Saturday, 24 January 2015

What is the last divided capital city in the world? (The clue is Lawrence Durrell) And when is an island not an island?

A divided city is one split between two countries, like Berlin used to be between East and West Germany, for example.

The answer (give or take a Jerusalem) is Nicosia, the capital of both the Cyprus's. I'm reading about it now, in the gorgeous technicolour prose of Lawrence Durrell and I was there last summer, celebrating my birthday. I flew into the Greek side, and spent most of my time there, near Larnaca. Nicosia is a must-see, though. I arrived on the Greek side, on the bus, and wandered around until I came to blocked streets, like this,

 and ironic shop names, like this.

The area around is a no mans land of empty houses, and boarded, up, old buildings, that haven't been used, or lived in since the residents fled when the city was split up. It's an odd contrast to the rest of the island which often looks like this:

Or this, which is the view from the mosque in Larnaca

Or this, which is an ancient church, built by the Byzantines, about fifty yards away from the mosque.

Nicosia has its highlights, though, this is an ancient inn, which now serves as a restaurant and tourist centre. There are beautiful old streets, squares, and churches, everything built of this same, butter-coloured stone.

You cross the border, though, and everything is very different. The crossing sits in the middle of the main street, which is a bit odd. You get your passport stamped, and you pass into a place that has no official recognition in the world, except by Turkey. You walk through it a while, realising something is weird, but unable to put your finger on it until...

There are no western brands at all. Nothing. The Greek side is full of Starbucks, and Adidas, and McDonalds. The north side is a bit faded, the prices change from Euros to Turkish Lira, and not a single name is recognisable. The north of Cyprus doesn't exist, so nobody can do business there

The definitive book about Cyprus is this:

Lawrence Durrell wrote one of my favourite books of all time: The Alexandria Quartet. This is different, autobiographical, more real and more rushed. Mainly it tells me how much of Cyprus I missed. It describes it so beautifully, mountains from the distance, looking like tumbledown, ivy-covered walls, and haunted mosques hanging over the silken sea. It is an enchanted island. I shall go back, and get a car, and explore the villages and quiet coves.

I ate properly, squid and octopus on the sea front in Larnaka, and loukanikou and sheftalia on the terrace of a village bar. The main furniture of the terrace was a big, round table, where old men of the village played cards and shouted at one another. They all spoke English, learned in Kebab shops in Birmingham or Portsmouth. Still, Durrell tells me that I didn't eat enough, and I didn't try enough of the wine.

The last thing that Bitter Lemons tells me is the story of how the break happened. A blissful island sleepwalking towards disaster. Now, to go from one end of the High Street to the other you need one of these:

A visa. Because when is an island not an island? When it's two islands. Read the book, visit the island. Recommended. I'll be getting another visa.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Smart Mouth Waitress, Writing Teenage Girls who are REEEEAAALLL

I read a book because I came across the author on the Kindleboards Writer's Cafe and she seemed fairly awesome.

The author is Dalya Moon, who is much better known as Mimi Strong, author of grown up romance stories. The book I read is called 'Smart Mouth Waitress.' It has a couple of elements that I love, characters that are authentically realised in every direction, even ones that have nothing to do with the plot, and realistic (or real) locations that I can completely see and would completely go to.

The lead is Perry, the waitress of the title, and the setting is Saltwater City - a stand in for Vancouver. One of my favourite series ever is Tales of the City, which explored the same characters for book after book and year after year, just as much as the amazing city they lived in (San Francisco).

Smart Mouth Waitress in the second Salt Water City Book. Sadly I think it could also be the last, and there's no chance of 'Tales of Salt Water City.' These days Mimi Strong seems to be attracting a lot more attention than Dalya Moon.

So, standing alone, Perry is very cool. She's unconventional, speaks her mind, and has a lot to learn. Her story is kind of a coming of age. She's 18, but the story covers her first exploits with boys, plus day-to-day life at the I-wish-it-was-real cafe where she works and with her family and friends.

