The Word on the Street

So, I didn’t win the Mordus du Polar Award in France (goddamnit). That honour went to Marie-Aude Murail for ‘Le Tueur a la Cravate’ – congratulations Marie-Aude.

While I’m on, there are a few things I thought worth spreading word about:

I did a recent guest post on a blog called Pivot Dublin, which is devoted to design issues of all kinds. My piece concerns my doubts about our ability to create books for kids moving from the stage where they’re confident to read, to where they might be able to read novels. I think one of the main problems here is that the publishing industry is, understandably enough, run by book-lovers. But that has led to a kind of prejudice when it comes to reading, and we’re seeing it when kids hit eight or nine. With kids increasingly reading in so many different ways, we should be able to convince increasing numbers to read books, but we’re not. I think the way we approach the design of books is one of the reasons for this.

On a different note, I’m going to be doing a couple of events down in Listowel for their Writers’ Week. The dates are yet to be finalized, but there’ll be at least two events down there.

In other news, I found an interesting piece on self-publishing versus going mainstream recently, and whether the Big Six publishers are floundering or merely changing slowly. It’s informative and well-argued. You should check it out.

Speaking of the publishers and what they’re up to, David Maybury’s recent piece on Bologna Book Fair for the Bookseller is full of enlightening notes. And while we’re there, word of looting at Bologna might make you wonder what strange breed goes to a book fair to steal books.

What was the whole point in going digital if people are going to just steal the printed versions?

A Moveable Feast

‘Ancient Appetites’ (aka ‘Voraces’) and les Mordus du Polar got us to the Paris book fair – see a transcript, in French, of the authors’ panel event here. And while the Salon du Livre was a great experience, but there was also the city, of course . . .

After landing at the airport, we took a taxi to our hotel, where we dumped our luggage. From there, we took the Metro into the city centre, wandering around, taking in the sights. We didn’t have a lot of time, as I’d be working all of Saturday, so we didn’t want to spend a huge chunk of our time queuing at the city’s main attractions. We did find our way to the Louvre, but we didn’t go inside, happy to meander around the outside (which would boggle your mind if you looked long enough) before going for lunch.

I’d been to the Louvre before, and it would take you days just to see everything inside this one museum. It was an absolutely beautiful day, so we stayed outside as much as we could. After a bit more wandering round, we took an open-topped bus tour to get our bearings and get a brief look at the biggest sights: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysées and the other wonders. Paris is astonishing, not just in the kinds of buildings it has, but also in the scale on which the city has been planned. We got off along the Seine to take a closer look at Notre Dame, stroll around the islands and grabbed an ice cream at Berthillon’s.

We’d been up since 4am, so by late afternoon we were knackered, and took the Metro back to our hotel, which was out on the edge of town. Keeping the romance in your marriage is quite a challenge when you’ve got three kids, so we didn’t want to spend our evenings sightseeing too – it was a pleasure just to chill, have a leisurely dinner and a glass or two (or three) of wine.

There’s no end of places where you can hear about the big attractions of Paris, so I’ll dwell a little on the quirky details; like buying a carnet of tickets – not a single travelpass, like in London, but a handful of small tickets you use one at a time. Or the late night green grocers (see above), of which there were several on our road alone, standing ready to supply the night-time fruit appetites of the citizens of Paris. As a compulsive apple-eater, this was something I appreciated. My kind of people, the French.

Maedhbh visited the Musee d’Orsay after leaving me in the book fair on Saturday, and we had pizza and pasta for dinner that evening – not traditional French fair, but Maedhbh is a vegetarian, and we had to look at the menus of a few restaurants to remind ourselves that the French don’t really do vegetarianism. In the restaurant attached to our hotel (which had a colourful, but uncompromising motorsport theme), we were told that they could do Maedhbh a salad, or they could give her one of the meat dishes, without the meat. But they’d still charge her the same price. We thanked them and left. On the way back to our hotel after our Italian in Paris (stopping for some fruit on the way), we passed an ironing board lying on the street. It had obviously been out on the town, and had had a few too many before trying to walk home.

If you’re travelling to Paris in the near future, I’d suggest you leave your ironing boards at home, there’s clearly a bad element among their type in the city.

On the Sunday, we had the morning to wander round town, although it was too much of a trip to have to go back to hotel before heading to the airport, so we had to haul our cabin luggage around with us – because of terrorist threats, the train stations apparently don’t do left luggage any more. We strolled around the Centre Georges Pompidou, taking in the fantastic, bizarre Stravinsky Fountain, with its collection of outlandish sculptures, including a voluptuous mermaid with sprinkling breasts.

Heading back towards the river, we passed more little quirks, including a tricked-out tricycle and a small market selling various breeds of caged birds. The queue for Sainte Chapelle was just too long for us, though we had to go through the airport-style security to find that out, because it’s in the Palais de Justice compound. We didn’t want to take the chance of missing our flight, so we decided to check out the Latin Quarter, and have a look at the famous bookshop, Shakespeare and Co, which was close to the train station on our way out.

Except we couldn’t find the bloody place. It’s supposed to be on rue de la Bûcherie, but we walked the length of this small, short street and there was no sign of it. We asked directions off two different people, both of whom directed us to the end of the street, where we merely confirmed it wasn’t. We went to a cafe to take a break, almost out of time, but happy enough with our wandering, even if we were disappointed with missing this one sight we were sure we’d get into. I mean, this shop was world famous – how could nobody know where it was?

It was on our walk back to the station, that we discovered why we couldn’t find it. There was a tiny park across the main street that butted up against rue de la Bûcherie . . . and on the other side of the park, were the last few dozen yards of the street – along with our missing bookshop (this part wasn’t labelled on our street-map and it wasn’t how the shop was marked on the tourist map). We had time to take a picture, glance inside, and then we were heading for the train to the airport.

It might sound like a frustrating tour of Paris, given that we didn’t go inside much, but there was still so much to see, and we had a great time just walking around, talking, taking photos, and spending some quality time together. We’d been to Rome a few years ago (another short stay), and spent our few days there cramming in as many sights as we could, and it was brilliant, but exhausting. This was very different, but made us desperate to come back for more (maybe with the kids . . . maybe not). I can say with some confidence, that Paris hasn’t seen the last of us.

Salon du Livre

Maedhbh and I were in Paris for the weekend, for the massive French book fair, the Salon du Livre. I’d been invited over because ‘Voraces’ (the French edition of ‘Ancient Appetites’) has been short-listed for les Mordus du Polar which, loosely translated, means ‘Mad about Mystery’. The winner will be announced on the 7th of April, but in the meantime, I’d been asked to speak on a panel of writers at the book fair.

Maedhbh and I hadn’t been away together on our own overnight since our youngest was born, so we decided to make a proper weekend of it, arriving on Friday morning, and coming back Sunday afternoon.

I’ll cover the work bit in this post, and do a separate one for the touristy bit:

After a day of wandering round Paris on Friday, Saturday was to be a very different affair. We left the hotel after breakfast and took a tram to the exhibition centre, which was enormous. The Salon du Livre only took up one pavilion, but must still have been the size of a couple of football fields. Very little was in English, of course, so there we were surrounded by stands covered in the most amazing looking books, and couldn’t read much at all (both of us muddling through with our secondary school French), but it was still incredible to experience. Unlike some book fairs, this one was at least as much for the public as it was for the trade, so there were crowds of people of all ages milling around, checking out the stands.

We met Sarah, Sylvaine, Helene, and some of the folks at the Mango Jeunesse stand (my publishers) and made our way to where I’d be taking part in a panel interview with the other authors who were up for the award: Élise Fontenaille, Marie-Aude Murail and Anne & Marie Rambach, two sisters who wrote their book together.

It was a good panel, with over a hundred and fifty people in the audience – many of them kids – and a lot of onlookers passing by and stopping to listen at the back. I was the only one who needed a translator, so the person who actually did the most talking was a woman named Sheila Pratschke, Director of the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris, who basically had to repeat what everybody said. Thanks again for that, Sheila.

It was interesting to note that, once you pin writers down about their processes, the essentials don’t change from language to language. Each of us had our own very different way of going about writing, but the elements that first grabbed us about creating stories when we were young, and the need to convey thoughts accurately from your own head into somebody else’s were familiar to all five of us.

The panel went on for just over an hour and a half, with a lot of questions from the kids, as well as the inteviewer, and then we signed a few books before moving on. For the rest of the day, with just a break for lunch, I sat at the Mango stand, meeting people and signing more books. My French wasn’t up to making small talk, so I spent a lot of time doing drawings which we handed out when people bought books, with one of the gang from Mango translating for me if somebody came up and wanted to chat.

One other piece of good news came up while I was there that day – I found out I’d made the long-list (one of ten titles) for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire 2012 for the Wildenstern Saga as a series. It’s in the ‘Young Foreign Novel’ category.  ‘Voraces’ was short-listed for this award last year, but didn’t get it. The ten titles will be whittled down to five, before the winner is announced next year. The competition is pretty tough, with ‘The Hunger Games’ and Scott Westerfeld’s ‘Leviathan’ series on the same list. I’ve already posted something on ‘The Hunger Games’, and I’m on the second book of Westerfeld’s trilogy, and think it’s brilliant.

The cover of ‘Feroces’, the French edition of ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’ – designed by Aurelien Police – is also up for an award in the cover design category. I can’t take any credit for that, but I’m happy to bask in its association. Vive la France!