Hello! This is the first blog I have ever posted, so please forgive me if it either looks a little strange or bits vanish. I hope that you won’t hesitate to e.mail me with suggestions or ideas it might be fun to discuss.

I’m just back from a splendid 12 day book tour in the US, where I was bowled over by the friendliness of the people and the plumbing. American showers! In Austin, Texas, I had not only a showerhead and jets (pulsating or sweeping, as you chose – there was an instruction book) but a WATERFALL. I almost never emerged.

The tour itself was a whirlwind and the high moments were very many: just arriving in New York, for one, then meeting my wonderful US publishers at Walker and seeing Blood Red Horse and Green Jasper in Books of Wonder, and in B & N on 5th Avenue. For a British author that is a very particular thrill. I also did some shopping … Why are there no J Crew shops in Britain?

Then to Texas, where the welcomes are legendary, to do a Lone Star Magic in the Middle panel with Anthony Horowitz, Garth Nix, Steven Layne, Sherry Shahan and Rick Riordan. That was a moment for me and I tried not to look too star struck. Then to Milwaukee, to another wonderful welcome in the brilliant Harry Schwartz book stores – the kind of stores that make you want to be a writer, just to appear on their shelves, and then to Chicago, which I had never visited before and will certainly do again. More on all these later, including the library where the stars come out, the evening we lost our dinner, my turning from a historical novelist into one who write ‘epic adventures set in the past which may or may not be true’ and how to travel with wigs.

Now I’m off to Aberdeen with my Uncle Frank’s head. If you want to know more about him, try reading How The Hangman Lost His Heart, published by Puffin on 4th May but don’t read chapter 1 directly after breakfast.

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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Thursday, May 18th, 2006







I think I have, at last, solved the mystery of uploading pictures onto the website. Not only that, but I now have a beautiful Apple computer, which is very wierd after using a pc all this time. We now have more computers than dogs, which does not impress our dogs at all. I hope their picture comes out, or they’ll feel very short-changed. The dogs are Biscuit, on the floor, and Crumble, on the cushion. Crumble is Biscuit’s daughter. Biscuit is slow and venerable. Crumble is just a ball of fur.

I promised that I would try and upload some pictures from my Fabulous American BookTour, so here goes. Those of you who posed have been very patient. Now, I don’t seem to be very good at actually getting these photographs in order, but if you go down the line, these are what they are, and apologies for the terrible quality. I’ll get this digital camera malarkey right one day.
1. Lovely Fairview School in Illinois
2. Signing at Book People, Austin – I’m so sorry the photo is so dark since you were all so smiley
3. Douglas and Audrey Orme-Herrick (they were NOT in the USA but insisted on being in here: if the dogs can be in, so can the budgies)
4. Texas Lone Star Magic in the Middle: Anthony Horowitz, Garth Nix, me, Steven Layne, Sherry Shahan and Rick Riordan. I thought it was magic to be in the same line-up, but my camera definitely went overboard on the magic bit
5. Garth Nix and I at the welcoming Blue Willow Bookstore in Houston – I also compared iPods with Lauren Myracle of TTFL fame – a novelist of the past and one of the present still have the same gadgets
6. Biscuit and Crumble, who will be cross to come below the Orme-Herricks

There are lots more photos which I shall stick on in due course.

I must now decide what we are going to have for dinner. I do wish somebody would invent home-cooked food that cooked itself.

Nevertheless, onwards and upwards,
Katie

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8th June 2006

Well, Blaze of Silver, the final part of the de Granville Trilogy, is well on its way. One of the peculiar things about being an author is how your time-scales have to alter. Writing a book is a little like having a baby, in that it’s a long gestation period and some of it is rather painful, but then, once the baby’s born, it disappears to be made respectable before being launched out into the world. Waiting to see the dust-jacket always plays on the nerves. Will you like it? And if you don’t, will you dare say so? I’ve been really lucky so far in that I’ve loved my jackets – the one on the left is the Puffin jacket for the story of my unfortunate Uncle Frank – but other authors have real horror stories with covers that seem to them to bear no relation what they thought they had written. Perhaps some designers have agendas all of their own …

