Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Around the World in a Blogpost ...

There's nothing like spending a few days with a great bunch of international writers to make you feel supported and less - well - bonkers. The Summer Writing Institute is amazing - I'm having a blast, working hard, and there's a great bunch of writers and teachers involved.

It's one of the huge benefits of the web, and the support for writers through blogs, forums, Twitter has changed the writing life - we are nowhere near as isolated as our predecessors were. It really is a global writing community, and I hope the blog tour has introduced you to some great new sites.

Today, on the final leg of our blog tour we are heading to Canada, visiting So Many Precious Books So Little Time, to the UK where Helen Hunt interviews me on Fiction Is Stranger Than Fact, and reviews The Beauty Chorus on Bookersatz, and to Qatar where Chris interviewed me for KooKi. Chris is an American-born, Swiss-immigrated, Qatar-living writer, and it was great to bump into her at the Writing Insitute. For those of you who are curious about life out here, her blog is a brilliant insight into the kookier aspects of life in the Middle East. For anyone who's 'local' do join us at Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar tomorrow night, 1st June 6pm where I'll be doing a reading and signing.

So, hope you've enjoyed our tour - it will be business, and writing prompts as usual soon. Happy writing x

Monday, 30 May 2011

Bookaholics Anon

Yes, I know it's a mistake to Google yourself, but while checking up on The Beauty Chorus' reviews, I came across this little beauty on ebay. Tempting, no? I think we'll all feel right at home over in Vancouver with Teddy Rose on 'So Many Precious Books So Little Time' for the next couple of days on the blog tour where I guest post, and Teddy reviews the book. Teddy is a self-proclaimed bookaholic and animal lover - in other words, our kind of person. Enjoy.

Meanwhile, the children are on half-term, and hooted with laughter as they skipped off swimming tonight and I stayed behind, because (for once), I'm the one with homework. It's been a full on day over at Education City - a morning of fiction with the brilliant British novelist Lesley Thomson whose novel has just won The People's Book Award in the UK, and an afternoon of creative non-fiction with the inspiring local author Carol Henderson. Add to this an amazing bunch of international writers and some of the most incredible architecture I've seen since landing in Doha and it's been a good day.

One exercise I found really interesting was this: what do you save? Why not give it a whirl? x

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Out of the Box

The first day at school is always a little challenging - where's the building? the classroom? the loos? It doesn't change if you're four or forty. The Bloomsbury Qatar summer writing institute is being held in the futuristic Student Centre in Education City - I kept expecting to see someone in Barbarella bacofoil walk by. Instead, we were an international bunch of women - everyone from local girls fresh from their science degrees who had never written creatively before, to bloggers with book contracts and professional journalists. Talk about a small pond - it was great to meet virtual writer friends in the flesh. I think it's going to be a good week.

One of the first questions we were asked this morning was 'what do you want to get out of this course'? It's a good question. When was the last time you asked yourself what you want out of your writing? Why do you do it? For me, I'm hoping to play around with some new ideas this week, start fleshing out some new characters. I hope it's going to get me thinking outside the box.

I'll let you know how it goes and any interesting exercises you might enjoy. Meanwhile on our blog tour we are off to the excellent Writer Unboxed - Kath and Therese's site is a fantastic resource for writers, whatever stage you are at. We're talking about some practical steps you can take to get your story down, no matter how crazy the juggling act gets. Enjoy.

Friday, 27 May 2011


The pilot left for New York in the early hours, and it’s the weekend here. So as I can never get back to sleep properly, I’ve been up baking blueberry muffins for breakfast. New York is one of the pilot’s regular trips, and it’s always the one that makes me feel a little – what’s the word? Blue? The thought of a mid-town Manhattan hotel, the museums, the jazz clubs … Well. It’s best not to think about it. A friend has just managed a flying visit to see the Met’s McQueen show. I enjoyed reading about it in Newsweek, where I saw today’s beautiful picture. Maybe you won’t get to see it either, so today’s videoclip is the ethereal hologram of Kate Moss the Met is showing again. The man was a genius, and there’s something about these images that chime with me at the moment for the new story. There’s such unearthly grace to them.

Once you’ve enjoyed these, we’re off to America on the blog tour to Book Dilettante (where we talk about exactly that - how to immerse yourself in images, music, anything that resonates with your story), and to Canada to Fire in Mine Ears for a review of The Beauty Chorus.

