Posted by Christopher at 8.06pm
On Wednesday evening I went to the Oxford Playhouse to see Neil Gaiman in conversation with Philip Pullman. It was a wonderful event and you can listen to nearly the whole thing in this Waterstones podcast (although sadly this doesn’t include Neil Gaiman’s hilarious reading of an extract from his forthcoming children’s book Fortunately, The Milk which rounded off the evening).
The two authors spoke about imagination and creation, dreams and stories, the books that shaped them as children and the wonders of The Library. As I sat there on the back row of the balcony listening to them talk, it reminded me what an absolute privilege it is to be a children’s author. To have the chance to sow a single seed in the shape of a story which might then take root in the mind of a reader. I thought about the forests that both Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman have seen spring from the stories that they have told, and the inspiration they have given to countless other imaginations in turn.
Alongside the hardback editions of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Sandman that I had in my bag, I had a copy of my novel Twelve Minutes to Midnight with a dedication to Neil Gaiman written inside. I had last seen him twenty-five years ago, when I had bunked off school aged fourteen to see him at a book signing alongside Dave McKean at a comic book shop in Manchester. That was the moment that made me believe it was even possible to become an author, and Neil Gaiman’s books took pride of place on the shelves of the library of my childhood; the fuel that has fed my imagination as a writer ever since.
My position at the very back row of the balcony turned out to be a golden ticket as it took me to almost the front of the queue for the signing that took place after the event. As Neil signed my books, I explained that I'd last seen him at a signing in Manchester twenty-five years earlier and he amazed me by remembering the blogpost I had written about this, where I also had tried to express my feelings about The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I finally had the chance to thank him in person and he very kindly thanked me in turn for my gift of Twelve Minutes to Midnight, saying he was looking forward to reading this. When he opens the novel he'll see the following dedication inside:
“Thank you for helping to plant a seed twenty-five years ago. It grew into this book.”
Many thanks to Charlotte Morris and Leen Van Broeck for allowing me to include their photographs of the event here.
Posted by Christopher at 2.23pm
Lots of exciting things have been happening recently with Twelve Minutes to Midnight getting shortlisted for some more fantastic regional book awards including Southampton's Favourite Book Award 2013 and the Stockport Schools Book Award, the rather chic French edition of Douze Minutes Avant Minuit being published by Flammarion earlier this summer, and the wonderful news that Twelve Minutes to Midnight will be published in North America by Albert Whitman in the Spring of 2014.
However, what I want to share with you today is something even more exciting - the front cover of The Black Crow Conspiracy! This will be the final book in the Penelope Tredwell series and will be published by Nosy Crow on the 9th January 2014. One of the joys of writing this series has been seeing the wonderful cover art that Eric Orchard has produced for each of the books. The first time I saw Penelope through somebody else's eyes was when I saw the fantastic cover art Eric created for Twelve Minutes to Midnight, and with his artwork for Shadows of the Silver Screen and now The Black Crow Conspiracy, I think he has outdone himself each time.
Rather fittingly, I think The Black Crow Conspiracy is Penelope's most exciting adventure yet and I hope you agree when you get to read it in January.
The Black Crow Conspiracy,
Posted by Christopher at 11.24pm
Nearly two years ago now, when my debut novel was published and I had my first ever book signing, I blogged about how I had bunked off school aged fourteen to see Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean sign copies of their debut graphic novel, Violent Cases, on what I imagine was Neil Gaiman's first ever signing tour. If you want to, you can read the blog post here.
This summer Neil Gaiman published his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and embarked on what he announced would be his final book signing tour. And this Wednesday Neil Gaiman will be in conversation with Philip Pullman at the Oxford Playhouse, with both authors signing books at the end of the evening. And I've got a ticket.
Needless to say, I'm rather excited. One of the highlights of my brief authorial career to date was when I appeared alongside Philip Pullman at the Oxford Literary Festival last year at an event to talk about the influence of Charles Dickens's work on children's fiction. Although I was too nervous to say more than a handful of words to him backstage before the event, on stage he showed a real generosity of spirit to myself and Jasmine Richards, the other debut author on the panel, and after the event, he very kindly signed my copy of Lyra's Oxford with best wishes for Penelope Tredwell and Twelve Minutes to Midnight! I'm currently halfway through his wonderful retellings of Grimm's folk tales and reading each story is like discovering a fresh stream in an ancient forest, his pellucid prose illuminating these familiar and half-forgotten tales in so many fascinating ways.
But before I began reading this, I was immersed in the pages of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and, to be honest, I think I'm still recovering from this. Halfway through the first chapter, I almost put the book down and didn't think that I was going to be able to read it to the end. Not because it is a bad book, far from it; but to borrow the words of a fellow Mancunian, it was too close to home and too near the bone...
The first book of Neil Gaiman's I ever read was Violent Cases, a story where the adult narrator looks back on events from his childhood, recalling through a haze of distance and memory, a confusing world where adults lied and cruelty seems a common currency. When I read this as a teenager, the story sang to me, even though I probably didn't fully understand every detail of the tale contained in its pages. Fast forward twenty-five years and I'm reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a story where the unnamed adult narrator returns to his old hometown for the funeral of his father, and, from there, drives to find the ocean at the end of the lane and begins to recall exactly what happened to him when he was a boy. But unlike the narrator of Violent Cases, the narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane recounts the events of his youth with a crystal-clear clarity: the loneliness and the unhappiness, the refuge he found in the books he read, and above all, the darkness. As I turned the pages I felt as though I was reading the book through two pairs of eyes: the eyes of my adult self, and the boy I once was. But as Lettie Hempstock says in the pages of the story "The truth is there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world."
I won't say anymore about this remarkable novel, but if you haven't read it, I'd strongly urge you to do so. And on Wednesday evening I'm looking forward to seeing Neil Gaiman in conversation with Philip Pullman, and I hope that I get the chance to say thank you.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane,