I’ve just been to the Atlantic/Corvus party (my fiction publishers) and thoroughly relished meeting all the people who fine tune sales of my book behind the scenes, and to whom I am exceedingly grateful. It was also great to find out from digital book guru Francesca that I was Corvus’s top performing monkey in digital sales with the recent Kindle offer on The Templar Prophecy. Well, she didn’t quite put it in those words (i.e performing monkey) - that’s just me. But I fear it’s far too late to change! I’m still a little awestruck by the whole digital thing, which has become so important to publishers in recent years. But I’m certainly not going to knock it when it makes my publishers happy. Happy publishers make happy authors and vice versa, as I’m sure seems obvious to all.
My Pinterest page has now been put up by my publishers, with all the covers of the books I have chosen given a sort of collage effect. It’s pretty nice. If anyone would like to see it, please follow this link:
I should add, too, that my The Templar Prophecy has remained at number 1 in Religious and Inspirational fiction on Kindle, number 1 in Spiritual Literature and Fiction, and, wait for it, number 4 in overall Action & Adventure (and still rising). Very encouraging indeed given that my new book, The Templar Inheritance, is due out in April.
I’ve been asked by my publishers to provide a list of fifteen or so books that I love or that have influenced me, for something called Blinkbox (Pinterview). I decided to avoid James Joyce, Tolstoy and Chekhov for a change (much as I love them) in favour of books that are fun, and brilliantly written to boot. Here is my list (you saw it here first!):
Ernest Hemingway – The Complete Short Stories (Finca Vigia Edition). This is Hemingway’s masterpiece. No one else wrote as he wrote. Each word was considered, each sentence balanced to perfection. He watched, waited and described. All the nonsense talked about his life pales into insignificance when compared to these stories.
Joseph Conrad – Victory. One of the greatest love stories of all time. Conrad is the master of the gradual unfolding of character via the detailed exploration of the inner mind. Lord Jim, Nostromo, and Heart Of Darkness may be more approachable, but in the characters of Alma/Lena and Axel Heyst Conrad crafts victory from tragedy – the sublime from the commonplace. He gives dignity to human life, and expands our understanding of consciousness and of morality.
D H Lawrence – Women In Love. Lawrence’s greatest novel, and, alongside his sublime poems, his profoundest meditation on humanity, myth, and the sometimes fraught relationships between men and women, women and women, and men and men. It is sensuous, perverse and idiosyncratic. Just like Lawrence himself.
John Buchan – John Macnab. This is the ultimate comfort read for those who love the Scottish countryside and all its associated sports (both legal and illegal), and who hanker for an age where grace, fair play and the innate understanding of the natural world still had a chance of winning out against political correctness, ‘right thinking’, and the perils of social engineering. In Buchan’s world a gentleman or a lady was someone – from any walk of life and from any culture – who never knowingly gave another person hurt.
Geoffrey Household – Rogue Male. One of the greatest thrillers ever written and so far ahead of its time in terms of narrative structure and brevity of style that it can still serve as a template for aspiring writers in search of the elusive art of simplicity. Household was one of those rare beings who could twin mystery with mysticism. We are always aware in his books of what might be beyond our immediate ken. His later novels may be indisputably strange, but they are utterly compulsive.
Henry Rider Haggard – The Ancient Allan. This magnificent tale, which encompasses past lives and their effect on the present and the future, will have to stand in for all the wonderful Allan Quatermain books Rider Haggard wrote over the course of his career. Quatermain – a.k.a. Macumazana or ‘The Watcher-By-Night’ – was Haggard’s alter ego, and the representation, almost despite himself, of the perfect English gentleman. Both a man of action and a mystic, Quatermain was the quintessence of Haggard’s belief in Karmic reincarnation – the personification, in other words, of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces.
John D MacDonald – The Lonely Silver Rain. The most underrated American writer of the last century, MacDonald’s sublime philosophical interludes, his excoriation of ecological crimes against the natural world, his lifting of the lid on the criminal enormities foisted on his beloved Florida, together with the unerring simplicity of his prose, make of him a writer to be relished in the darkest watches of the night. The Lonely Silver Rain will have to stand in for the whole of MacDonald’s Travis McGee series of novels. It is a profound contemplation on ageing, the importance of family and friendship, and the impact of lost illusions. And a cracking good tale to boot.