It was interesting being interviewed about the book on local radio yesterday, and having to explain the story from scratch (questions included ‘what is a Spitfire?’). There’s still so much I don’t understand and want to learn about this place, and equally the cultural references and knowledge I take for granted aren’t understood here. John asked what yesterday’s image was – it was a beautiful tughra Bismillah. I love Arabic calligraphy (even a Coke can looks sublimely graceful), but haven’t yet had time to start basic Arabic classes. Bismillah translates as ‘In the name of Allah (God)’ – and the phrase is used both as a blessing, and to precede all the chapters of the Quran. You hear it a lot here – religion permeates the day in a way it no longer does ‘back home’. You’re woken at dawn by the first call to prayer, and the cries of the Muezzins compete across the city throughout the day. When the radio alarm goes off, every English language station has lessons from the Quran. When I’m out on the balcony watering the olive and fig trees in the evening, you see the men racing to get to the Mosque – but when they walk back, they look peaceful, relaxed. Maybe that’s the power of prayer whatever your religion – maybe that’s grace in everyday life.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Book Babe

This morning I’m off to Qatar Radio, where I’m being interviewed along with Leila Aboulela, the brilliant Sudanese writer whose latest book ‘Lyrics Alley’ is up for Scottish Book of the Year. It should be interesting. I worked with Leila last year in a workshop, and it’s always great catching up with writers, especially here. Next week, there’s an author event at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, organised by Bloomsbury Qatar for ‘The Beauty Chorus’. This is one of the things that’s so great about this place – an American University hosting a British author at an event organised by a London publishing house in Qatar – I’m really curious to see how people react here to young girls flying Spitfires …

Meanwhile, we are heading to Canada on the blog tour, to Book Babe Tara Chevrestt. Tara knows *all* about planes, far more than me - as well as being an avid reader, writer and book reviewer, Tara is an aircraft mechanic! Enjoy her four star review x

Chocolate Reality


I remember visiting an art installation in the early nineties in the East End of London - the artist had completely coated the walls of the gallery in chocolate. It was bizarre - the heady smell, the sweetness. You could see people fighting the urge to lick the walls. Fittingly for today's stop on our Canadian blog tour, I've spent the afternoon watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with our five year old. I'm still a big fan of the scary original, but he loves the Johnny Depp version. Chocolate and a good book go together like .... well, just look at the Galaxy Book Awards in the UK.

When we lived in Valencia, a local treat was proper hot chocolate at a Chocolateria - the kind you can stand your spoon up in. I was never interested in the churros fritters, just that gorgeous dark cup of bitter chocolate. Now, I'm a darker the better girl - quality not quantity - how about you? Enjoy your trip to Chocolate Reality, where we talk about blogging vs novel writing. We're off to the sweetie shop ...

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Scat, man

How are you all? Today on our blog tour, we're globetrotting. In Australia, over at the fantastic site Creative Penn I'm guest posting about Write What You Love - and giving several prompts to help out if you are searching for fresh ideas for your work, or if your project has hit a wall. Then, over in Canada, Krissy Brady is reviewing The Beauty Chorus. In the UK, it's just been selected as You magazine's Book of the Week, which is amazing. To see the book up there with Barbara Trapido, (an all-time hero), is quite something ... can't believe it.

Meanwhile, here at 'home' enjoy today's clip of Faye vs Raye - pure joy. Have a great day x

Monday, 23 May 2011

Form an orderly queue ...

Monday morning, and I'm staring at two very big files of notes, about to embark on editing the next book. It's a bit like standing at the bottom of a mountain, looking up. You know it will be great when you get to the top, but there's a long way to go. That pesky boondoggler at the back of your mind goes 'hey, look, you need a new file - what are you going to do with all the editor's notes? C'mon - you could do with a good cup of coffee too, let's just sneak off to the mall, buy some stationery, grab some breakfast ...' Then an email comes in to do with the launch at VCUQ, and that little voice goes 'come on, you need to write up a press release now ...' Then you think - 'crikey, the Canadian blog tour. Let's get ahead of the game and write today's post ...' Does any of this sound familiar? How do you cope with the excuses - legitimate or otherwise, that you come up with not to dive into what you really need to be getting on with?

