Oh dear. After promising to send bookplates to those or you who would like one, I launched a new website and some technical things happened with various mail delivery systems attached to the old site, and it appears that the list of emails has been eaten. If you requested a bookplate in the final months of 2009 or early January 2010 and have not yet received it, please do drop me another note from here and I'll dispatch one, post haste!
In the wee hours of the morning, while all was black and still, I was woken by a great thunderclap. In my hazy, sleep-drunk state, I thought of an egg: an enormous crack, the peeling open of the taut, steamy sky, then the great and instant deluge of rain.
It stormed all night, grumbling thunder, flashing lightning, and it's still raining now. When you live in the sub-tropics, rain pelting a tin roof is one of the best sounds you'll hear, and I hope it lasts all day. Writing with a hot cup of tea steaming beside me while it's wet and grey outside just about tops my list of book-related pleasures.
And now to a very good question that came in via the FAQ line:
My mom is blind and listens to audio books constantly. She and I both enjoyed The Shifting Fog and The Forgotten Garden immensely and Caroline Lee is the perfect narrator for these. So, my question is, do you know if The Distant Hours will be out on audio and who will narrate if so. I'd hate for my mom to miss yet another wonderful book by you and we are so excited for the release!
Thanks for your email, Terri. I adore audio books--there's something deeply pleasant and nostalgic about being read to. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine that you're a small child again, curled up on the rug as a grown person brings a story world to life.
I'm very happy to say that yes, THE DISTANT HOURS will be released as an unabridged audio book. Bolinda Audio, the very same audio publishers responsible for my other books (and, incidentally, a dynamic family publishing house) have bought the rights. Caroline Lee is amazing, isn't she? Proof of her talent: when I listened to her recording of HOUSE AT RIVERTON/SHIFTING FOG, I was able, for the first time, to hear the words anew, almost as if the story had been written by someone else. I'll certainly be putting in a request that Caroline perform THE DISTANT HOURS, too.
There are other questions to answer. Lots of other questions. Thank you for sending them, and for caring enough about the books to think of them. I will be back soon with many more answers. In the meantime, happy reading and listening!
The US trade paperback of THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN is published this month and I'm happy to report that it looks just as gorgeous as the hard cover, only a little lighter in your satchel. You can read the first chapter here or skip straight to the reading group guide, if you prefer.
Also, I received this link recently and thought I'd post it here--not because lovely things are being said about my books, though that is also very nice--but because it reminded me of one of my most happy-making, favourite things: that there are other people out there, lots of them, who love reading and writing, and talking about reading and writing, just as much as I do. They love crumbling castles and lost gardens, and secrets and mysteries, and locked doors and old diaries, and being completely enveloped by a made-up world filled with made-up people about whom they come to care deeply. And they love them so much that they set up beautiful stores where the rest of us can go to escape or to browse or to read or just to be surrounded by walls and walls of books, whispering their stories in hopes we might pick them up and become lost inside.
Aside from all that, Nina and Vicki's bookstore has one of the most enticing names of any that I've come across: The Flying Dragon Bookstore. Don't you just want to disappear inside? It's in Toronto, Canada, if you happen to be nearby. All praise to passionate booklovers like these:
Quite a few people are asking when they can expect to see THE DISTANT HOURS live and at large, and I'm very happy to tell you that it will be published in Australia, the US and the UK in November this year, and everywhere else in 2011 (because translating manuscripts--especially those as long as mine tend to be--takes rather a lot of time). It's already on Amazon and various other places, which means it must be true.
There will be tours and signings in November, the details of which I'll post as soon as I have them. I'm head down finishing the book at the moment, which is why journal entries may be a little sparse for the next few months. Expect to see a THE DISTANT HOURS page on the website soon, though, including a synopsis and other sneak previews.
I can't tell you too much about the story just yet, except to say that it's my favourite so far, it takes place in the present and the past, in particular, England during World War Two, and it's full of secrets (of course!). There was a lot of research to do for this story, the sort done with books at my desk in my little office, and also much more exciting research in Other Places: a climb up the Sissinghurst tower, guided tours of Blitz-torn London, descent into an abandoned Underground station... I shiver just thinking about it! I'll write some more about those experiences in this here little journal, just as soon as I have a minute spare...