Rumi – The Masnavi. In this thirteenth century Farsi masterpiece the great Persian poet Rumi describes the ecstasy that only oneness with God can bring. It is a paean to love and unity and the completion that only utter submission to God can afford. It is the finest Sufi poem ever written, and one can never reach the end of what it has to teach us.
Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian. Cormac McCarthy is the greatest living American writer and Blood Meridian is his masterpiece. That he has not yet won the Nobel Prize is a scandal. There are episodes in this book so beautifully written, with each word faceted like a signature diamond, that any rational individual will burst into tears of joy, just as I did once, in the middle of the night, reading McCarthy’s description of a thunderstorm.
James Salter – A Sport And A Pastime. If Cormac McCarthy is modern America’s William Faulkner, James Salter is its Scott Fitzgerald. A genius with a turn of phrase so beautiful it can snatch your breath away. A Sport And A Pastime is erotic, sensuous, knowing, playful and blisteringly romantic. It is a book for everyone who loves France and wishes to inhabit its purlieus, its boulevards, and its cul-de-sacs. Salter is the master of the intricacies of human relationships – he is the poet of the everyday.
Raymond Carver – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. A poet and a master of the short story, Carver, like his own master, Anton Chekhov, died young from a pulmonary complaint (lung cancer for Carver, tuberculosis for Chekhov). He gave significance to people whose lives, to all intents and purposes, lacked all conceivable significance. He was the champion of the emotionally illiterate – the historian of blue collar despair. His stories are exquisitely paced, and he makes the commonplace momentous.
Charles Bukowski – Post Office. Flatulent, ribald, boisterous and bloody-minded, Bukowski is the Rabelais of the modern era. The misanthropic anti-hero of his own misadventures, he is both poet and barfly, victim and bully. Everyone needs to read Bukowski, if only to remind oneself that there is honesty in fabrication, wisdom in studied immaturity, and liberation in the suitably aimed scatological aside.
Jane Austen – Emma. Austen’s Pride And Prejudice may be better loved, but Emma is the more honest book. When Emma puts her foot in it, she pretty much empties the puddle, which makes her eventual salvation, in the form of her recognition of her love for Mr Knightley, all the more moving. Austen herself said ‘I am going to take a heroine that no one but myself will much like’. Well, I love Emma, and I’ll take her over Elizabeth Bennet (blissful though she is) any day.
Raymond Chandler – The Long Goodbye. How to choose just one novel from Chandler’s sublime miscellany? The Long Goodbye is arguable Chandler’s most personal work, written whilst his beloved wife Cissy was dying, and in which he mourns the loss of friendship, sobriety, and the certainties of youth. Chandler is a writer’s writer – only someone who has lasted out the writing of an entire novel without throwing up his hands in horror knows what it takes to craft insights and descriptions as exquisite as those Chandler conjures up. One percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration was Thomas Edison’s specification of genius. A perfect description of Raymond Chandler, who reminds us that to force writers into established genres risks overlooking some of our greatest and most noble talents.
Nancy Mitford – The Blessing. I love all of Nancy Mitford. Like the aforementioned James Salter, she understands France and the French and delights us with her insights into arguably the world’s most idiosyncratic culture. In Grace Allingham, Mitford constructs a heroine who is at the same time wildly in love with French society and its mores, while at the same reeling back in horror from its more enervating extremes. Her son Sigismund, half bluff Saxon and half Gallic Machiavelli, contrives both to lever his parents apart and to epically cement them back together again. Can Grace and Charles-Edouard’s fragile love survive the clash of two prepotent cultures and the machinations of their own son? Read on and be enchanted.
Daphne du Maurier – The Scapegoat. Daphne du Maurier was a master storyteller and a vastly underrated novelist. Damned for writing what certain critics construed as ‘romantic fiction’, her novels add up to far more than the sum of their parts. The Scapegoat, like Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer and Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner Of Zenda before it, shows what might happen if one were allowed to lead another person’s life (or to identify too closely with a person – a stranger, for instance – who nominally resembles us). Like all of du Maurier’s books, it is both beautifully written and powerfully evocative of both place and the mysteries of possibility. Her writing taught me about the importance of atmosphere in fiction.
