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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Reborn dolls: stranger than life

A couple of articles in national newspapers over the past few weeks have discussed the strange thing that is the reborn doll. For those who don't know what a reborn doll is, take a look at the photo in the Mail and decide whether you would honestly have known whether that baby was real or not. Reborn dolls are sometimes bought by women who have suffered a cot death or stillbirth or other trauma. In another article, The Guardian's Zoe Williams describes how a reborn doll taken into an old people's home calms and soothes some of the women. There's obviously a deep need for women to hold infants in their arms and if a real baby isn't there, the doll can carry out this role. All perfectly harmless; more than this: a good thing, perhaps.

And yet many people find the dolls sinister. They are certainly fascinating.

A reborn doll plays a small but key role in The History Room, which will be published in May 2012. And I now have a cover to share.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The photo moment

I had the photo moment a month or so back. It comes when someone: an agent or marketing person or conference organiser wants a picture of an author. If you're male or young and gorgeous, or have people always taking great photos of you, this is not a problem. You wing back a photo by return. Job done.

Most female writers I know, even the gorgeous, do not find the photo business as effortless. Having a photo taken can be angstful. It's not enough, if you're a woman, just to produce something that looks vaguely like you. An author I know in the States used to talk about having Botox before she was captured on film. I don't know if she was serious. Half of you thinks, why do I have to worry about something that's nothing to do with how good or not I am at writing? The other half knows that this is a visual age. Image matters. Even if you're middle-aged and not selling yourself on your looks (haw).

I've known for a while that the photos I've been using either show me as rather, erm, younger than I am now or are not technically suitable for some of the things they need to do: such as being enlarged to go on an event poster. So I added 'Find good photographer' to my list and asked a mate, PR consultant Jane Parritt, for names to conjure with and Jane suggested Anna McCarthy.

Anna and I met at her Barbican base and spent a morning talking about children, education, why we prefer to wear trousers rather than skirts, the riots and whether it's possible to earn too much money (possibly).

And we took some photos of me. And the whole thing was fun. And now I've got some great photos of me that show me as I am. If you need photos of yourself, your wedding, your family celebration, or your children, do have a look at Anna's website. I'll be swapping over the little picture on this blog for the new photo very shortly.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Wantage Betjeman Festival

I was very pleased and flattered to be asked to speak at the inaugural Betjeman Festival in Wantage, yesterday. As you can see, Sir John and I carefully co-ordinated clothing colours, and here we are sharing a joke. If you're near Wantage this week, do have a look at the programme.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Herring on the Nile

A few weeks ago (this post should have been written ages ago) I went down to Goldsboro Books to Len Tyler's book launch for his latest 'Herring' novel: The Herring on the Nile.

Just in case anyone had missed the geographical reference Len himself was wearing a very dashing red fez. In the photo he's sadly NOT wearing the fez, and neither is our editor, Will Atkins (right). But they both still look very dashing.

I think 'Nile' is the best herring book to date: funny and as elegantly constructed as a good gin and tonic drunk at sundown on a Nile paddle steamer. I had several laugh-aloud moments on the train journey back to Didcot. I think that says it all, really.

Goldsboro Books in its expanded premises was looking wonderful. Definitely a place to visit if you're looking for a really special literary present for a signed first-edition book lover.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The anxiety of influence

I first came across the term 'anxiety of influence' when I was at university, writing essays about how poets felt inhibited by the weight of literary tradition that came before them. How could you write anything after Milton or Shakespeare or Wordsworth? I read the Harold Bloom book and nodded in a vague, theoretical kind of way.

But now I get the point. I've been rereading Sarah Waters. In particular, The Night Watch. Why bother? When someone can write so beautifully, with such an ear for period detail, and such a voice for her characters, is there any point in anyone else trying to write?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A new book blog

A big hello to the Royalty Free Fiction blog, which has its official launch today. Royalty Free Fiction is the place to go if you're an historical fiction devotee. Featured authors include Judith Allnatt, Susanne Dunlap, James McCreet, Alis Hawkins, Terence Morgan, Deborah Swift, Ann Weisgarber. And me. Do take a look.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Royalty Free Fiction

At first I was a bit worried that was some kind of means of depriving authors of their financial earnings but OF COURSE, it's no such thing, because it's author Deborah Swift's new blog. It's aimed at readers who like a fictional taste of the past that's not all about kings and queens but 'ordinary' people (not that there's such a thing) doing some pretty extraordinary things. Lots of books to whet your historical appetite, including Deborah's own debut, The Lady's Slipper. And, oh, Jubilee, too.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Friday, 1 April 2011

Jubilee/Die Antwort des Windes--the landscape/Die Landschaft

Photos von White Horse Hill in Oxfordshire, England! Die Landschaft von Die Antwort des Windes, in der Umgebung meines Haus, ist ganz hübsch. Die Häuser sind typisch.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Willkommen in meinem Sprachblog!

Ich möchte meine deutschen Leser zu begrüßen. Willkommen in meinem Sprachbuch. Von Zeit zu Zeit hoffe ich etwas über mich und meiner Bücher, Die Antwort des Windes und Weil du mich liebst, sagen.

My novels in e-format

If you prefer electronic format to paper, you might be interested to know that all my novels are now available as Macmillan e-books. Just remember that they are not so useful in this format for using as table mats or laptop stands.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Pony books and female high fliers

I don't quite know why but I've started re-reading my old pony books. Perhaps because a family member now rides. Perhaps because the depressing and alarming news of the last few months makes me crave something safe and familiar.

I only have an edited selection of the scores of books I once owned. To my horror I discovered that I'd mislaid Jill's Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson: a seminal work.

Why did/do pony books appeal to a forty-something mother of two so much? Obviously there's the pony fascination that many girls of roughly seven to seventeen share. But there's something else. I think that reading about girls, often quite 'ordinary' girls, not rich, not glamorous, doing amazing things on fairly large animals was empowering. The golden age of the pony books seems to have run from about 1947 until the end of the sixties. This is just before women started to enter the workplace on (almost) equal terms with men. Was it the case that girls who read about other girls galloping ponies over scarily high fences and cheerfully competing with boys were somehow encouraged to think of themselves as at liberty to take chances with careers?

Jill of the gymkhana fame is a wonderful protagonist. She is plucky (buys a pony though she doesn't even know how to put his bridle on, draws off a fierce bull to protect a friend and jumps a huge gate to evade him). She's funny (not always intentionally), loyal and never for a single moment thinks of boys as anything other than comrades and equals. If they can ride better than she can she admires them. If they can't she quietly enjoys her superiority. But VERY quietly. One of her most endearing traits (and that of her friends) is modesty. No boasting. Do your best. Work hard. Look after your pony above all and be there for your friends.

It's an enormously attractive set of character traits. No wonder I'm re-reading them all again. And I've got a new edition of Jill's Gymkhana coming through the post, courtesy of Fidra. I still have a few of the Pullein-Thompson sisters' pony books hanging around too and am enjoying them immensely. It's interesting how often the mothers or fathers of the children in these books have parents who are authors. The Pullein-Thompsons themselves came from a literary family. I wonder if, subconsciously, I picked up the idea that writing for a living might be a good career. Perhaps I should also have noted that many of the writer parents in the books are unable to buy ponies, or more alarmingly, even clothes, food stuffs and household goods we'd regard as fairly everyday, on their earnings. Their daughters have to resort to all kinds of stratagems to buy and maintain their ponies. Not a bad lesson in life.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

World Book Night Giveaway

To celebrate the World Book Night giveaway I have a free copy of Jubilee to give out to the first person to email me on

I also have a free copy of Die Antwort des Windes (Jubilee in its German translation) that I'll send anywhere in Europe. Just email me