Writing fiction or non-fiction is a pretty solitary task most of the time, and most writers are content with that. But just occasionally – usually when publicity for a new book is required – writers are drawn out of their shell and forced to mingle. A new edition of my perennial bestseller Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future is due out a the end of May, and largely because I included a Hillary Clinton quatrain in the original edition (published 2006), which was index-dated 2015, radio stations in the United States are suddenly showing an interest. Last Friday I was interviewed, live, for a full hour, by the World’s Number One Live Internet Talk Radio http://bbsradio.com/ in the guise of one of their star interviewers, Christina Winslow. This was all done, somewhat miraculously given my dubious internet connection, on Skype. Authors enjoy these little excursions into the real world, and actually communicating with another human being from time to time is no doubt good for the authorial soul. On the back of that interview, COAST to COAST AM Radio have now got in touch through Watkins’s splendid US publicist, John Tintera, and want me to do an interview with them. The nice thing about COAST to COAST is that one does one interview, and it is then magically relayed to 500-odd other radio stations throughout the US. A quintuple whammy, if you like. COAST to COAST specialise in cosmology, life after death, strange occurrences, and unexplained phenomena. Grist to the mill for Watkins readers then! The British do this sort of thing too, but not quite as well as in the US, if truth be told. Having a new book out is always an unsettling experience, as so many separate factors can come into play. I’m lucky in that Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future has such a good track record over the past ten years, and benefits from a fantastic new cover by the Watkins team. The world has certainly changed for authors since the arrival of Twitter and Facebook and Amazon and what-have-you. We need to be far busier on the self-publicising front than ever before. But it’s definitely worth it. One can spend too much time immersed in one’s new novel/non-fiction tome, and the danger lies in becoming disconnected from the real world. Using social media (within reason) obviates this danger, and keeps one in touch with one’s readers. If readers feel they can actually communicate with their favourite author directly, the world immediately feels like a more open place. The epoch in which an author could immerse himself/herself in an ivory tower is therefore long gone. We are all citizens of the Brave New World of interactive media whether, it seems, we like it or not. For my part, I welcome it, and would recommend all new authors to embrace these new possibilities with all their hearts. Because therein lies the future.
If anyone fancies an alternative to the General Election, I am being interviewed, live, on Californian Radio Station www.bbsradio.com at 7 pm our time tomorrow night (7th May). I shall be talking about Nostradamus (the third edition of my hardy perennial Nostradamus: The Complete Prophecies For The Future is due to be published in late May/early June). I included a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy quatrain (index-date accurate and dated 2015) in the 2006 edition. The US has just caught on to this and wants to know more. As in the entire history of Nostradamus scholarship - at least according to Wikipedia, and I quote - ‘no Nostradamus quatrain is known to have been interpreted as predicting a specific event before it occurred, other than in vague, general terms that could equally apply to any number of other events’ the situation is clearly fraught with possibility! I shall say no more.
Wonders never cease. Estonia - yes, Estonia - have just made me an offer for a book I published six years ago called The Nostradamus Prophecies. That takes the foreign rights sales for that novel up to a semi-miraculous 39. Apparently ERSEN is one of the biggest publishing houses in Estonia and publishes the likes of Mary Higgins Clark, Jody Picoult, George R R Martin and Kazuo Ishiguro, so I’m in good company. Whatever anyone says about people getting blasé the further on into their careers they are, I still get a pleasant frisson of anticipation when anyone new buys one of my books. What cover are they going to choose? What will the book look like translated? Will it be a bestseller or sink quietly to the bottom of the pond? My books have been successes in countries I never suspected (China, Korea, Portugal, Finland) and have sunk without trace elsewhere (I never did get paid by Indonesia). All in all a career in writing is pretty good fun. You never quite know what is just around the corner. Or when you’re going to fall flat on your face in the mud.
My publishers, Corvus, have just done a Twitter promotion in which five lucky retweeters won copies of my new book. How do people hear about such things? I have a feeling I may be underestimating Twitter. It’s a very interesting learning process. Publishing has changed exponentially in the twenty years or so I have been an author. The end of the Net Book Agreement. Twitter. Facebook. Kindle. Amazon. The decline of the bookshop. I sell more copies of my books in supermarkets than I do at Waterstones now. France, my major overseas market, hasn’t changed that much though. The French are more self-consciously literary than the British, and are quite prepared to spend a lot more on books than we do. Germany is the same. I wonder how things will pan out here?
The Templar Inheritance is doing very well, particularly on Kindle
http://amzn.to/1IRBMjq. Some kind people have given me some very nice reviews which is always encouraging. It’s odd being a writer in the 21st century with all the electronic gizmos and suchlike. Quite different from being one in the 20th (I know - I’ve been both).
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.