Well, it’s been a while since my last blog. My only excuse is that I have been writing books, and after a long day at the fiction table, the last thing one really wants to do is to sit down and write a blog. Oh, and I keep a private diary too, so that takes up a lot of the creative time I might be tempted to imbrue in any blog. However the public aspect of a blog is seductive. Knowing that random readers can access your thoughts. It’s a little like novel-writing. One gives away probably far more than one thinks one gives away. It’s a little like having one’s novels read by friends. They give one these old-fashioned looks, as if to say, well, no good trying to pull the wool over our eyes. We know you. We know where all this has come from. We know how much of you is in there. Anyway, I’m writing this at 3.43 in the morning because I can’t sleep (pain) and find it easier to give up fighting and go and sit in my study. As some of you know, I’ve had cancer on and off (mostly on) for twenty-six years now and counting, and occasionally one has a flare-up. At these points one wonders whether the pain one is experiencing is really the cancer, or simply the natural side effects of getting older and being pretty crocked. It’s probably a bit of both, if truth be told. But I’ll settle for it, as I never thought I’d live beyond 1992, when my doctors gave me a month to live. And here I still am, trilling away. With the good old Royal Marsden watching my back. I was trying to work out how many scans I’d had in my life the other day and ended up freezing at around 35. In thunderstorms I light up, and can be used to electrify my house during power cuts. Each time I enter the hospital precincts I get the awkward feeling that I am returning to somewhere akin to school after an endless long summer holiday. I used to feel this when coming back from France (where my parents lived) when I was aged 8-17. Real life was in France (four months of the year) and the unreal world world was in England and school (for eight months of the year unfortunately). I can’t imagine whose idea it all was, but it certainly wasn’t mine. I would have happily stayed over in France the whole year and poddled around on my Mobylette with my dubious chums (half of whom went on to commit suicide for some obscure reason). I think rural France was quite a rough place in those days. The woman who lived down the track from us adopted seven boys from the State to use as workers on her farm. I don’t think they had a good life. But they opened up the peasant world to me where otherwise I would have had no access to it. It was a world of utter simplicity, when compared to the lives most of us live today. The farms were self-sufficient. Death was omnipresent. I remember Antonia on rabbit killing day. Twenty or thirty rabbits hung up by their feet and stunned by the back of her hand. Then bled. You could call it a hand to mouth existence for them, but the French peasant has always managed well. Antonia’s voice used to echo up the valley towards my house, shouting at her boys. Or at her husband. They’d hide pretty much anywhere just to get away from her. I wonder what they’d have thought about my school. They had no idea, of course, what two thirds of my life comprised of. Just as I probably had no idea of their secrets. Thus fiction. When you write, the truth comes through despite yourself. You know things you don’t know. We all do. You remember the unrememberable. Hmm. Put this down to late night writing. Makes one ruminative. It’s a strange place, the past. One still inhabits it.
Last Monday I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak to Huish Sixth Form in Langport, Somerset, on why I am a writer, and why I think any student with a literary inclination should consider becoming one. Asked to extend my looking after of my nineteen month old granddaughter to the Monday, I asked if Huish Episcopi School minded me bringing her along. “Absolutely not,” came the reply. So Éloise and I duly turned up at the school just in time for lunch. During my talk, Éloise did, I have to admit, offer a few catcalls and loud shouts of ‘BaBa’, which is my name, and not that of a sheep, but all in all, and with the help of a charitable passel of lady teachers who distracted her at opportune moments, I managed (I think) to get my message across with a fair degree of humour (at my expense I hope) and amusement. I shall certainly consider taking her again as a prop to any other talks I am invited to give, as her presence works wonders in taking attention away from the awful tripe I may inadvertently be mouthing. All joking apart, I would like to thank Huish Sixth, and, in particular, Nicky Carter, for their kind hospitality on the day. I was vastly impressed both by the school and by the attitude of all around me. The whole day was a treat, and Éloise and I even managed to stop on the way back in Street for a go on the Merry-Go-Round.
I’ve just been looking through the French translations, by Florence Mantran, of the three books making up my Nostradamus Trilogy in France (I grew up in France, and French is my second language). The first two, Les Prophéties Perdues de Nostradamus, and L’Hérésie Maya, were published in France in 2013 by publishers Le Cherche Midi, and the final book in the trilogy, Le Troisième Antéchrist, will appear on 20 February 2014. The trilogy is also due out in Editons Pocket (smaller format) sometime in 2015.
