordially hated each other (though they made a lot of money together). On the other hand there have been some great collaborations between partners, like that between Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (though Britten was, apparently, notoriously difficult to work with).

Throughout the conversation was punctuated by illustrations, pieces written in English and set to music across the StPaulsages, by Purcell, Handel, Gilbert & Sullivan and Britten. The young singers, Hugh Benson (tenor), Alexandra Dinwiddie (mezzo-soprano), Edwin Kaye (bass cantate) and Davidona Pittock (soprano) were from St Paul’s Opera, accompanied by pianist Elspeth Wilkes.

Add in some Provencal rosé, a sunny summer’s evening in a churchyard and music in a church with a wonderful acoustic for music. What more could one ask?

All good things…

OracelandPlagueThere are always interesting things happening in the world of books, book festivals and publishing, but right now many are happening as a result, direct or otherwise, of the enforced lockdown and the removal of the usual ways in which books and literature are promoted and supported.  I’ve experienced this myself, with publication of not one, but two books during COVID times. Gone were the signings, the book tours, the attending of literary festivals. My publisher’s idea of handing out the first two chapters of ‘Plague’ in a small, bound leaflet at Westminster Tube station ( the book is set in part in the Palace of Westminster ) was completely stymied by the pandemic. There were few folk emerging for work in Whitehall and even fewer tourists last year and, in any case, who was going to take a leaflet from a stranger which had PLAGUE written across the top?

chatInstead, book promotion has moved even further into the virtual world. I have ‘met’ lots of people online when promoting the books in this way, people who I now think of as friends, even if I’ve never actually met them. I have invitations to Edinburgh, Newcastle and Tamworth and supporters of myself and my books across the globe, not just the book shops of south east England.  I also have a network of friendly fellow authors, with whom I have appeared on panel discussions and other platforms or have coincided online with for other reasons.  And I ‘know’ a host of folk via Facebook, a medium I hadn’t really used at all until very recently, but which, in COVID-times, has provided a host of alternative ‘communities’ for bookish folk – writers and readers.

Plague book tour bannerYes, much of this could have happened anyway, events like blog tours have been going for some time now, though there is a limit on the amount of time available for book promotion and certainly a limit on my publisher’s budget, but the restrictions have been a catalyst, at least for me and, I suspect, many others.  As we become familiar with the technology and comfortable with the zoomed or skyped or livestreamed world new ideas spring up and take root. There are new things afoot in the world of book bloggers with live author chats, discussions between bloggers about books and with book club events – e.g. Mairéad Hearne at Swirl and Thread is hosting launches, Poppy Loves Book Club is hosting a series of online events and the lovely folk at the UK Crime Book Club host regular author chats and discussions and authors reading from their books – to name but three.  These are all offering free events ( as long as you have the internet, of course ).

camera-6209482_1920Some things will never be the same again I suspect. Livestreaming, a lifeline for dark theatres and closed halls, is here to stay for performance generally, reaching wider, more dispersed audiences. Many festivals of all kinds, including Clapham Book Festival, will offer livestreaming alternatives alongside live events. Our partners, Omnibus Theatre certainly plans to do so. All of which is a boon to those who would not be able to attend events like this in the normal course of things, the infirm or elderly, or those living in isolated, or culturally deprived, locations. They can now not just watch but contribute to and take part in events – which would have been unthinkable before. None of the libraries I’ve done sessions for, sometimes structured ‘talks’, sometimes conversations, plan to retreat from these online events, though they will return to providing ‘live’ ones too. Let’s hope that they’re staffed to do so.  Festivals too are going online. And the Clapham Book festival is no exception – more news on that in due course.

The Festival is Back

clapham book festivallogo2And it will probably will never be the same again!

The date for the diary is Saturday 16th October 2021, with a mixed Programme of events, including Literary Walks, lead by local authors, and live author events at Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, which will also be livestreamed for those who do not live close enough, or do not wish, to attend in person.

The two headliners for this year are Sir Michael Morpurgo, multiple award winner and former Children’s Laureate and Ben Macintyre historian, reviewer and columnist of The Times newspaper.

