Friday, 25 January 2008

Spot the pun

THE CAT KIN has made the shortlist for the Bolton Children’s Book Award. There, I’ve said it! It’s quite a dizzying prospect, especially considering that for a long time I had resigned myself to the fact that the book would never be published. I have to confess I didn’t know much about the Award before (I didn’t know anything at all about it); but looking at a list of past winners, and at the current shortlist, I’m impressed and overwhelmed. I’ve actually heard of every single other shortlisted book, which is remarkable in itself for me (I don’t follow the industry as closely as perhaps I should).

I don’t want to think too much about the award itself; I would rather be happy with the nomination alone. This is of course me trying to repress my violently competitive streak. But the fact is, books aren’t a competition. What does it matter to say that His Dark Materials is better than Harry Potter? Read both. We have time. A quick young reader could read the entire Bolton shortlist in a fortnight or less. But awards are undeniably great for raising books’ profiles, so they are definitely a Good Thing.

I will be sure to enjoy the award event itself – I can never say no to a free meal and hotel accommodation. More to the point, Bolton is ‘up north’ and isn’t too far from Preston, where my Mum lives and where I used to spend most of my school holidays (not as grim as it sounds… Preston is nice!). So I’ll definitely be glad to ride the train back to that part of the country, which I think of as a second (third? fourth?) home.

So that’s my news at the moment. I doubt there will be anything of interest to report on this subject till June, other than my increasingly frayed nerves. It only remains to be said: Faber and Faber, are you STILL resolved not to publish the sequel to THE CAT KIN?

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Time wounds all heels

I’m toying with a new theory about heroes. It’s really more from the Eng. Lit. student side of me than the writer side, but I reckon there’s something in it. I set to wondering about the Achilles Heel. The tragic flaw of the hero that either brings about their downfall or makes life very difficult for them. With Superman it’s kryptonite; with Scarlett O’Hara it’s her futile love for Ashley Wilkes; with Achilles it’s his heel. (Or is it? More on that soon).

My theory, or proto-theory, is that the hero’s apparent main weakness is actually the source of all their strength. Rather than the thing that hinders them, it is actually what drives them to do what they do. Without their flaw, in other words, they might survive, but they wouldn’t be heroes.

Let’s start really highbrow: Superman. His weakness is kryptonite. No it isn’t. It’s not a specific enough weakness; I’m vulnerable to knives and large planks of wood, but they don’t qualify as my Achilles heel. No, Superman’s big weakness (as General Zod points out in Superman 2) is that he cares. He cares about humans. So he can be manipulated by anyone who doesn’t care, and who would kill or hurt them to get at Superman. Kal-El’s weakness is precisely what makes him Superman as opposed to just a very strong man who can fly.

Achilles’s Achilles heel is not Achilles’ heel. Try saying that fast after a bottle of retsina. Again, like kryptonite, it’s superficial. In the Iliad, what finally gets to Achilles is the death of Patroclus. He can face any hardship or indignity, but not the grief of losing his best friend/lover. That’s what finally motivates him to get medieval (or should that be pre-Classical?) on the Trojans and whup Hector good. And it also leaves him vulnerable to Paris, who shoots only his ‘apparent’ Achilles heel: his heel.

And in Gone With The Wind, which I’m reading now, the one thing that keeps Scarlett going through grinding hardship is the very thing that makes her so foolish: her futile, selfish, doomed love for Ashley Wilkes. But she ends up being ‘heroic’ countless times as a result of this very unheroic passion.

I think there’s something in this. The best heroes have one major central flaw; and that flaw is what drives their heroism. But my essay-writing days are over, so I’m just content to float the idea for now… with all its flaws.

Friday, 18 January 2008

No way can I jump this

Annie Dalton left a comment a few weeks back on my post Laying the tracks. Fearing to lower the intellectual tone, she made reference to Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade, when Indy actually has to step out into the void, only to find that an invisible bridge takes his weight. It is, as he mutters to himself, a leap of faith. Starting a new book is very much like this.

I’m currently like Indy (minus the hat) standing on the brink of the abyss. Before me is my promising new idea, but from here it looks vast, dark and daunting, and I don’t see how I can possibly start writing when I can’t see what’s out there. On the other hand, I can’t really see what’s out there until I start. Oh, I know the basic plot, I know the major players and the big things that happen to them, but how it all links up, in ways that won’t feel contrived, is still invisible like Indiana’s bridge.

I know what I have to do. I have to start work on that first chapter, and then I’ll be able to see the bridge under me, narrow, transparent, vertigo-inducing, but there nonetheless. I know this, and it’s still a frightening prospect. What if the bridge doesn’t appear? What if it does appear but I fall off it? These are the questions that face anyone at the start of any major project, a book being just one example.

Then I remember something else. The being scared part of it is just as important as anything else. It’s the fear that concentrates the mind and helps you keep your balance. The fear is what provides the necessary thrill that makes writing so rewarding. This is why writers write and why climbers climb mountains. And why dashing if unshaven archaeologists gallop off in search of Holy Grails.

At what point do you know you’re ready? You’ll never be ready. Just step.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

CAT'S PAW is here

Pashki: the ancient Egyptian art of moving like a cat.

The Cat Kin: London’s most unusual after-school club.

But the Cat Kin are not the only ones with extraordinary skills. Ben Gallagher has stumbled on a far more sinister gang, ruled over by a man with a horrific past. Deep beneath the city streets hides a deadly secret that Ben and Tiffany must uncover – but can the evil be stopped in time, even with the help of their remarkable new teacher, Geoff White? No-one can hope to emerge unscathed when cat meets polecat…

What is this? What’s going on?

Well. Rather than wait for publishers to pull their socks up, I’ve produced my own edition of the Cat Kin sequel. CAT’S PAW is bigger, faster, scarier and more exciting than THE CAT KIN, carrying on the story from where that book left off.

CAT’S PAW will some day be available in bookshops, in a different edition – I don’t know when but it will. However, if you liked THE CAT KIN, now is your chance to own the unofficial homemade version of the sequel – a guaranteed rarity as well as a thumping good read. Just pop over to my website to find out more, including how you can get your hands on a copy. Go on, you know you want to… Click on the book cover above.