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.

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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

Yeti Rescue Party Time!

Yeti cake...mmmm...

Yeti cake…mmmm…

A HUGE thank you to everyone who braved the frosted London streets and came to my Yeti Rescue party on Thursday night. It was amazing to have people there who’d travelled from so far away – it meant a lot, thank you!

The party was held at Waterstones in Islington. I’d had a special Yeti Rescue cake made for the occasion and ordered-in plenty of wine to toast the release of the second book in my Sammy Feral series. Mmmm, cake, wine and books – the stuff that dreams are made of.

After schmoozing with guests and signing a few books, my lovely editor introduced me and Sammy Feral and gave me a gorgeous bunch of flowers from the Quercus team. I then made a little speech (tried very carefully not to go on too long!) and did a short reading from the book. It was the first time I’d ever read aloud from Yeti Rescue, and I managed not to stumble over my words too much! Once again all those drama lessons in school paid off and standing up in front of a crowd didn’t seem too frightening.

Reading from Yeti Rescue

Reading from Yeti Rescue

During my little speech I commented on the fact that Sammy Feral has been such a journey for me. I started writing the first book when I was still living in Bath. I’d been writing Will Solvit books for Parragon Books under the pseudonym Zed Storm, but I wanted more. I wanted to write books that had my name on the cover, books where I had a bit more creative freedom and ownership. I’m so proud of the work I did on Will Solvit, but I knew that the next time I had a bright idea for a story; I’d do things slightly differently. I’d get an agent and get a proper book deal, one where I had royalties and copyright and all that ‘proper author’ stuff.

I was standing in a queue in Sainsbury’s when I first had the idea about a boy who worked in a zoo. By the time I got to the till I’d decided that his name was Sammy Feral. I started to write my little idea down and play about with it on paper. The very first draft of Sammy Feral was a million miles away from what the book ended up becoming. I had Sammy and his family travelling to India to live at a werewolf research centre. There was a different baddie – some kind of evil witch, whose name I can’t even remember. After I had signed a deal with the Miles Stott Literary Agency, and the brilliant Victoria Birkett had agreed to be my agent, she stuck her neck out and said, ‘I think this book would work better if you kept the story at the zoo.’ So I re-wrote the book, keeping all the action in the zoo, and it was of course better for it. I removed the weird witchy woman (maybe I’ll use her in another book at some point) and created a different baddie instead. I honestly lost count of the times I re-wrote the first Sammy Feral book. Each time I’d try to improve the story, make it funnier and tighten-up the pace and plot. I got up early before work so I could write, I went to cafes in my lunch hour to write, I cancelled on friends in the evening so I could stay at home and write, write, write. There were moments where I questioned my sanity, and my decision to focus on a story that at that time didn’t even have a book deal. But I was stubborn, and I wanted to finish what I’d started, and do it as well as I possibly could. After what felt like half a lifetime, I had a story that my agent felt confident submitting to publishers. The story I ended up with was infinitely better than what I’d started with, and I was so proud of all the hard work that had gone into it along the way. I knew it would mean the world to me to see my story in print, and finally hold the book in my hands.

Luke and I were in Brazil, and half-way through a 9 month travelling adventure, when I found out I’d got a book deal. There were a few tears, some bad Brazilian wine and a phone call back home and then we were off on the road again. I remember having my first phone call with my Quercus editor from a public phone box in Peru. And I worked on my edits whilst travelling through Bolivia. I saw a mock-up of the front cover soon after getting back to the UK, and I couldn’t have been happier. John Kelly had somehow taken the characters I had in my head and translated them into such cool-looking sketches. I showed friends the cover and they said it reminded them of Tim Burton and I beamed with pride. Yep, my book was seriously cool.

I soon got the news that Quercus wanted to commission another two Sammy Feral books, so I got to work writing Yeti Rescue. Whilst the process of writing the first book had been a long one, and pretty bumpy at times, this time around was a lot easier. I planned the story to within an inch of its life, I did character profiles for every person and creature in the book, and I set myself out a clear schedule for writing. I still had to do a couple of drafts, and work on edits and re-writes, but I’d learnt so much the first time that everything just seemed to roll a little more smoothly the second time around.

Yeti Rescue Party Cake!

Yeti Rescue Party Cake!

I hope I’m writing books for the rest of my life. I hope I’ll be holding my latest first edition in my hands and thanking people for coming to launch parties when I’m well into old age. But I don’t think I’ll ever get over the joy and pride I feel at seeing a book with my name on it. From an idea standing in a queue in Sainsbury’s, to a three book series and a launch party with a cake that has my book cover on it – it’s an incredible journey, and one that I will never tire of. Thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way, you know who you are…:)

 Next blog I shall try not to be quite so sentimental…I promise…

 Peace, love and stories,

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

A Lot Can Happen in Seven Days…

In the last seven days I have:

  • Had my second book published
  • Been to Milan and back
  • Had an Italian motoring crisis
  • Seen my first dead body
  • Checked out some renaissance art in a Milanese castle
  • Visited a ski resort for the first time
  • Read The Book Thief
  • Received final copies of my novel The Blue Lady
  • Bought a new charm for my bracelet
  • Embarked on my first author tour
  • Written the first chapter of my new book
  • Accidentally found myself in the cafe where Harry Potter was born

I thought today would be a good day to write a blog. My first proper blog in fact. Sorry it’s taken so long.

