Monday, January 31, 2011

Candlemas, one day early

Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, falls on the 2nd February. It takes its name from a special mass when the candles for the year ahead were blessed, and the day (though not the festival I think) is known in North America as Groundhog Day.

It was also the date of the Candlemas Ball when I was a student in Durham: a rather drunken night in the depths of winter, at St Chad's College on the narrow North Bailey. It is a time when the days are beginning to lengthen, but the weather bites only colder, and we would stand on the cobbles of the North Bailey, and the wind would cut through coat and dinner jacket, straight to the bone.

It's also something of an important event in the life of the characters I've been working with. But you'll have to read the book to find out why.

Book! Did I mention the book?! Well, I had a phone conversation last night where my editor and I zipped through the few points that the proofs had thrown up. Twenty minutes later we were done. Yipee! And my editor was telling me the tale of the man from accounts at Little, Brown, who read the book and said 'I frigging love it.'

Great! We love the man who works in accounts.

In the Hill Household we're waiting for the arrival of the last Hill. As it's not arrived yet, and I had a lovely fat organic chicken in the fridge, I thought we'd celebrate one day early. Hence, the champagne, and the excuse to light the candles and make a filling desert to keep the kids content.

Roast Chicken, with garlic, thyme and lemon butter. A great sage and onion bulgar wheat stuffing, followed up with an oat crumble of caramelised pear. Ah! Now to the next book....

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Proofs out...

So! Had an email on Friday from a lady who'd already read one of the proof copies, and i was a little apprehensive when I clicked on the email: but she was suitably impressed, and very complimentary, which was wonderful, as it's very hard at this stage to judge your own work: it comes in proof stage looking like a real book, and with the added complication of being both intimately familiar and predictable, but also a little foreign.

The book has of course, started it's life beyond you. Like a teenage child that doesn't listen to the parents any more. And being that parent must be a bittersweet moment. What do we give our children but roots and wings, and as my favourite NYC Shrink always says the roots are the easy bit.

The publicity wheel is beginning to turn. Chatted with my publicist on friday, have the author questionaire to fill in: festivals, radio, newspapers, blogs all looking for books to fill thier lists.

I'm planning to be in the UK in June and August, and will be visiting various groups so if you'd like a visit or a reading, then why not get in touch and we'll see what we can work out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shieldwall done

Just finished going through the proofs of Shieldwall, and it's a terrifying experience as the writer to see your novel as a book, which looks so different from the word doc you've been working on, in my case for four years.

It's a hell of a period to try and make sense of, even without the pressure of turning the tale into fiction - but I'm delighted at the end of the book, how well the story keeps going, and how much is brought across of those tumultuous few years: ignored for many reasons, no doubt partly because 1016 must be one of the most astonishing years in English history.

It's also great because the book leads nicely into the reign of Knut, and so now I can start thinking about exactly where to start the next book, and which parts of the story to bring into the narrative. I want to get Macbeth in there, though he might have to wait until the second half of Conquest, but I've had the line 'It was Macbeth's fault of course, so the men of the North remembered long years after' in my mind for at least a year now.

What was Macbeth's fault, you might ask... Harold's defeat at the Battle of Hastings of course!

So, when you might be asking is Shieldwall out? Hold the date: May 26th, 2011.

Monday, January 10, 2011


So how do you start a novel, people ask me, and it's hard to know where to start, because I've usually forgotten by the time they ask. As I say, I've only written five books, so - as Madonna used to say - I still feel something of a virgin.

But here I am, with the proofs of Shieldwall on one side of the desk, and the beginning notes for the sequel on the other side. So, as I'm here and the moment is still vivid, I thought I'd pull out a ball of wool.

At the moment I'm reading Antonia Fraser's biography of Charles II. Why might you ask? Well, I'm looking for insights into the character and lifestyle of Edward the Confessor - who is a central figure in the story of 1066.

The Normans portrayed him as Edward the Confessor, a saintly figure, who gave his saintly blessing on the Norman take over of England. This of course strengthened their position. BUt no contemporary source says anything about his religiousity. Yes, he finished Westminster Abbey, but then it was practically compulsory for rich magnates to found or endow religious institutions. In fact, the only comments we have about his character mention his love of hunting (like Charles II) and his fiery temper. And these are more interesting than a saintly man with a long white beard.

He and Charles suffered similar fates. Growing into a time of turmoil. Exile whilst still a child, or at least before adulthood. Coming to adulthood across the channel in France, and returning to England as a unifying king in thier thirties. And both ended up heirless.

So I'm reading this book - a very fine tome from my old publishers, Weidenfeld and Nicolson - and making notes on the character of Edward the Confessor.

When you know the character of the major characters, then you can see the conflicts between them. And bingo!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year, Last Year's Resolutions

So, sitting on the couch this New's Year's Eve, and waiting for the fireworks over Hong Kong Harbour, it occurred to me that any resolutions for 2011 - and I enjoy resolutions, or fresh starts of any kind - were to be pretty much the same as last year.

Some people might have found this despressing, but for me it was strangely compfrting. LIfe hasn't changed that much since last year, and as any novelist understands, it's rare to finish one of your projects within one year.

What also struck me - and this is perhaps more interesting - all the things that happened or were achieved that I had not planned for or even expected - and these are the more interesting things that happen in life.

2010 was a busy year in the Hill household. So busy that we barely had a moment to stop and think about our year until lunch on New Year's Eve when it struck us what a great year 2010 was. Lots of great things happened that we never expected or anticipated, and at the beginning of 2011 I have my list of resolutions in hand, but am more excited and intruiged about the things we dont expect, that will arrive before our next New Year's Even lunch.

Oh yes, and a very important date for your diary:
26th May, 2011.

Christmas 2010

For those of you unlucky enough to miss our Christmas Dinner, here it is again....