Blogging for Hot Key Books

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged…and in that time I posted a blog for Hot Key Books about my novel The Blue Lady (http://hotkeyblog.wordpress.com/category/authors/). If you haven’t already read the blog post, here’s a second chance…

Classics like Mallory Towers and St Tinian’s had led me to romanticise the idea of boarding school from a very young age. I imagined a sisterhood fuelled by torch lit ghost stories and midnight feasts. So when I was packed off to boarding school with a tuck box and a lacrosse stick at the age of thirteen I could not have been happier.

And to my utter delight, my new school friends not only enjoyed ghost stories, but the school had a resident ghost of its own. Her name was The Blue Lady. I can’t remember if we knew who The Blue Lady had been, how she had died or why she haunted the school, but every girl knew her name. Legend had it that she always appeared on the last night of term. We faithfully upheld the end of term tradition of sleeping the wrong way round in our beds so when The Blue Lady came to chop our heads off in the night she’d only find our feet.

The Blue Lady

The Blue Lady

This tradition, however flawed in logic, was something we continued into sixth form. I remember one school story of how a bunch of girls had stolen a blue choir robe from the chapel – one girl then donned the robe and shrouded her face in a blue chiffon scarf. She’d waited until midnight, when all the first years were fast asleep – their heads lined up in a row at the foot of their beds. The girl walked down the central aisle of the dormitory, sweeping her cloak over the girls’ heads as she walked, waking them up one-by-one and ensuing mass hysteria.

My school's dormitories in 1897

My school’s dormitories in 1897

Some of the episodes that feature in my book, The Blue Lady, are an undisguised nod to my time at boarding school – the Ouija board in the abandoned dormitory being one of them. My friends and I went through a period where we were obsessed with Ouija boards and séances, trying to summon the spirit of The Blue Lady and other long-dead school girls we could muster up from the Other Side. Sadly – or fortunately, depending on your love of the dramatic – we never managed to contact a spirit. Still, we persisted in trying.

I remember one Halloween we all filed in to one of the disused dormitories with our matron in tow to tell our favourite ghost stories. By that age I was an expert in urban legends, conspiracy theories and all things spooky. A steady literary diet of Point Horror and any classic with a mere sniff of a ghost had seen to that. Wuthering Heights, A Christmas Carol, Rebecca, The Turn of the Screw – all books I devoured as a school girl and put me in good stead for a little spooky storytelling of my own. As I listened to the other girls tell their stories, old favourites such as Humans Can Lick Too, The Killer in the Backseat and Babysitter with the Murderer Upstairs, I prepared to tell mine. Let me just indulge you with a little information about my teenage self – I was incredibly dramatic. In fact I wanted to be an actress; I loved any opportunity to put myself centre stage, so a ghost storytelling session was right up my street.

The story was this…

A weary traveller returns to the deep dark countryside to visit his family. His car breaks down and he is forced to hitchhike. A woman picks him up and agrees to take him to his family home, but first she offers to take him to her house where she’ll make sure he gets a warm drink and something to eat – the man looks frozen. Too polite to decline the woman’s offer, the man reluctantly agrees.

She drives him to a splendid manor house. The windows glow with warm and inviting light and the sound of music and laughter dance to the man’s ears. As the woman leads him into the house he is amazed by the scene – glamorous party guests draped in luxurious fabrics, fashions which he hasn’t seen in his lifetime, he assumes the party is period fancy dress. The woman leads him up a grand staircase and into a sitting room on the first floor, pours him a brandy and they stand and exchange pleasantries by a roaring fire whilst the other party guests come and go.

Never too fond of brandy, the man leaves most of his drink, placing the glass on the mantelpiece as he makes his excuses to depart. The woman then graciously drives him to his family home. The next morning, over breakfast, the man recalls the strange tale to his family. “But no one has lived in that house for years,” his father says with confidence. Determined to prove his father wrong, the man insists that they pay a visit to the house. Sure enough, the windows are boarded up and the walls crumble with age and decay. Lost for words, the man leads his father into the house, up the grand staircase and into the sitting room he’d been in only hours before. The fireplace is cold and bare, cobwebs cover every surface and wall. But sure enough, on the mantelpiece, is his half-drank glass of brandy.

The story went down a treat, much to my great satisfaction. It was around this time that I began to harbour the secret desire to write. I’d fill notebooks with bad poetry and stories and scribble down ideas for novels and characters that I’d one day write. So it seems fittingly full circle that I have now given The Blue Lady her own book, complete with a story as to why she died and why her spirit just won’t rest. I wish I knew the real Blue Lady’s story, but regardless of what it might be, my imagination has thankfully filled in the gaps. I hope you like her story when you read it, I hope it chills you and makes you wonder what’s lurking just on the Other Side. Enjoy.