But I also have other big news. I am to write a quartet of books, still ‘epic adventures set in the past which may or may not be true’, (the modern way of describing historical novels) for Quercus. Once I had finished shouting ‘hurrah!’ and downed a quick glass or two of champagne, I settled down to think. Except of course, once the bubbly effect of the champagne wears off, I tend to fall asleep. Being asleep at the keyboard is a very wierd experience since if your head nods forward, when you wake up you have typed screeds of stuff. You scan it anxiously. Could it be brilliant? Well, it might be, except that it all seems to be in code. Mine was a mishmash of sdfga or ‘;lkjk. My forehead is not trained in touch-typing.

When beginning a new project, I spend a lot of time reading, which is very nice since you can do it outside and, believe it or not, it’s been quite hot even in Glasgow. I sit in my jungaloid (is there such a word? If there isn’t, there should be) garden and concentrate. Except I don’t because it’s impossible to sit in a garden without seeing millions of things that need to be done, so I’m up and down like a yoyo, pruning this, tidying that, sweeping the other. The dogs get absolutely fed up because as soon as I move, they feel honour bound to do the same, just in case I was thinking of taking them for a walk.

Anyhow, in the few moments of peace, I find myself reading T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Blast Mr. White to Fiery Hell, as my son, who is in particularly swashbuckling mode at the moment, might say. Mr. White is a genius. He tells the story of King Arthur as nobody else. He begins with Arthur as a boy, generally known as The Wart, and the reader, like the Wart, is changed into different animals and birds by the magician Merlin. What Mr. White didn’t know about everything on earth and a few things above and below isn’t worth knowing. And he was writing long before Google was invented. I’m glad I’m not writing about Arthur or I would lie on the floor of my study weeping. How to better T. H. White? Impossible.

Today I’m going to have my hair cut and, whisper it, coloured (of course). It’s always a moment for me, when the hairdresser says ‘what colour’? I have a wild desire to go red, or even orange, and frighten my family into fits. Or perhaps I could go green to complement the budgies?

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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29th June, 2006

It sounded so far away when I was first asked, but then, here it was: prize giving for the Glasgow Academy prep school. There can be few things more alarming than facing an entire junior school, who are just waiting for your speech to finish to take possession of their prizes and start their holidays. If you can leave without most of them shuffling and their parents snoring, that’s a good job done. But how lovely to be asked, even if it did make me feel rather old. I mean, at my school prizegiving, you looked up at the worthy droning on on the stage, and you thought ‘I’ll NEVER be like them’. And now look at me. (By the way, speaking of looking and going back to the previous blog, I went extra blonde with the hair, but am still toying with the green.)

Tomorrow, I am at it again, this time for the senior school at Mary Erskine’s, in Edinburgh. Addressing the leavers is always a big moment. Trouble must be taken with the speech. Trouble must also be taken with the fake tan, since I must wear a dress, it’s too hot for tights and I don’t want my legs to look like pillars of salt. Time for the fake bake. Just pray it works properly and I don’t end up with legs glowing like tangerines.

I both dread and love the summer holidays. Hate the cooking and the endless laundry. As a nation, we are FAR TOO CLEAN. But by the end, I’ve quite got into the rhythm and the idea of the children being back in school is appalling. They have organised themselves quite brilliantly this summer, having long since given up on any idea that I might turn into a super-mother who gets them to camps etc. and arranges fantastical days out. My days out usually involve outdated maps, nettles and old castles. Surprisingly often, they have also involved being chased by bulls. This year, my 16 year old and 14 year old have chosen navy and airforce camps respectively. Probably safer there.