The only downside to this story, and it is very slight, is that we don't actually see enough of it. The author has a bit of a habit of letting Perry tell us about what happens after it has happened, rather than letting the characters show us events as they go along. This extends to most of the most important events in Perry's life, which happened before the story began, and the fact that at the end her life moves on a bit less than I expected.

That might just be me, though. It could well move on just as much as you expect. Give it a try. For sure the characterisation and dialogue are top-notch enough to make me properly jealous of Dalya's talent.

I recommend it:

Saturday, 3 January 2015

There's Only One Digger Bongo

In my 'Christmas Post' I hinted at the stories I'm going to be releasing in 2015. Here's a bit more news.

The next four stories I'm going to publish will be for 8-12 year olds. The first three will be about the Bongo family, each one short, telling a story about one of the children. First out of the blocks - probably - will be the 4th child, Digger. Here he is, courtesy of artist Damien Hazell - who is designing the cover art for all four of the children's stories.

The fourth book is a full length children's novel, featuring entirely different characters, and kind of reflecting stories like the Famous Five, which I adored when I was small. It stars four very different children, who live on the same street in a small, very generic town in the UK. The book is about friendship, and mystery, and what happens when the most exciting parts of stories cross over into real life.

When that is released I'm going to turn my attention back to the Levels series. Each one of the existing four books will be relaunched, newly edited and with a new cover. There will be two more books, one that follows Song to Wake to, and one that follows 'Lullaby of Lies' and 'Reason to be Shy.' This last is the longest, most complicated story I've ever written and when I finish this post I'm going to get right back to it, editing for what feels like the twentieth time, in response to the genius comments of the brilliant Ruth Steven.

In the meantime, though, get ready to meet the irrepressible Digger Bongo and the bonkers Bongo family...

Saturday, 27 December 2014

In a Hole in the Ground there lived a...


The legend is that this first line popped fully formed into the mind of Professor JRR Tolkien. From it he built one of the most successful, most loved books of all time, like finding a beautiful, shiny doorknob, and basing a whole (hole) house around it. You can even get the t-shirt.

The same thing happened to me. It was quite surprising. It formed the origin of the next story I'm going to publish.

The line is 'There's only one Digger Bongo.' Go figure. Where did it come from? I have no idea. The line popped into my head while I was walking to work one morning. It stayed there for the entire day, and by the time I went home Digger Bongo had built himself up a character, an obsession, and a background.

Digger is a character in a children's story, that was quickly obvious. I haven't published stories for younger children before, and I know that you think of me as a YA writer, but I hope you'll have a look at Digger when he appears, or point younger friends and relatives in his direction. The first novel I ever wrote is for kids. In lots of ways I think its still my best, and hopefully Digger and his adventures will be the first step along the way to getting that first ever novel out and on Amazon.

 It didn't take much longer for me to realise Digger has a lot to do with digging holes. His family took a bit more time to assemble, until I remembered this...

The Family from One End Street, by Eve Garnett, that I loved when I was a little boy. We never owned it, but I borrowed it repeatedly from the library. It's about the Ruggles family, Mum, Dad, and seven children. Every child is a unique little character, and though their lives are ordinary, with that many people in the house there is always something going on.

Unsurprisingly Digger has 6 siblings, and every one is very, very different. I'll write a bit more about him, and them, in a couple of days. I'm on vacation now, so there's more time for blogging, I promise.

In the meantime, this is where I am. Very cool, don't you think?

Merry Christmas!

Friday, 21 November 2014

I'm Back

The date at the top of each post is like I've personally been blog shamed.
Honestly I've been busy, though. Not busy writing or selling books, unfortunately. Just busy with life and travels. Here are some of the places I've been.
 Dubai. The tallest building in the world. Dubai is a made up city, like the trade city where Luke and Obi-wan go in the first star wars film. My hotel was filled with Europeans (in an Arab country) but boasted a Phillipino nightclub on the 2nd floor. Just... because.

The fountain show at the Dubai Mall is off the hook. That's all.
 Muscat. Too hot. Even as the sun sets on the Persian gulf. Here I met a cricket-playing Arab, who learned it from hanging out with all his Indian friends.