Well, Florence Mantran has done a wonderful job. It is no easy thing to translate a book effectively from one idiom into another. The fact is that, reading the books in French, I cannot detect that the books were originally written in English. This is close to miraculous. Let me give you an example. In France the use of ‘vous’ and ‘tu’ are enormously significant - the ‘vous’ is more formal, the ‘tu’ more familiar. In Florence Mantran’s French translation, my main protagonist, Adam Sabir, vouvoies his Gypsy friend Yola, while she tutoies him. Only when they become brother and sister, following a blood oath, does Sabir begin using the ‘tu’ to her. Perfection. Here’s another passage, this time from L’Hérésie Maya (The Mayan Codex). ‘A sufficient edge of rain to dampen the cheeks.’ Florence Mantran translates this as ‘Une pluie fine et tenace trempait les visages des hommes…’ Simple and right. And very difficult indeed to do. Even the use of modern slang, in expressions like ‘Samois, ça vous interpelle?‘ is judged beautifully.
So let this blog stand as a tribute to good translators, without whom we writers, whose books are translated into many foreign languages, would be lost.
Well, my website has been down for so long that I began to despair. But a gentleman called Frank Thomsen very kindly offered to rectify the damage. He has been true to his word, and my website is now up and running again. I am extremely grateful. I’ve often been a little chary about what the internet can bring. But when it works well it works very well, and the kind Mr Thomsen is a case in point. He took the trouble to write to me when my website was down, and offer to help me out of the goodness of his heart. We have never met. I took him at his word, and he produced an unexpected miracle. As my sum total knowledge of the nuts and bolts of websites is in minus figures, I am doubly grateful. Thank you Mr Thomsen.
My apologies to all my readers who have tried to access my website over the past few months and found it down. It was infected by something nasty, apparently, and for quite some time, being computer illiterate, I didn’t notice. Then I checked Google statistics, and found that, rather than the thousands of people who usually pay the site a visit every year, I hadn’t had a single visitor for quite some time. Well, I may not be Sherlock Holmes, but even I found this suspicious. Anyway, the problem has now been rectified, and I shall have to start building up a readership from scratch again. Mea Culpa.
The good news is that I have a new book coming out in the UK next February (2014), via my usual publisher, Corvus. It will be called The Templar Prophecy, and it will take readers on a journey from the Third Crusade in 1190 in what is now Turkey, via the Berlin Hitlerbunker in 1944, through the Syrian conflict to present day Germany, and to the danger extreme right wing parties pose to the status quo. I will be introducing a new main character, too - photojournalist John Hart.
We left home at 7 am Sunday morning in thick snow. After ten miles, I was tempted to turn back as we had my eight-month-old granddaughter Éloise with us in the car. But we were right to press on, as very soon the snow turned into rain and the roads cleared. We arrived at the Royal Marsden Sutton well in time for our ten o’clock bus to the Royal Marsden Chelsea, giving us a starting time for the walk of around 11.45. I packed Éloise into our borrowed BabyBjorn, and my wife Claudia readied the pram for sleeping times en route (Éloise is rising eight months old). Then the rains began. And followed us through the entire march (with occasional breaks).
We had a splendid time - damp but happy. Éloise behaved superbly well, and spent about a third of the walk in her pram and the rest strapped to my chest either looking out, or when she was very tired, snuggled in. By the end of the march I was definitely starting to feel something in my left foot (the BabyBjorn and an 8 kilogram baby does cause one to walk slightly differently from normal). When we eventually arrived home I found a blister on the sole of my left foot the size of an oatcake. Hey ho. Cue two days of hobbling around the house.
But it was all so well worth it. It was wonderful to see all the walkers in their panoply of rain gear, team gear and assorted signage. Everybody was walking for somebody. And it’s that that the made the day so special. As someone who has been followed by the Royal Marsden for upwards of twenty years now, I’m very proud indeed of the loyalty engendered by my hospital. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be shown around the new Oak Centre for Children and Young People, and also the new Centre for Molecular Pathology - all largely paid for by charitable donation. These are both marvellous accomplishments, and all credit must go to the team at the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, who have done so much to make the Royal Marsden the internationally renowned centre of excellence it is today.
Well, we’re off on the 14 mile Royal Marsden Cancer Charity Walk tomorrow. The only thing I wasn’t expecting is that we are now taking my eight month old granddaughter, Éloise, with us! Could be interesting. And guess what? When I picked her up from her mother’s I forgot to bring her Baby Bjorn. Life is a challenge, isn’t it? So it’s pram and carrying. For fourteen miles. Aaargghhhh.
When we first started collecting for the walk I chose a reasonably low target of £600, fearful that we would never make it. In the event people have been incredibly generous, and we’ve raised more than £1400 so far. Should anyone want to donate to a wonderful charity (90% of all cancer nurses working in British hospitals are trained by the RM), here is our Just Giving page. Thank you.