Today's blog tour post over at the Krissy Brady's great site Keeping the Passion for Writing Alive is all about process - we talk about how books really get written. What I'm looking at on my desk today are three distinct phases: there's the finished article - The Beauty Chorus (and in my filing cabinet/basket, all the publicity and blog tour notes). There's the rough diamond, the next book (the files in the foreground that could give you a hernia).  Then there's the shimmering, glimmering idea of a book - the one I'll start writing this summer. That book is pictures on the mood board, it's piles of research books and notes, it's music on my mp3 player at the gym. Add the three together, and that's three competing casts of characters jostling for mental space. Form a queue, ladies and gentlemen, please.

So - how do you keep your passion for writing alive? The truth is, I love it. Wouldn't change it for the world. When 'work' involves reading endless books for research, pinned down by two indolent Siamese cats who make a beeline for you the moment you sit down with a book - well, this process isn't too bad. Now, who needs a cup of coffee?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

You Say Boxer Shorts ...

There's been some hot debate among the female friends I've spoken to about what 'Beau' - the lead male character of The Beauty Chorus looks like. He's caused quite a stir. My favourite comment so far came from a husband, who said he hadn't been able to get any attention from his wife for a week because she had her nose buried in the book each night. 'Oh, yes ... Beau ...' she sighed, her eyes taking on a dreamy look.

After doing some research at the Imperial War Museum, I decided to give Beau US style boxer shorts rather than the 'utility underwear' in today's photo. Not really the stuff romance is made of, is it? On today's blog tour, we are off to the US, to visit Sarah at Reading the Past, where we talk about the fine details of research for historical fiction like this. Investigating underpants ... well, someone has to do it. Enjoy x

Thursday, 19 May 2011

O, O, O ...

Do you subscribe to the Writer's Almanac daily news? If you don't, I really recommend it. There's a link here. Most days there is something amazing that sets you thinking, or that chimes in with a piece of work you're developing. Today, the post about Marilyn Monroe singing 'Happy Birthday Mr President ...' nearly fifty years ago caught my eye. Monroe's quoted as saying:

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”

Maybe there's something about the 'O' birthdays that makes you reflective. With one fast approaching in August, I'm certainly looking back - and forward, to try and make sense of a few things. I'm determined that 'better things can fall together ...' and I thought it might be interesting once the blog tour is over to do forty posts for forty years, 1971 til now. What do you think? It could be an interesting way to mine our past for our writing, and it might throw up some interesting memories of each year as writing prompts for you all.

Today on our blog tour we are off to Toronto, to Reading for the Joy of It - a great blog that sets out to inspire schoolkids to read, something that is close to my heart. Janet has written a great, thoughtful review of The Beauty Chorus, and I hope it sparks an interest in her students. When you think just how young these people were, they were not much older than schoolkids - Magee, whose incredible poem 'High Flight' is the epigraph to the story was killed in combat aged 19. Only nineteen. It blows your mind. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Be Calm ...

I came across this letterpress print this morning and it made me laugh after yesterday's fiasco. I am getting ahead of the time difference Canada/Middle East by doing today's blog tour post while the kids are still at school ... Peace.

Do you ever get the feeling the universe is telling you something? In the present circumstances I have 'be calm' as my mantra these days - the traditional British 'Keep Calm and Carry On' print in the family room, and Louise Bourgeois' sublime 'Be Calm' in my bedroom. I need to be reminded. Frequently. One thing it is rather hard to stay calm about is criticism. I had an interesting conversation with my tutor yesterday - after we talked about the next stage of the MA, she asked how the book was doing, loved all the great press reviews. I mentioned 'Some of the Amazon reviews are a bit ... well, you know'. She burst out laughing: 'Ignore them!' she said, and generously shared a story about one of her first published books - the first review she read online slaughtered it, but the book went on to win awards.

When you write, you  lay yourself open - which is why we need the mythical Writer's Rhino Suit to survive. Not everyone will love your work - and good luck to them. (Remember Dorothy Parker's immortal: this is not a book to be tossed aside lightly. It should be flung with great force'). Yes, it hurts if your book is the one being flung - but the moral of the story is, write what you write, from the heart. Do your absolute best. No one book is going to please everyone. Don't read reviews is perhaps good advice too. Or, as I read this morning in Synchrodestiny - the higher mind is immune to criticism and flattery. Take the high ground. So, wishing you all calm in your hearts today - and enjoy this review over at Literary Treats on the Canadian blog tour.