All Things Danish

The Scandinavians love their murder mysteries – from The Killing to The Bridge, in recent years they’ve been creating world-class thrillers and leading the way in edge-of-your-seat murder mystery narratives. So I couldn’t be happier that the first foreign country to buy the rights to The Blue Lady is Denmark!

Knowing that The Blue Lady is going to be published over there got me thinking about all things Danish. Other than Danish pastries (my favourite of which are the apricot ones), what springs to mind?

Denmark was the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson, who wrote some of the best, most chilling, haunting and much-loved fairytales for children. Have you read Thumberlina? The Ugly Ducking? The Emperor’s New Clothes? The Little Mermaid? And when I say The Little Mermaid, I’m not talking about the sing-along Disney version where they all live happily under the sea with singing lobsters. I’m talking about Anderson’s version, which is a whole lot darker, scarier and incredibly tragic – all the ingredients you need for a good story in my opinion.

The Little Match Girl

The Little Match Girl

Ever read The Little Match Girl? Now there’s a story! Everyone has a story, or maybe two, that deeply affected them in childhood. This is one of the stories I particularly remember from mine. It’s about a little girl who takes to the streets to sell matches, afraid to go home without selling them all as her father will beat her. It’s New Year’s Eve and the world outside is frozen, so the little girl huddles by a wall and lights matches to keep herself warm. In the glow of the matches she sees visions that make her happy. Among the things she sees are a Christmas tree and the spirit of her dead grandmother, who then carries the little match girl’s soul to heaven when she freezes to death. The next day, strangers look at her body and the reader is expected to feel happy that now the girl is dead she will never again feel the cold or be beaten to a bloody pulp.  This story terrified me as a child. I’m sure I can remember a particularly distressing encounter with my father where I cried about the story and he had to calm me down and reassure me that I wouldn’t freeze to death and no one was going to hurt me, and no I wasn’t expected to take to the streets and sell matches to keep the family afloat. Still, as an over-sensitive child with a radioactive imagination, this story chilled me to the bone. How could we live in a world where such a thing could happen? Even in stories? I’m sure for while I was petrified to go outside in the cold, petrified to hold a match in case it should curse me with the same terrible fate as the little match girl. I still feel slightly uncomfortable thinking about The Little Match Girl now. In a weird way I think that story was my first real encounter with death – maybe that’s why it’s stuck in my memory so.

Talking of all things bleak and Danish – Denmark is also the birthplace to my all-time favourite tragic fictional hero – Hamlet. So in a weird way Denmark feels like the right home for The Blue Lady, a novel about murder and restless spirits.

So yes, The Blue Lady is going to be translated into Danish and published in Denmark and I am VERY excited! HUGE thank you to the brilliant Rights team at Hot Key Books for finding my book a Danish home.

Peace, love and translation rights,

Eleanor xxx

World Book Day, a Bit of Picasso and Wonderful Witney!

This blog has been a long time coming, sorry. I guess I’ll just have to accept that I’m a pretty sporadic blogger and stop apologising every time it takes me an ice age to squeeze a new blog out…that’s just the way I roll…

Ok, so let’s just skip back a week or so to World Book Day – 7th March. I was in Glasgow, half way through my Scottish author tour. The day was amazing but SO tiring! I was picked up by the lovely Sam from my publishers at 8:30am and taken to a local primary school. I started the day with three workshops for Year 6. As always, the children were nothing but a joy to work with. I was so impressed by all the weird and wonderful creatures that lurked in their imaginations, and some of my favourite questions from the day include, ‘Do you get recognised walking down the street?’ and ‘Are your books on Youtube?’ Seriously, do lots of people put books on Youtube? Is this a normal thing? Should I be doing it? I really am quite technologically challenged at times.

Sammy Feral, signed and boxed-up.

Sammy Feral, signed and boxed-up.

My Librarian badge.

My Librarian badge.

Just before lunch I was interviewed by the school librarians (all children) and given my own librarian badge, which I am still wearing with pride. The interview will be used in the school newspaper and website, and they’re even making a podcast apparently!

I spent my lunch break signing Sammy Feral copies (hundreds of them!) and chain drinking coffee. After lunch I did a special assembly for Years 4-7 and another for Years 1-3 after that. I finished the day signing more books before going back to my hotel room and collapsing at about 8pm. Rock. And. Roll.

Friday was a day of more Scottish school events, this time in Biggar. After a morning talking to Years 6-7 I once again spent my lunch break signing books. I did two events in the afternoon – one of which was for a Reception class. It was a small village school and there was only one boy in the class, I congratulated him on being so special and asked him how old he was. ‘Five,’ he replied proudly. I asked him when he turned five and he looked at me as though I was stupid and replied, ‘On my birthday.’ Brilliant.

