Sunday, 28 September 2008

Living with Caligula

Just got back from bonnie Galloway and the Wigtown Book Festival and what a great weekend it was. Wigtown's a tiny place but it comes alive for the book festival and the atmosphere was fantastic. We joined about four hundred other people to hear actor Bill Paterson talk about his childhood in the east end Glasgow enclave of Dennistoun, living in the shadow of the nuclear bomb and the characters he grew up with. Bill has a wonderful voice, huge charm and a great sense of humour and deserved the ovation he got at the end. It was a bit strange, though, to hear about the genesis of Tales from the Back Green. He cheerfully confesses that it was never intended as a book, just a series of radio scripts, and that the only reason it was published was because a firm approached him. For someone who has heard hundreds of hard-luck stories from talented writers desperate to get into print that was a bit surreal.
I had a nice chat with Stuart Kelly from Scotland on Sunday, who are media sponsors this year, and I met up with Lee Randall, the Scotsman's features supremo who was there to chair a couple of events and interview some of the authors.
One of the biggest highlights of the weekend was the house we stayed in at Newton Stewart. The Brewery Pool of the River Cree flowed as dark as Guinness about four feet below the balcony of our bedroom, full of salmon and sea trout on their way to spawn upriver. In two days I saw a kingfisher, a mink, a cormorant and was treated to an impromptu flypast by a pair of herons skidding along just above the water. Our alarm call on Saturday morning came courtesy of about twenty mallards and three geese who gathered under the window demanding breakfast. Idyllic doesn't quite describe it, glorious is closer.
Dumfries and Galloway is off the beaten track, but it's full of history and beautiful wild countryside and stunning coastal views. If you get a chance to visit it, don't miss it!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Living with Caligula

Off to the Wigtown Book Festival this weekend, not to appear, just to soak up the atmosphere.
We'll be staying at a holiday cottage with our friends John and Elaine and we're all booked to see Scots actor Bill Paterson talk about Tales from the Back Green his memoir of growing up in Glasgow in the 50s and 60s. I'll let you know how we got on next week.
I've been through the follow up to Caligula again this week, polishing here, cutting there, and, as always, wondering if it's as good as I can make it. It's the story of the Emperor Claudius's invasion of Britain in 43 AD seen through the eyes of Rufus, keeper of the Emperor's elephant and hero of Caligula. I had great fun writing it, especially the battle scenes, and there's some great stuff in it. Robert Graves created the popular vision of a drooling, crippled figure of fun in I, Claudius, which like most Roman novels has its origins in the works of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. Suetonius throws away the Claudian invasion in a couple of lines and calls it, rather disdainfully, a minor campaign. But the fragmentary remains of a commemorative arch in Rome say Claudius fought six battles and was hailed Imperator (victorious general) by his troops 22 times, which isn't bad going considering he was only in Britain for 16 days. I tell the story of how the cripple became a conqueror with a little help from his spymaster, Narcissus, and, of course, the Emperor's elephant.
There's also been interest this week in my crime book Brothers in Arms, and I was asked to put together synopses for another three novels based around the main characters. I've always had plans to do a series so I had them pretty much to hand and they're on their way. There's a real sense of excitement when you throw your work out into the world - you never know what kind of impact it's going to make!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Living with Caligula

One of the things I enjoy most about being an author is the little suprises that arrive when you're least expecting them. On thursday night I came home to find I'd been sent four copies of the Polish version of Caligula, which has been published by Amber and was actually on the streets of Warsaw a week before it was my book was available in Britain. It's a compact soft-backed version with the same picture on the cover and it's fascinating to see your words in a different language and to think that Kaligula is being read by people in Krakow and Gdansk.
The English version has already ended up in some surprising places. I discovered on the net that it's out on loan from two libraries in Tasmania and half a dozen in New Zealand. It's stocked in a big bookshop in Singapore, available in Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, and you can buy it on line on Amazon Japan, Germany and France. That's not to mention the editions that will soon be published in Italian, Russian, Serb, Portuguese and Romanian.
Obviously I'd been waiting to see if it would be picked up by a US publisher, but that hasn't happened. It is going to be published in America though, simultaneously in the United States and Canada on January 27. And the mass-market paperback version comes out in this country on February 12. So there's plenty to look forward to!

I completed the latest version of the follow up to Caligula on the train on Thursday night and I'm polishing it at the moment before I send it to Simon next week or the week after. It's amazing the buzz you get when you finally reach those two lovely words .........'The End'......... even though you know that there will be more revisions to come. There are a couple of things I'm not certain about - I've made some pretty radical changes - but it's a much better book. The beauty of rewriting is that small changes, a word here and there, can make such a big difference. You'd think you'd get bored of reading the same thing twenty times over, but I love it because I know that every time I'll find something to improve.

Caligula continues to do well on the Amazon historical fiction charts, jockeying for position with another couple of Roman books by first-time authors, and sitting at about seventh among the historical hardbacks, behind Conn Iggulden, Philipa Gregory and Bernard Cornwell. So I'm in pretty good company. It's interesting to compare the reviews each book has. The other debutants have about five or six times more reviews than I have, but a stange pattern has developed in one of them. It started out with a host of five-stars right after publication, but just lately there have been half a dozen one and two stars. The latest one complains he didn't even finish the book and he's been conned into buying it by the earlier reviews, which are very obviously by friends and family. Looking back over them, I think he's right and that the Amazon review system is pretty flawed. When someone puts a title on their review saying Buy this Book you can be pretty certain they're not coming at it objectively! Naturally all of mine are completely kosher. :-)