                Last Thursday, as Yeti Rescue was released into the world, Luke (my husband) and I boarded a plane to Milan to go and visit my brother. Adam, my brother, has been living in Milan for a few months now, he’s an astrophysicist and works in an observatory just outside of the city. Luke and I arrived mid morning, picked up our hire car and within twenty minutes managed to smash the car into a pesky curb. A few minutes later there was the ominous thud, thud, thudding of a flat tyre as the car limped along the freeway. I, naturally, went into panic mode. I sent a text to Adam warning him we might never make it to his flat; I envisioned a million tragic scenarios that all ended with us starved, frozen and flattened on the side of an Italian motorway. I started penning my epitaph in my head, and mentally scripting the dramatic tale of our bravery in the face of Italian motoring hell should we survive. However, my ex-military husband dealt with the situation like a seasoned pro and disappointingly had us back on the road within minutes. He almost, almost deprived me of a good story to tell. Once we arrived at Adam’s gorgeous flat it was wonderful to see him. We caught up over much pasta and prosecco and toasted to Sammy Feral’s Yeti Rescue and mine and Luke’s eventful journey from the airport.

                On our first day in Milan we visited the usual tourist sites. The cathedral, the castle, the stupidly smart shops and the cups of hot chocolate that are so thick you can stand your spoon in them. It was in the cathedral that I saw my first dead body. A very dead body. A 500 year old dead body. The Milanese Catholics like to bury their cardinals in glass coffins. Thankfully, most of the aged corpse was covered by gilded cloths and an elaborate death mask. But his rotten hands were very clearly on display. His skin had turned a putrid shade of green and bubbled slightly, like the surface of a frog. I was only partially revolted, the other part of me was strangely transfixed. Other highlights of the day included a Michelangelo sculpture and a Leonardo da Vinci-painted ceiling in the castle. I think it’s the rotten hands that I remember most vividly though.

                On Saturday we visited a local ski resort. Somehow I’ve managed to live my life without ever visiting a ski resort before, and I now find this quite regretful. What’s not to love about the crisp mountain air and the brilliant whiteness of the snow? I didn’t ski, of course. Why ski when you can sit on the slopes, drink hot chocolate, read a book and watch everyone else?

                What book was I reading? The Book Thief, that’s what. Sometimes I can categorise my memories and experiences by whichever book I happened to be reading at the time: Oh, I remember that day, I was reading that book and feeling a bit like that. As such, those few days in Italy were very much tied up with The Book Thief. Have you read it? No? Why not? Go and buy it…now…go on…It really is brilliant. Haunting, tragic, graceful, honest, bone-chillingly horrible in places. I love books like that, books that force me to be more reflective, more grateful of my lot. And I’m not sure how I’ve avoided reading The Book Thief for so long. It’s been on my ‘To Read’ list for years and years.

                Sad to leave my wonderful brother behind as I boarded a plane back to the UK, I was ecstatic to find my Wish Frog charm and finished copies of The Blue Lady waiting for me at home. I buy a new charm for my bracelet whenever something noteworthy happens in my life – recent examples are my wedding and the publication of Yeti Rescue. I’m still unsure what charm I should get to mark the publication of The Blue Lady in June…any ideas?

                The Blue Lady really does look AMAZING. I had a little moment of choked-up pride as I held the book in my hands. I can’t wait for it to be published, roll on June 6th!

The Blue Lady has arrived!

The Blue Lady has arrived!

                And finally, today I left London and boarded a train (first class, thank you, Quercus Children’s Books) to Edinburgh for my first author tour. I shall try my utmost best to write a few more posts over the coming days to update you on where I am and what I’m doing. So far the trip has seen me accidentally stumble into and spend a couple of hours writing in The Elephant House, the very cafe where Harry Potter was first written. Honestly, only I could walk into a cafe thinking it would be a cool place to sit and not notice the tour groups standing outside and taking pictures. Doh! I’ve also managed to write the first 2.5k words of a new ghost story (that was written on the train, not the cafe, sorry), got myself lost and nearly locked in an Edinburgh graveyard at twilight and am now sitting in a cosy whisky bar, listening to Dusty Springfield and writing this.

                Seven days. A few brief tales. Life is good.

                Peace, love and stories,

                Eleanor xxx

Squawken Hawken – My Blog

Squawken Hawken is my blog, journal, online diary, whatever you want to call it. Here I’ll try my best to update you on what’s going on in Planet Eleanor.Crying-baby-cartoon

The reason my blog’s called Squawken Hawken? This was the nickname my parents gave me when I was a baby because no matter what they did I just wouldn’t stop crying. Who knows what I was so upset about, life really isn’t that bad. But my mother often likes to remind me of the countless times my father would take me out in a pram and push me round and round the London streets, just to give my mum a break from my incessant squawking. The weird thing is, I’m really not a noisy adult. I guess I got all my squawking out of my system when I was young. These days the only squawking I’ll do will be here…as I type…