Two chapters left to go of the adult novel I am writing, which nobody has yet seen. I’m both longing and dreading finishing it because then I’ll have to do something with it. Perhaps my agent will hate it. Perhaps, when I reread it, I’ll hate it. I always go through stages when I’m writing. ‘This is great’ is followed by ‘this is hopeless’ followed by ‘yes yes yes’ followed by ‘help help help’, then a long ‘hmmmmm’. I’m at the ‘hmmmmm’ stage with this one. But having got so far I must finish it before I can concentrate on my new trilogy, which is cooking away nicely in my head, prologue written and the characters gradually forming. It hasn’t yet got a name, which makes me feel insecure – not a good thing for a control freak like me. I scour the Bible and poetry books, and scribble words down in odd places. I have turned into an unashamed eavesdropper, just in case somebody should utter the perfect phrase for a title. Why can’t I come up with something as resonant as Fair Stood The Wind For France? H. E. Bates was a titular genius. Or his publisher was. So, I listen away. If you find yourself next door to me, you have been warned.

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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14th June 2006

First of all – hi, Angie, who e.mailed on Thursday 13th June. I’ve tried to reply but my e.mail just keeps bouncing back. Not sure why, but I apologise. If you have another e.mail address, could you perhaps send that through? Please don’t think I just haven’t bothered – that would bother me very much.

I’m feeling both insecure and liberated today. My new book contract is through and to concentrate fully on the first three out of the five, I have given up one of my newspaper columns. It feels like being given a present of a huge chunk of time, but I hate giving anything up! Yet I must. Delivery date for the first book is April 2007, which already feels terrifying close.

As always, when I’m nervy, I take refuge in the laundry and the cleaning. All the sheets in this house have been changed today, at least once, and I’m just staring at the yellow rubber gloves and the bleach. My children run away, in case I clean them as well. They know me in this mood. I’ve already brushed Crumble, and taken the clippers to Biscuit (they are the dogs, not the children, if you’ve not read this blog before, but I dare say, if the children get in the way, they’ll find their hair clipped too). I may take the saw into the garden and chop something down. When I’m in Mrs. Mop mode, nothing is safe.

Starting a whole load of new books is a huge vista of choices. The characters are still fluid, the plot a hotchpotch of possibilities. The de Granville trilogy taught me so much about writing, but when I began Blood Red Horse, Will, Kamil and Hosanna already seemed like people I had known for ages. In this trilogy – or will it be a quartet – the characters are slowly forming. They have names, but I’ll not give them out yet, since as soon as I do, I’ll want to change one of them. Anyhow, these not-quite-named-characters and I are still at the stage of circling round each other. Suddenly, one of us will pounce, and then the character will take off. Actually, one did yesterday, and as he is a very important character, I was very pleased to see him. He’s safely in my notebook (Moleskin cahier, squared paper, 21 cm by 13 – perfect for a bag). When I looked at him again this morning, he was still there, thank goodness, staring at me balefully, wondering why I prefer the rubber gloves and the bleach to getting better acquainted. He’s a man, of course, so doesn’t understand female obsessive compulsive scrubbing disorders. He’ll learn, I dare say.
Now I must empty the washing machine. The life of this writer is, at present, an odd one.

Nevertheless, onwards and upwards,
Katie

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I am a blog illiterate

I am a blog illiterate! This is another message for Angie, who posted a comment on the blog. I didn’t know the difference between an e.mail from the website and a blog comment. Honestly – sometimes I’m not fit to be let loose with a computer. Anyhow, Angie, I’m so glad you enjoyed Blood Red Horse, and hope you are enjoying Green Jasper.

You asked if you might know more about the next books, so, in addition to the previous blog, which talks more about writing than content, here is a small taster.

The new trilogy begins in the Limousin in France, with the death of Richard the Lionheart as he searches for some mystery treasure. That is historically true, which made a wonderful base for a story. My young hero and heroine are on opposite sides in the Crusade against the Cathars, who flourished in Occitania, now in France itself, but which was then a separate culture entirely. So there’s a bit of a Romeo and Juliet feel, except not, if you know what I mean! At the moment, the books all lead up to a terrible climax in a fortress called Montsegur, where, in 1244, there was a violent massacre. My characters are torn between their families and each other. Add in the mysterious treasure, which is very important, plots and counterplots,the stamping on the colourful and warm Occitanian way of life by an army conducting a War On Heresy, all set against the background of the stunning Pyrenean mountains, and you have a flavour of the books. Lots of research done, lots still to do.

Hope you are enjoying your summer.