I was contacting my six year old's schoolbooks over the weekend and by complete coincidence my mum arrived with an enormous sack of musty, dusty old books that had been mine when I was around the same age. They'd turned up in a cupboard on Tamborine Mountain and she thought I should have them.
There were a number of things inside that sack that I'd completely forgotten: it may interest you to know, for instance, that my social studies scrapbook from the mid 1980s contains a brief unit on 'Head lice and how to get rid of them', complete with a six step illustrated guide. For your edification, step two, 'Use special shampoo twice in one week', is underlined, so I gather that bit's rather important. Such useful personal grooming tips can be found sprinkled amongst units as diverse as 'How to make a light bulb light up' and 'I could help a disabled person this way'. I've listed (and illustrated!) ten ways to help disabled people, but I've asterisked and underlined number seven, 'Be Nice.' Which seems like pretty good advice when dealing with people in general.
I couldn't help wondering how my dad felt about the little essay I wrote about him:
'My father's name is Warren. He is about forty-six years old. [Dad was actually 34 at the time] He is an engineer. He likes beer, picnics and watching the news.'
It's illustrated, and he's looking up from the television set to smile. The teacher has given me a 'Very Good' stamp and added 'Well written! Neat work!' I have made a mental note to check my son's parental essays before they go back to school for marking and judgement (of his parents, I mean.)
My favourite find was a little book, hand-cut and stapled by the teacher, its cover made from brown swirly floral wallpaper, circa 1974. I remember being rather awed by that wallpaper cover: it had a lustre to it back then, so the brown was almost golden in that classic seventies way. The passing decades have stripped it to matte, but I still felt an echo of reverence as I held it in my hands. We were not a wallpaper family, and I always felt a little envious of those who were. On the front of my special book, I've printed the title 'My Hobbies', and inside, in very careful handwriting, I've written that my hobby is being a ballerina and then outlined in great detail the times and days that I attend ballet lessons. And clarinet lessons. And then the contingencies if I couldn't make one of those lessons and needed to make it up. I did not have much of a nose for narrative back then, but the handwriting is very neat. On the final page, I came across the following:
'Another hobby of mine is reading and writing. At the show in 1982 I came first in my writing. I like writing the best out of them both.'
Which made me happy, because I've always felt slightly odd when other writers started speaking about how they always knew they wanted to be writers. It turns out I did too, only I'd forgotten about it for a time.
As I went through those books, alongside the things that had slipped my memory completely were certain pages I remembered vividly. As in, where I'd been sitting when I'd worked on them, mistakes I'd made and how I felt about them, bits that made me proud. The distance between now and then was missing, somehow, and I was able, almost, to reach out and touch my seven year old self. I don't need much urging to think about memory and the way it ties us to the past, and I've been wondering what it is about some experiences that makes them so easily retrievable. Traumatic or exciting events I can understand: but why remember the moment spent sitting at the kitchen bench, eating sultanas and shading around the illustration of a girl having her hair combed for lice, when so many other similar moments are lost?
And, when I'd returned to covering school books and I was doing that thing with the ruler that gets the bubbles out of contact, I had the happy but also kind of melancholy wondering as to whether my son, decades from now, will pull out the notebooks that his mum covered for him, dust them off, and turn their pages once more. What will he have written or drawn inside? Will he look back at the copious drawings of A380 planes and remember his dream of being a pilot? Will he perhaps be a pilot? And will there be certain pages that draw him, as if by a thread, back to the moment when he sat, six years old, in a damp classroom, and the days seemed to stretch eternally, and his lunch was waiting for him in his bag, and the future seemed endless? I hope so.
In the mail yesterday--the real mail, I mean, the sort with envelopes covered by handwriting and stamps and fingerprints--I received a copy of Beverley Nichols's Cry Havoc; his anti-war missive published in 1933. For anyone interested in the Mitford sisters, Cry Havoc is the book that Jessica (Decca) rated so highly in Hons and Rebels and that earned a place on her socialist bookshelf in the room she shared with Unity. I adore Nichols's writing--his memoir of the 1920s, The Sweet and Twenties is a brilliant and thoughtful read--so I have very high hopes for this one. I'll let you know as soon as I'm finished.
Finally, thank you so much to everyone who sent lovely messages about my books. Writing is my favourite and my best (as Lola from Charlie and Lola would say), and to know that you enjoy the books makes me very happy indeed.