Earlier this month I went on a short US paperback book tour to St. Louis and three Ohio cities, with Miami FL thrown in at the end for good behavior. One day I went from Cincinnati (18F/-7C) to Miami (80F/26C)! My favorite stop was Toledo OH. I would like to state here that Toledo gets unfairly bad press. It has one of the finest art museums I've ever visited, and I was lucky enough to read there that night to 420 people! Here they are:
How gorgeous is that room! Thanks too to the Toledo Public Library who co-organized the reading. I was told they have a rocking building downtown. I just looked it up and indeed it rocks!
In fact, my most successful events on the tour were all organized by libraries. They seem to have taken over from bookstores as the rallying point for book lovers.
[True or false: as a child I wanted to be a librarian as much as a writer. True!]
As for the rest of the tour: as you can imagine, with a new Administration in Washington, and a lot dividing the country, things are a little...tense. If you are curious about that, read THIS. If not (or even if!), go to the library and take out a book. You will be keeping Toledo Public Library happy - or any library, for that matter.
Thanksgiving Day, and I am reading proofs of my next book, NEW BOY, a modern retelling of Othello. The proofreading stage is my last chance to make any changes, and is always a little nerve-wracking. Plus I'm tired of the book as I've read it so many times.
This novel is different from my others: nostalgic rather than historical, with a plot given to me by Shakespeare. Why did I choose Othello, and set it on an American school playground in the 1970s? Maybe because of this:
Yep, that's me in the middle row, the anxious girl with the pigtails and glasses, wearing - what? - plaid and stripes together. Yikes!
I had a bit of the minority experience growing up in Washington DC, and I wanted to explore that in a novel. NEW BOY flips my experience to the more common black-boy-in-an-all-white-school. Plus it's Othello we're talking about, so it's tragic, whereas my time at Takoma Elementary was...occasionally tense, but mostly peaceful. Certainly the playground was not strewn with bodies the way the end of a Shakespeare tragedy is!
Soon the proofs will leave my desk and I can relax and go back to research for my next historical novel, set at Winchester Cathedral. For now I leave you with a taste of things to come - a map of old Winchester, embroidered onto a cushion you can find on one of the Cathedral choir seats:
Summer's over, kids are back at school, and I am sharpening my pencils in preparation for the new year. (I still think in terms of school years, so life begins again in September.)
I began September by pressing
It felt SO good. The new book is a retelling of Shakespeare's OTHELLO and is called BLACK BOY. Set on an American school playground c.1974, it features an 11-year-old boy named Osei, a girl named Dee, her friend Mimi, and the school bully Ian. It is also a nostalgia trip for me, including Big Buddy Bubble Gum, Now and Laters, the Jackson Five, Roberta Flack, Hot Wheels, and bell bottoms with flowered embroidery on the hem. Ah, the 1970s...
Now of course I have editing to do, because a book always needs editing. You can work all you like on your own, but it's only when someone has read it that you know if it works or not. And there is always something that needs fixing.
My editor Clara and I will be talking and working over the next several weeks, and to help her along I am sending her this today:
Wouldn't it be great to have a branded pencil for every subject I write about?
Speaking of which...while I await editorial instructions about BLACK BOY, I'm taking a little research trip to Winchester for my next book. I will try to bring back something branded and post a photo so you'll know what the subject will be!
I have been very busy over the past few months, juggling the publication of 2 books and the celebration of Charlotte Brontë's bicentenary. Instead of describing it all in words, I'm posting some pictures - worth their thousand, you know!
First, the LAUNCH party for At the Edge of the Orchard
There was lots of SIGNING.
Since last writing I've been all over the United States and the United Kingdom, talking about two books: At the Edge of the Orchard and Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre. If you look around the website you'll find new interviews and radio shows, articles and reviews. The publicity is dying down but I am still doing a lot of events, some solo, others with some fabulous writers. To see if I'm coming to a town near you, have a look HERE.
In a few days it's time for another writer to step into the limelight. On 21 April we will down tools and stand up to salute Charlotte Brontë, who turns 200. I've been working for the past year with the Brontë Parsonage to help celebrate Charlotte's bicentenary, and have discovered how beloved she is by readers everywhere, and also what a surprising woman she was. You can read more about the bicentenary HERE, and about her most famous novel Jane Eyre HERE.
I leave you with the two best ways I know to celebrate a birthday: cake and quilts*. Happy Birthday, Charlotte!
*(Thanks to Huddersfield quilter Judith Havis for this quilt celebrating Charlotte - on display with 57 others at "Splendid Shreds of Silk and Satin" exhibition at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax, Yorkshire 16 April - 11 June 2016)