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Friday, 28 October 2011

London Book Award

I heard yesterday that Icelight has been nominated for the London Book Award, short list to be announced in June. There is a review of the book on the London Festival Fringe website - click here -and also a short interview with me click here.

So far, fellow nominees are Jill Dawson for 'Lucky Bunny', and ~Amanda Coe for 'What they do in the Dark'. More will be added over the months.

Very nice to be nominated.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Goldsboro, Guildford and Period Teeth

Last Friday morning I travelled down from Edinburgh to London by train. Waverley Station in Edinburgh is being revamped – black tunnels for passengers enlivened I suppose by a large hen party wearing small green antlers. Kings Cross has been a work in progress for so long I can’t remember when it wasn’t.

I had lunch with my lovely editor Kate Parkin from John Murray near Leicester Square because I had to go on to Goldsboro bookshop in Cecil Court. Great as always to see David Headley, who sat me down at one end of a table (the other end was occupied by R.J. Ellory who was signing copies of his latest book) and gave me a big pile of copies of Icelight, which are now all signed and dated and some lined.

Next stop was Guildford Festival on Saturday at the Electric Theatre. The Electric part comes from the previous use of the building, now converted into a friendly public space. I am never that keen to be on a stage in an armchair – too static and too far from the audience – but the session went very well. Peter Guttridge was the moderator, as always exceptionally well prepared and skilled. I’d met Peter before as he’d chaired a panel I was on at Crimefest a couple of years ago.

This was the first time I’d met Laura Wilson, winner of the Ellis Peters award a couple of years ago, who has recently published A Capital Crime. We had been put together because we had both used the post-war years of austerity and rationing as background.

Our conversation was easy and enjoyable. To a degree both of us write to show how we are where we are now because of reactions and actions then. It’s a living link.

We had lots of common points to discuss, including the use of real situations and real people, that both of us had characters who developed over a number of books, that we had both used childhood memories to inform our most recent novels, that we both used and valued films of the time and that we had both talked to people with a connection to what we were describing.

At the end, someone asked how we would feel about having our books adapted for television or film, and which actor we would like to play the part of our main characters. Neither of us came up with a name. Laura said any candidates she could think of were long dead, and she had a problem with perfect Hollywood white teeth for a D.I. in the nineteen forties.

As we talked of the possibilities of period dentistry, I remembered that after Washington Shadow came out, a reader wrote to tell me that in his mind, Katherine was played by Scarlett Johansonn. If only.

After the weekend, I found an appreciative email from a reader in Lancaster who had read the first two books and was about to start Icelight. He said he was awaiting the film version with Ralph Fiennes as Peter Cotton.

I did point out Cotton is 28 in 1947 and Ralph is a little older. Back in Guildford my sister told me the event had gone well. I believed her. She had bought Laura’s Stratton’s War.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Who Do You Think You Are? – The Spanish ‘Lost’ Babies

Tomorrow, October 18, the BBC is showing a documentary on a subject I have already mentioned on this blog in May – the ghastly practice during the Franco regime, and possibly up to the nineties, of removing new-born children from ‘unsuitable’ mothers and selling them on to ‘approved’ parents. The mothers were told their child had died.

The present estimate for the number of times this was done is about 300,000. That’s 300,000 people of course, now with different names, sometimes in different countries. Doubtless there was a ‘moral’ justification – at least some of the mothers would have been ‘unwed’ - but it was also a business, carried out by members of the Spanish Church, doctors and adoption agencies - and money was involved.

There are some truly weird details. Some mothers were told the child had already been buried. Others got to accompany tiny coffins to the cemetery. Some of the coffins have now been found to contain small animal bones. What were the perpetrators thinking? Presumably some sort of undertaker really did put a rabbit in a coffin and seal it up.

Right now there are a lot of distressed people trying to match themselves up with the help of DNA analysis.

But what struck me as odd when I read recent reports was how long the business had continued. After all Franco died in 1975. Spanish democracy started a couple of years later and attitudes changed very fast.

Then I remembered something personal. In the seventies we tried to adopt a child in Spain. We already had a son. I had had a miscarriage. It occurred to us to adopt a girl. Advice around us was not favourable. ‘What if the girl had ‘bad blood?’ We paid no attention.

I was then called to fill in as a translator at a drug trial. In conversation with the President of the Court I learnt I could adopt tomorrow. There were 167 children waiting for adoption. I could have two if I liked. What about nationality? It simply wasn’t a problem. Why didn’t we go to the orphanage and pick one.

We then ran into a Franco period law. We were not old enough. We had to be 35. And that was that.

When I did hit 35 I remembered this. I then found out that, post Franco, I was too old to adopt. More to my point there were no children to adopt.

And that presumably is why the business continued. It simply adapted to new conditions and provided a service to those desperate to have a child at the expense of ‘unsuitable’ mothers.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Publication Day, Icelight

Yesterday, flowers from my agent and two lovely online reviews heralded publication day for Icelight, as well as the news that four national newspapers are reviewing - date to be confirmed.

Next stop, Guildford Book Festival on 22nd together with Laura Wilson, talking about our books. If you're in the area, come along and see us.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Football – A Question of Culture

I have to admit my interest in football (soccer) is next to nil but my interest in education is long standing.

Last night Spain played Scotland in the last qualifying match for the competition to be held in Poland and the Ukraine in 2012. The Spanish team won this as they have won each of their qualifying matches and Scotland failed to qualify.

Any personal interest of mine involved my two and a half year-old grandson. His Spanish father – his mother is half Scottish – thought this might be a good time to introduce him to football. On one side he had a point.

But the match set me thinking. 25 years ago both Spanish and Scottish teams were at the World Cup in Mexico. The Scots as usual did not get through the early stages. The Spanish did, but then ‘choked’. It was what they did. In every international competition Spain would hope and then crumble. In 1986 a Spain-Scotland match was not immediately a Spanish win.

How to explain the subsequent Spanish improvements and worsening Scottish inabilities? Actually, it’s not that difficult.

The Spanish school their players. I once heard one of the teachers explain that the young prospects were taught how to be polite, how to use a knife and fork if necessary, indeed taught everything they needed from financial savvy to how to give interviews.

At one level this is the Barcelona set-up in which young players are brought up on ‘la granja’ – the farm. It’s not Orwellian. And the training concentrates on the basics. Ball control, precise passing, moving to receive a pass, acquiring fast feet and, when needed, very fast ball. The other two important but simple lessons are a) - if you have the skills to keep the ball the other team don’t have it and b) - you really are part of a team.

Two examples. Yesterday Scottish players had difficulty ‘cushioning’ the ball on their chests. Instead the ball bounced off out of reach. This is basic. The other was when a player called Goodwillie blasted the ball into the crowd when a simple pass to another player would have been a tap in goal.

Awareness from the players that they are in a team is vital to Spanish success. It’s not that all the players are phenomenally talented. But they all know what to do and there are at least three players for every position.

In other words truly talented players (the Argentine Messi for example) come along rarely but considerable degrees of competence are available to any nation that bothers to learn from a system – and yes, improve on it.

Teamwork also removes some of the pressure on individuals. It seems to work.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Two Days to Publication Day for Icelight

Just two days to go before the official publication day for Icelight - although it is already available on Amazon UK both as a hardback and on kindle.

If you live in the US, you will have to wait until December 15th before it is available on - again both in hardback and kindle. but in the meantime, perhaps you might like to read how I met the "real" Peter Cotton - here.

I am working hard on 'Black Bear' -not long to go!