Casablanca. A mosque on a promotory by the sea. The sea road fills with thousands of people gathering there to see the sunset.
And here's Casablanca Soukh. A rambling maze of white painted lanes, where you can buy almost everything AND get your hair braided.

This gets me to the end of May. But it already shows, I think, that truth is way stranger than fiction, the world is an amazing place, and I shouldn't waste so much energy trying to make stuff up, when what's already there is way weirder and cooler than anything I could come up with.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

SEVEN INTERNET GEMS FOR READERS, including: Cassandra Claire's NEW SERIES, Spritz, Lestat, Book Boyfriends.

I haven't blogged for an age, and there's two main reasons for that. One is a vacation in Oman, the other is the end of the financial year. I'll be telling you more about one of those next week (guess which one). In the meantime, I was thinking how quality news about books and reading is kind of scattered across the web, so I decided to concentrate some of it, the things I've been looking at, here for you...

1. Our favourite fictional characters are never simple, and seldom entirely good. This article claims that a whole bunch of the best loved authorial inventions are much worse, they're bad to the bone PSYCHOS.

2. Do you want to read faster? I'm not sure what I think about this. I don't like the idea that reading novels, or anything for enjoyment, could be some kind of race. Maybe work reading, or research? But to me one of the joys of books is taking your time, going over things twice, or speeding along if you want to. See what you think?

3) Most of the readers of this blog are, well, readers, but still, you might need to persuade somebody else. Here are a stack of quotes saying why reading is the best.

4) Before Twilight, before The Mortal Instruments I first learned the possibilities of the contemporary paranormal from Anne Rice's Lestat, or more accurately, the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt movie, which led me to the book. The news? Lestat's  ON HIS WAY BACK.

5) Speaking of the Mortal Instruments, everybody knows that there's a 3rd series on it's way, to make TMI and ID ending a little better. The news is that there's  FOURTH series, set in the same kind of era as ID. Cassandra Claire is a WRITING MACHINE.

6) Still speaking of the Mortal Instruments, every day is a little bit better because it's a bit closer to the next book. Getting to the last book in a series is terrible. This article describes the process. How far along are you?

7) And finally, more from Huffpost. We all have our favourite book boyfriends. Apart from maybe possibly they aren't as perfect as we think. Check to see if your flawed 'BBF' is on this list.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

True Adventures of a Part Time Writer. The Sea of Galilee.

I sat here, at this table, in a state of slight disbelief. In the distance was the Sea of Galilee, the town I was in was Roman, and the restaurant had been built in a beautiful black and yellow stone Ottoman mansion.

Where was I?

The view south from the restaurant is like this, five miles of Roman temples, theatres, stores, and baths. In the bright November sun (yes, November) lizards sunbathed on blocks of stone, then sprinted away if you came too near, legs lifted high on each side.

The place is called Um Qais. It's in northern Jordan, the slice of pale water in the distance is the Sea of Galilee, now in Israel. The nearer hills are in Syria and Palestine, and the valley is that of the river Jordan.

The Roman town was called Gadara, most of it is now buried beneath olive groves, but it was once part of the Decapolis, the network of cities that ruled the area. It is the site of a biblical story about a herd of swine being chased into the water. When I was there it was also the site of an owl trying to sleep in a tree and a flock of sparrows determined not to let it.

The Ottoman village dates to when the Turks were in charge, but they left long ago, when their empire fell in upon itself. Local farmers took it over, but they too have gone.

The restaurant serves beautiful lamb stews, to the sound of haunting Lebanese guitar music. The day I was there, though, there were two other noises. The first was a weird trilling, like distant birds. I looked everywhere for them, until I spotted them high over head. Arrow head formations of broad winged, long legged cranes, migrating from the Russian Steppe to Africa for the winter.

The other noise was more distant, and more sinister. The muffled thump of artillery in Syria. Damascus is only just beyond the first range of hills, the infamous Golan heights. The whole area is scarred by millennia of wars. In the springtime the hillside is a riot of wildflowers, and filled with exiled Palestinians who throng there to see where they once lived.

There are stories everywhere, and some places few of them are happy. All we strive for is an end to this one, and as soon as possible.