(Yes, I know it's wonky - being calm is a work in progress ...)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


Today on our blog tour we are off to A Bookworm's World, where Luanne interviewed me about writing. It's a great name for a blog, and it's got me thinking - what would a Bookworm's World be like, how would it be built, this perfect bookish place? What would you put on the shelves? For me the library would start with books like 'Bonjour Tristesse' or 'The Handmaid's Tale' - the books I read as a teenager that made me want to write. It would be peaceful - a comfy chair, a dog, a cat or two ... a fire in winter, a shady terrace in the summer. That would be it. Ack - I'm sounding like Eliza Doolittle 'all I want is a room somewhere ...' What it would not involve is Disney XD at full volume and a nine year old nagging me for the computer, or two Siamese cats being dragged round the apartment at breakneck speed in a Radio Flyer wagon. Which is why this is going to be a *very* short post today. Very short. So - what would your perfect bookworm's world be like for you?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Inspire Me ...

'Same, same ...' is one of the phrases that has become a house favourite here. You here it a lot among the Asian workers - it means 'same' but more so. Second favourite is 'Mamsir' - wherever you go you are 'Sir' or 'Mam' but sometimes you are 'Mamsir', which is always a special delight.
It's one of the things I am getting used to - that every day is same same. There's a groundhog day quality to life that I'm finding it - how can I put this - difficult, to adjust to.
I miss feeling inspired, I guess, by home, the countryside, by ancient architecture, by the things that make me tick. Everyone is different - look at Thesiger, Stark, some people love the desert. Me, my well is feeling a little empty to borrow Julia Cameron's phrase - but I'm keeping my eyes open.
So - where do your ideas come from? What inspires you? Over at Peeking Between the Pages we are kicking off our Canadian blog tour discussing just that, Inspiration. And as if you needed any more incentive to head over there, Darlene is giving away a copy of The Beauty Chorus. Enjoy x

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Too Darn Hot

Oof - I had forgotten what +50 degree temperatures feel like. We are having a heatwave (which is a wonderful excuse for Marilyn Monroe in today's video clip). I remember bombing around the lanes and beaches of Devon in my red Renault 5 singing along to a very wonky tape of Marilyn's songs in the summer of '89. English summers are a different creature from Middle Eastern summers. We've hit August temperatures in *May* ... How do you describe this heat? We've already switched off the hot water tank because the cold water runs hot. The moment you step foot outdoors, your sunglasses/watch/contact lenses heat up so much you can feel them burning. At night, when you sit on the balcony, the heat weighs, presses down on you ... It's an acquired taste, shall we say.

Housekeeping: bloggers will no doubt have noticed that Blogger disappeared. I am the Queen of Not Backing Up - yes, I know, spank me, I'm too busy etc etc. In fact, until Talli, Jenny and Leigh kindly told me you can do it simply by going to Settings: Download I didn't know you could. Thank you. Next stop dropbox.com. So, I've backed up, have you? As a cautionary tale, I once lost a whole novel thanks to a hard drive that crashed. I thought it was a powercut. The computer went ***zip*** It wasn't. This was, incidentally, the same computer tower that had been knocked over by a certain Hound running at full pelt, and roller skated into by a toddler. I should have known better. The disk is in storage waiting for data recovery. The novel I rewrote (probably in an improved form) from memory - what I lost was countless 'ideas' files, all our baby photos, emails ... Anyway, if you haven't backed up - do so. Trust me.

Meanwhile, on our blog tour we are off to Novelicious for a review of The Beauty Chorus. Hope those of you who have been kind enough to download or buy the novel are enjoying it, and do mail me with any feedback or questions - I'd love to hear from you. If you'd like a personalised bookplate drop me an email via the Profile page - have a great weekend. Next week we are off to ... Canada! x

Monday, 9 May 2011

Monday morning ...

How was your weekend? Ours was hectic - a triple birthday celebration for three of the pilots. We danced on grass (yes, real grass! almost as exciting out here as the party itself), under the stars with the sound of the sea crashing on the beach below. The party was beautiful - fountains filled with rose petals, the sweet scent of shisha filling the rooms. It was fun to have a grown-up child-free night for a change.

Now, I'm looking at the week's 'to do' list and rolling over all the things that didn't get done from last week. The nine-year old had a strop on me at the weekend - she threw up her hands in frustration: 'you are soooo boring! 'In a minute ...' why does everything always have to be 'in a minute'?' Nine year olds don't get that you are constantly doing twenty things at once, that the old 'to do' list normally gets two or three things added for every one knocked off. Children want your attention NOW. They want a new puppy NOW. They live in and for the moment. Do you think we can learn something from that?