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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We are returned from the small paradise that is the Quercy region of France redder than we left. It was 40 degrees when we landed in Toulouse and our hirecar was hotter than the top righthand oven of an aga. Nobody was much interested in showing us how the airconditioning worked, and my husband I and are both hopeless at that kind of thing, so we and the poor children sweated our way to our little house 100 km to the north. On day 6, my husband said ‘the weather has turned’ but it hadn’t. I’d just brushed some button or other with my bag and, bingo, the airconditioning had roared into action and we were freezing. And we froze from then on because we didn’t dare touch any buttons after that in case the aircon vanished altogether. Temperature-wise, it was a holiday of fluctuations.

And fluctuating tempers occasionally, particularly the day I was only saved from turning up a dual carriageway in the face of the oncoming traffic by my husband saying ‘you’re surely not going to …’ Like any self-respecting wife, I snapped back ‘of course not’ but I was, and had nightmares about it for days after, even though France is so empty you could dance a complete eightsome reel on most major roads and only a cow and perhaps two elderly ladies would see you. Driving abroad is fine, but I do wish they would not insist on driving on the wrong side of the road.

In the end, we didn’t care about the road as we sat on our terrace, above the stables where beasts had once been kept, and perhaps not so long ago either, with the only noise the gentle dropping of green figs on pink tiles and the crickets, who scratched so loudly I wondered if it was an enormous scratch for help. Maybe the heat had got to them. Maybe they knew something about the airconditioning.

I think only three things had ever really happened in our town of Castelnau Montratier: Simon de Montfort had roared through during the Albigensian crusade (early 1200s), there had been a bit of scrimmaging during the 100 years war (ended 1453) and 9 cars were burn out in a garage (when we were there). Otherwise, life was unchanged in its essentials. The white stone houses still glittered in the sun, the vines grew, the grain ripened, the hills rolled, the orchards groaned with fruit. From the side of the road we bought peaches so juicy that they were only really fit to eat in the bath, the only place our nanny, who used to throw the cat out of the window and finally went mad, would allow us to eat oranges when we were small.

We visited the cathedral at Albi, so stupendously ugly on the outside, as it bellows from its hilltop THOU WILT BE CATHOLIC and so intoxicating on the inside, painted from top to toe with visions of heaven and hell. I wandered round the cloisters at Moissac, marvelling at the Romanesque capitals and absolutely furious with those beastly revolutionary soldiers who took such bovine pleasure in scratching out the carved faces of the prophets, angels and saints. Destroying art – real art, not the self-indulgent nonsense that passes for art these days: great white canvasses with one red dot hung in a great white room; videos on a loop; egg boxes tastefully arranged; unmade beds – is not a sign of virility, but weakness.

Now we are back, and sometimes I wonder if it’s really worth going away, there seems to be so much catching up to do. But of course it is worth it, and most of the mail mountain is junk which can be thrown, most satisfactorily, straight into the bin. I have a million new ideas for my new books. I fancy taking up the piano again. Holidays do that.

And it is nice not to have to think about airconditioning in the car. Glasgow may surprise in many ways, but that chilly wind is always just round the corner. I’m deep into the first of my new books now, and am back to France, further south than Toulouse, in October, to really get a taste of precisely where they are set, Castelnau Montratier being a little too far north. My sister Alice, who is coming with me as driver and interpreter – my French is as wonky as my driving – will accompany me up into the foothills of the Pyrenees. Perhaps we will even go into Spain. Quite likely, I think, given that when she and I are together, we seldom draw breath. We’ll find ourselves in Barcelona before we’ve finished even the domestic gossip.

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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computer horrors and then a surprise

If I have been silent, it has not been for want of trying. We have had a fortnight of computer hell, with no internet access, just endless smug repetitions of ‘unable to establish a connection’. In the end, the only connection I wanted to have with my computer – not my delightful wireless iBook, but the computer that’s supposed to get us onto the ‘information super-highway’- was on the end of my foot. Oh, how we love machines when they work. How we hate them when they don’t. I could just have gone to the library, of course. I could have done any number of things. But I wanted the computer to do what it promised when I bought it and it wouldn’t. Won’t bore you with the grisly details. Suffice to say, those automated answer helpdesks are obviously designed to make you explode and totting up the number of man-hours spent on the telephone, I could have written at least 30,000 words of my new novels. Grrrrrrrr. Only good thing was that for a fortnight I was so angry and frustrated I couldn’t eat. Computer loss equals weight loss. At least that was something.