Sir Michael is the winner of the Whitbread Children’s Book Award, the Prix Sorcieres (three times), the Red House Children’s Book Award (four times), the Blue Peter Book of the Year and many others. He was knighted in the 2018 Honours List for services to literature and charity. He and his wife set up Farms forMichaelMorpurgo City Children in 1976 and the charity now owns three farms in Wales, Devon and Gloucestershire. His most famous work is probably War Horse, which was adapted for the stage and became the most successful National Theatre production ever, being seen by over ten million people worldwide. It was made into a cinema film, directed by Stephen Spielberg, in 2011. He recently presented the Radio 4 series ‘Folk Journeys’ in which he considered some of the greatest songs ever composed.  Sir Michael’s latest book is When Fishes Flew, illustrated by George Butler, to be published this Autumn.

AgentSonyaCoverBen Macintyre is an author, historian, reviewer and columnist for The Times newspaper. His most recent book, Agent Sonya, is a biography of Soviet agent Ursula Kuczinsky, has been acclaimed as a thriller as well as a piece of history.  Both events will be livestreamed and live stream ticket holders will receive a copy of the respective author’s book.  If we are in another lockdown or under other restrictions in force the event will go ahead as a livestream only, or, potentially as a zoom event.

Earlier in the day the Festival goes al fresco, out and about in Clapham. For centuries the home and haunt of writers of all kinds, Clapham has a long and illustrious ( and sometimes less than respectable ) literary history. Join local authors Elizabeth Buchan and, later, Annemarie Neary, on a Literary Walk round the manor.  Elizabeth’s latest novel Two Women of Rome  is published in June ( though her earlier book, The New Mrs Clifton was set in Clapham ) and Annemarie’s The Orphans, is set on Clapham Common itself. The walk takes approximately two hours (although that depends on how muchT&L Media logo Box NEW.eps discussion there is in each group). Ticket numbers will be limited so it’ll be important to book early. We hope the walks can take place in any circumstances but a strict lockdown.

More exciting news is that CBF is now partnered with Time & Leisure magazine and the Book Festival is planning, with the magazine, to offer a selection of bookish author events available online year round. Watch this space for developments. Tickets for all events, online, livestreamed and in person, either in the Theatre or out and about, will be available on Eventbrite.

 

 

 

 

Publication Day!

OracleonphoneheldbywomanatlakeSo ‘Oracle’ is loose upon the world, at first with a tentative snuffling, a rootling, then a leaping and bounding – into reader’s hands, hearts and minds, I hope. There isn’t a launch, not even a virtual one, there are better ways to spend one’s energy and time right now, though I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to all those people who have supported me and the book and congratulated me and wished the book well.

It’s now available on bookshop.org and via the Claret Press web-site ( postage & packing of paperbacks is free, while stocks last ) as well as on Mr Besos’ ubiquitous platform ( which still sells more books than anywhere else online ) and Waterstones.  Both paperbacks and ebooks are available costing £9.99 and £3.99 respectively ( though Amazon alters the price it charges unilaterally, I was surprised to see the ebook up for pre-order for £5.99 at one point – proof that there were pre-orders at any rate ). If you happen to live in south London the book can be found at Clapham Books and Herne Hill Books ( and several other local book emporia ).  It can be ordered from all good book shops.

And I’m busy.  I had great fun this afternoon being interviewed for ‘The Doctor Will See You Now’ by Jacky Gramosi Collins, also known as Dr Noir NewcastleNoir( Jacky founded Newcastle Noir, was instrumental in the Edinburgh Noir at the Bar and most recently, has been deeply involved with Gwyl Crime Cymru, Wales’ first Crime Fiction Festival ). This will be broadcast on Thursday 6th May – it’s free to air and you can find it here, when I get the link. I’ve also been chatting on StreamYard with Sam Brownley of the UK Crime Book Club. I’ll be doing a talk for the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster Libraries too, on 17th May. It’s free but you need to register ( tickets from Eventbrite ). I’ve enjoyed preparing for that – it’s all about Delphi, ancient and modern and its myths and literature, as well as ‘Oracle’. In the meanwhile there are a number of events for book clubs and subscribed podcasts and some radio interviews coming up too, the Events page of this web-site will be kept up to date.