Today's post on the blog tour is over at the lovely Caroline Smaile's site. Caroline is a novelist, and it was inspirational following her road to publication by The Friday Project. Not only is her blog great, but she's produced some of the most brilliant widgets linked to her stories - have fun exploring her site. Me, I'm going to fix that espresso and start in on the dreaded 'to do' list, NOW ...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Real Thing

So, ebooks have become the single bestselling category in American publishing. How do we all feel about that? They think that by 2015 ebooks will account for 50% of the US market. The UK is lagging slightly behind, but we're catching up fast. For me, the fact that they are predicting ebooks sales will plateau at 50% of the market is a great thing - it means that 50% of the sales will still be Real Books :)

I've just written a research paper about Artists' Books - these beautiful limited edition collaborations between artists, writers and publishers are a bit of a secret passion. The research felt more like pleasure than MA coursework - a great excuse to revisit old favourites like Delaunay's 'La Prose' and Matisse's 'Jazz'. My prediction is that even if ebooks overtake paperbacks, if 'real books' disappear in the future, these kind of limited edition, finely crafted publications will survive. They make books, volumes, art - and you can't feel that magic on an e-reader.

Today's stop on the blog tour is over at The Bookbag, where we talk about the beauty of real books, and they review 'The Beauty Chorus'. The Bookbag is a fantastic site to browse around the reviews and find recommendations - enjoy x

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Game

'I don't want to change the rules of the game, I want to change the game' - Andre Breton. This is the quote pinned on the newly clear workspace, and no it isn't just an excuse to have this rather lovely photo of Breton pinned up (who needs toyboys when you have gorgeous old genius Surrealists?). It feels like the beginning of something. The blank pages are starting to fill up, and I have that 'butterflies in the stomach' feeling you get when you fall in love or start a new book.

As part of the MA, I just had to finish a big piece of work for the 'Text' course - over the term we had talked to leading publishers, publicists, book designers, all the people who make the book industry work. For our portfolio, we had to write about why we write - which isn't as easy as it sounds. I don't think I mentioned 'butterflies in the stomach'. It's easier to talk about what you write about - in my case, I love characters who changed history, especially those that have been forgotten. On the blog tour today, we are heading to Historical Tapestry where I'm talking about exactly that - why I love women in a man's world who have left their mark on history. It's a beautiful American site with some fascinating author interviews - enjoy.

Meanwhile, 'why do you write'? is a really good question to ask yourself ... and if you feel like it, I'd love to hear your answers in the comments.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Sunday Morning ...

Sunday is the beginning of the week here, so the children are back at school. I still haven't been able to shake the sense that it's a day for church, lazy papers, Sunday roast ... a long walk with the Hound, maybe head to the beach. Instead, it's become a 'limbo' day - all quiet from work, and a time to catch up. Today it's windy, the sky yellow with sand ... in other words it's the perfect day to curl up with a good book.

For me, that means research - I have a tantalising pile of hard to get and out of print books waiting. A writer was saying yesterday to me how much she enjoys the research stage of each new novel, and I agree. It's like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. I am really, *really* excited about this new book. The characters are mingling in my imagination like people at a cocktail party, waiting to be singled out, for their stories to be heard. Have you ever had that sense when you meet someone for the first time that you 'recognise' them - that it's not the first time you've met at all? It's happened to me a few times when I've met significant people in my life - there was an inevitability about it. It's pretty much the same when the main characters of your stories step forward.

Above reading a good book, there's nothing like being read to - maybe it takes you back to childhood, to the comfort and security of your parents reading to you when you're curled up in bed. If you feel like doing just that (and taking one look at the sandstorm outside, I certainly do ...), please head over to Shortbread on today's blog tour. They've been kind enough to record one of my short stories over there, with the wonderful Paul Jerricho narrating. Just click on 'Kate's short stories' and look for 'Company'. Hope you enjoy.
It's also the last two days of Kindle's Spring Spectacular - if you haven't downloaded The Beauty Chorus yet, it's a chance to get it at a massive reduction. For those in the US and Aus who have emailed to say you can't - thank you for your messages, and apologies. We're working on it.
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