We’re watching the television adaptation of I Claudius, based on the novels by Robert Graves, at the moment. Great titles for each episode: Poison is Queen, and Just When You Think It Can’t Get Any Worse – I made the last one up, but it would have done very well. Derek Jacobi is superb as Clau, Clau, Claudius, the stutterer who became Roman Emperor, and just hearing Agrippina saying ‘here are my sons, Nero and Caligula’ is enough to send you running for cover. I’d forgotten what wonderful telly it was. Perfect for making you forget the onset of autumn, and if you think you’ve got family problems, you can always thank God, or perhaps Jove, that you weren’t given Tiberias as a father – or Livia (a peerless performance by Sian Phillips) as a mother. The make-up is very 1970s, which gives the story an added twist. There’s lots of nasty emperors, too, so they can keep you happy for ages.

My big story of the month, though, is that at a small dinner party miles away from any capital city, I found myself sitting at dinner next door to Hugh Grant. Yup, Hugh Grant of 4 Weddings and a Funeral etc. fame. I’d like to say I was cool as cool, and just thought, ‘oh, here’s Hugh Grant’. But of course I didn’t. I thought CRIKEY BOBBERS – a Lancashire expression – I’M SITTING NEXT TO HUGH GRANT! Two responses only were possible: starstruck silence or verbal overdrive. I’m afraid I collapsed into the latter. He was very charming, and yes, his hair is just as floppy as it looks in Notting Hill.

And so the A list man and I, we spoke of many things
Of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings …

Apologies to Lewis Carroll.

I, at least, had a lovely time.

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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message for Miller

Hi there, Miller, I tried to send you an e.mail but it keeps being returned, so I’m replying here instead. I’m so glad you liked my books. I’ve just seen the cover for Blaze of Silver, which will be out in April in the States. It’s beautiful. The designer has done such a good job. Authors owe a huge debt to so many people for making their books stand out on the shelf. I’ve never met my jacket designers, but I hope I will one day.

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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strange things – and hello to Hannah

It’s really wierd, but I can answer some people’s e.mails direct from the ‘contact the author’ link, whilst other times, although I get the e.mail address right, I just get ‘failure to deliver’ alerts. Does this happen to other people? Is there a solution?

So, today I can’t answer directly a lovely e.mail from Hannah, who, I think, is in New Zealand, so am answering it this way. Hannah, I really appreciated your writing, and I just wanted to say that I’ve finished Blaze of Silver, and am really missing the characters. Also, I don’t think it’s giving the game away to tell you that, apropos your wish, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed …

My second daughter and I have been to a car boot sale this weekend – my first. We had to get up at 4 a.m. which was HORRIBLE, and then it rained, as it often does in Glasgow. But there’s nothing nicer than selling old bits of stuff that you would otherwise just have thrown away. I can’t say we made a fortune but better than thinking of the stuff in landfill sites. And the people! You see the whole gamut of human life and experience at a car boot sale, and the goods and chattels that pour out of vans, clapped out old rustbuckets and even the odd BMW is quite extraordinary. Sewing machines, nail varnish, hideous lamps with bits missing, bikes with one wheel, a teapot lid, computer cables, an old plastic doll and clothes you couldn’t imagine anybody wearing, let alone buying. Just watching everybody, how they operate, what they are looking for, how they talk to each other, was a revelation. You haven’t lived in a city properly until you’ve been to its car boot sales. And what an incentive to clear out the cupboards plus the garden shed. Everything sells, plus our house feels as if it can breathe again.

Back to work this morning. Sometimes writing is so hard that I’ll do anything rather than start. Hmmmmm. I’m sure I should have a cup of coffee, and then doesn’t my son Cosmo have some drawers in his room that really must be sorted out today … Oh, and the dogs would so like another walk.

No, no, NO.

Onwards and upwards,
Katie

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