After the end of school bell rang I was back to Edinburgh and then on what felt like the longest train journey in the world to London. I finished off the week with an email from my lovely agent telling me the amazing news that The Blue Lady has been sold to a Danish publisher. I’m going to see my book in Danish!

Last Saturday was spent with my wonderful mum on a bit of a cultural crawl in London. We started off with a Picasso exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. The exhibition featured a lot of his early paintings, which are generally a lot more bleak and, at times, quite disturbing – brilliant none-the-less. After coffee and cake we then went to the National Portrait Gallery, we paid tribute to Shakespeare, the Brontes and Jane Austen, as well as my personal favourites – the Tudors. We also checked out the new portrait of Princess Kate (it really is not flattering). After dinner we rounded off the day with a trip to the theatre to see Peter and Alice. Fantastic to see Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw on the stage. And for anyone who loves children’s books the play is a must-see, however it was somewhat depressing, and left me not only questioning what psychological damage has been inflicted upon me in life to have me writing kids’ books, but also put me off ever having children for fear of burdening them with some kind of expectation that will ultimately lead to their inevitable breakdowns. Still, twas a good day all-round.   

This last week I have been back in the S&S offices, where I work as a part time Fiction Editor. The week was a flurry of trying to catch up with the piles of manuscripts and proofs that had built up on my desk whilst I was away. I was out and about in school again this Thursday, this time in Witney where I was able to stay over and catch up with my fantastic god parents. As always, the children I met were brilliant and utterly inspiring.

Hanging out with Sammy Feral in my local bookshop.

Hanging out with Sammy Feral in my local bookshop.

But there are no more school events in the calendar for a while, which is a good thing. I’m currently working on Sammy Feral 3 copy edits and pushing forward with my next ghost story, so I need as much time as possible for that. I’m enjoying all the research I get to do for ghostly inspiration. Any spooky film or book recommendations welcome!

This week I have the Yeti Rescue launch party…I will try to take lots of photos to post on here!

Peace, love and stories,

Eleanor xxx

Scottish Tour Gets Underway…

After a very comfortable night’s sleep in my smart Edinburgh hotel I was met by John, a lovely sales rep for my publisher. On our drive out of Edinburgh John filled me in on the city’s haunted hotspots. Because, naturally, when I arrive in a new city, determining the most haunted locations is one of the first things I do…especially when I’m in the midst of writing a ghost story. Unsurprisingly, one of the city’s famous areas for paranormal activity is the Greyfriars graveyard that I had managed to get lost in the night before. Apparently visitors frequently report strange sensations and unexplained injuries appearing on their bodies after a visit to the cemetery. I have been regularly checking myself for mysterious bumps and bruises since I heard this, however it appears as though this time I have managed to escape unharmed.

                John drove us out of the city to Linlithgow. We had a brief visit to the ruins of Linlithgow Palace – birth place of Mary Queen of Scots and the recent location for a Chanel fashion show (bizarre but true). With a bit of time to kill I enjoyed a stroll through my second graveyard of the trip. I’m not normally this morbid; I don’t actually spend that much time in graveyards. But I may do from now on, they really are quite interesting places.

Linlithgow Palace Graveyard

Linlithgow Palace Graveyard

                Armed with a large, strong coffee, I was welcomed into the gorgeous local indie bookshop (check out www.maddingcrowdlinlithgow.co.uk) and sat down to sign 80 copies of Sammy Feral for tomorrow’s World Book Day book fair. Miraculously my wrist survived, although my handwriting did become more illegible the further I got through the book pile.

Signing Books in Linlithgow

                After a swift lunch in a local cafe it was on to Linlithgow Bridge Primary School for my first event of the tour! I spoke to 2 year groups for an hour. Absolutely lovely children with some fantastic questions and brilliant weird animal suggestions (the Darth Vader Bat that lives in a pencil case and the vampire hedgehog were a few choice favourites). After the event John drove me to Glasgow, kindly bestowed some book proofs on me, so I now have a nice fat reading pile to work my way through, and dropped me off at my hotel for the night.

                After just one day and one event I’m somehow shattered, and have decided to save my energy. I’ve opted to stock up on author essentials from Waitrose (roasted almonds, red liquorice, hummus and Rioja are a balance diet, right?) and crash out in my hotel room with my laptop for the evening…

                Tomorrow is World Book Day and my schedule is jam-packed with events! Bring it on, Scotland!

                Peace, love and stories,

                Eleanor xxx