OracelandPlagueThere will be some fizz drunk this evening, which is probably my only concession to the traditional response to publication.  Releasing two books in two years, only eight months apart, but into a world wracked by COVID has not been what I would have expected or wanted. Nonetheless, readers seemed to enjoy ‘Plague’ and, I hope, will also enjoy ‘Oracle’ although it is a very different type of book, much more the ‘classic’ murder mystery. I am already hard at work on ‘Opera’ the third in the series, which sees Cassie return to London determined to lay some old ghosts to rest after her experience in Delphi.

If any of you reading this are about to read ‘Oracle’ please do write a review when you have done so, on Goodreads and Amazon or Waterstones, wherever you purchased the book. That will help other potential readers and, if you enjoy reading it, TELL EVERYONE ABOUT IT!  

In the meanwhile, I raise a glass to you all. 

Hurray for book bloggers

OracleCassiequoteVBGreyThis weekend, with three days to go until ‘Oracle’ is published, I had planned to do another ‘run down’ type post.  Something I came across on Twitter, however, changed my mind.  This piece is written in gratitude to all those book bloggers who have reviewed ‘Oracle’ and/or ‘Plague’ before it, or carried articles or other pieces about either of those books.

Anne Cater, doyen of book bloggers, ten years or more blogging and a CWA Dagger judge, as well as of the British Book Awards, tweeted that she was hearing talk that “there’s ‘no future’ for blog reviews.” Her own web site, Random Things, “…may disappear if that’s the case. Instagram reviewing is not for me, so this may be the end?” This is as a result of the rise of Instagram and #bookstagram, currently engaging millions.

I seriously doubt that this will happen. It depends on what publishers and publicists ( and authors ) want.

If publishers want coverage, I suppose, Instagram can offer bigger numbers. This is the equivalent of the billboard, realOraclewithcoffeeandpapers or virtual. It tells you that the book is out there and carries a simple message about it (see above). It’s pure publicity.  This, like a billboard ad, can prompt people into buying. But if a potential reader wants to know more and whether or not the book is for them before they buy, detail is required and the limited length of Instagram posts precludes this. Step forward the book blogger, offering a considered review of a book’s strengths and, if necessary, less strong areas ( though most book bloggers won’t post negative reviews ).

Blog reviews also generate conversation about the book, what did others like or dislike about it, would the character do this or that? An Instagram post is less likely to prompt dialogue of any depth ( aside from saying whether or not a book is good/enjoyable and commenting on the image, which is what I have seen on Instagram when images are not linked to a longer review on a blog ) and more substantial dialogue is what a reader often wants.  Both before they buy and, if they enjoyed the book, afterwards. The experience of a book and its fictional world is amplified and the enjoyment increased by sharing views about it.

booklight-465350_1280It’s also in the wider interests of publishers, publicists and authors to encourage discussion about books, to widen reader’s horizons and engage more people in reading. This is what book bloggers do, sometimes via Blog Tours, or by just posting their own thoughts about what they are reading. And, in the time of COVID, both have been important in drumming up publicity and support for books which would, otherwise, have sunk without trace.

Most books don’t get reviewed in the national press, especially books by unknown or debut authors ( celebrity or big name authors dominate in a brand-led world ). The traditional ‘book tour’ with its author signings and attendance of W.I., Literary Societies or Book Clubs can’t happen. The paid events, like school visits or literary festivals, aren’t happening and even the traditional book launch is banned. All sorts of plans for the launch of my first book had to be abandoned.  Now, I find, I have the dubious distinction of also launching my second book into the COVID restricted world. So I would like to thank all those book bloggers, reviewers and downright good folk who have, at least in a small way, generated some interest in my books.  They do this out of love and take joy in books, they are unpaid and they form a small, warm community online when the physical community can no longer gather.

I’m not going to write a list here, it would be as long as another post, but I will be tagging them all, in the attaching tweet or Fb post and, yes, on Instagram!