Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorised’ Category

When I began writing The Mango Orchard, one of the few texts I found that gave me some clues about how I should approach a book which combined an exploration into my family’s past with travel writing, was Ghost Train through the Andes by Michael Jacobs. Not only was he retracing an ancestor’s journey (his grandfather’s), it was also a journey that took him to Latin America (Chile and Bolivia).

Ghost Train Jacket

It was therefore a great thrill meet him at the launch of his latest excellent book, The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia. Despite my own memory of the evening being blurred by Michael’s generous helpings of Colombian rum I managed to remember that he agreed to meet again so I could interview him for the magazine Ventana Latina

ROM Launch, Autumn, 2012 133

The interview gives a fascinating insight into the writing of the book and the meeting with Gabriel García Márquez that inspired it. Please click here to read the interview in ENGLISH or SPANISH.

I will also be “in conversation” with him at Belgravia Books on March 14th. I can’t promise Colombian rum, but there will be wine and nibbles… more details to follow

 

Read Full Post »

I am deeply indebted to the Mexican Tourist Board and the Mexican embassy who organised, and paid for, a press reception for the launch of The Mango Orchard paperback last week. Press, travel industry leaders, diplomats and VIPs gathered in the cool basement bar of the new Wahaca Soho restaurant on Wardour Street for delicious canapés and truly lethal (but very moreish) tequila cocktails.
It was a humbling reminder that Mexicans are the world’s most generous hosts. Gracias compañeros! 

Read Full Post »

For the second time in two days, I find myself on the train heading from Liverpool Street station towards Essex. Today, I’m going to Prettygate Library in Colchester, to speak at the Essex Book Festival.
I had allowed enough time to walk from the station, but when I arrive in Colchester, and I see the spitting grey sky, I jump into a cab. I arrive at the venue half an hour early so I while away the time in the nearby pub. The Jefferson Starship song We Built This City on Rock and Roll is playing on a loop on the jukebox, to about four regulars.
Sylvia, the library supervisor, welcomes me. She introduces me to Karen, the Audience Development Officer (what a wonderful title!) and the rest of the staff.
“Thanks for your Tweet,” Sylvia says as she takes my coat. “And we heard you on Radio Essex as well. We had a few people phone up after they heard you.”
She takes me up to the staff room which looks out on to the car park. It is empty. I look up at the sky. It’s still grey and spitting. Will anyone come?
Karen comes up to collect me, and she has a smile on her face. I take comfort from this. As Audience Development Officer, I figure she wouldn’t be smiling if she hadn’t managed to develop a decent audience. Indeed, when we come down the stairs, I see that the library is full.
Karen’s job of developing the audience, I see, is not limited to getting them to come, she also acts as compere. “I think we have some of the local book group here,” she says, and the whole of the front row cheers.
The highlight of many talks is often the Q&A session; today is no exception. All the questions are intelligent and thought-provoking. One man tells me how much the book had meant to him because of his own family story which, in different circumstance, had also taken him to Mexico. There is real emotion in his tale, and I’m not the only one to be brushing away a tear.
Pedro
Back to London and I go straight to the premiere of the Colombian film, Los Viajes del Viento, or Wind Journeys, screened as a fund-raiser for Friends of Colombia for Social Aid. The film is stunning. I particularly appreciate it because the Colombian landscape is extraordinary and reminds me of the journey I did through Colombia with my friend Pedro (chapter 3 in The Mango Orchard) to La Guajira at the northern tip of South America.
I arrive home and check my e-mails. For the first time in nearly a year, I have a mail from… Pedro.

Read Full Post »

The final weeks before birth is I gather, the most tiring and tiresome period of pregnancy. You don’t sleep well and can never get comfortable. It reminds me of the old Joan Rivers joke: “I was screaming ‘get this damn thing out of me!’. Nine months earlier I was screaming the exact same thing.”
Women, especially mothers, tend to give me short shrift when I compare the publication of a book to having a baby. But after weeks of anxious waiting, and at least one false alarm, this morning the little bundle carrying the paperback (yes, with photos) finally arrives.
I rip open the box and there it is at last. I don’t have time to spend much quality time with my new arrival though, as I realise I am running late for my appearance on the Steve Scruton show on BBC Radio Essex. I run to the tube, hoping someone will notice the book I am brandishing.
Radio BBC Essex is in a white-walled building in a leafy part of Chelmsford. From the outside, if it weren’t for the BBC livery, it could be a posh dentist’s surgery. I walk into the studio as Steve is in the middle of a link. I sit down and squint at the wall-mounted TV screen showing BBC 24. The images are of men riding in the back of pick-ups carrying rocket-launchers. I read the caption at the bottom of the screen: “Lady Gaga.” That doesn’t make much sense, but I have poor eyesight, and I’m dyslexic, so I’m used to reading things that no one else sees. I look again, and see it says “Libya”.
Steve finishes his link and leans across a desk of microphones to shake my hand. I like him immediately – open and friendly. “Thanks for the Tweet from the train,” he says. I’m always amazed that anyone reads them.
The interview begins and before I know it, I find myself telling the story about how I nearly became a drug-dealing pimp in Colombia. This was probably not the kind of story Steve had in mind when he booked me, but we have a good chat and he very generously gives my appearance at the Essex Book Festival a good plug, and makes admiring noises – live on air – about my new pride and joy.

Read Full Post »

I am up early. A journalist and photographer from The Times are due this morning and the flat is a tip. I also realise that I have no biscuits to offer them. Or milk, or tea, or coffee.
While I am out, my agent calls me to tell me that a radio station, having seen an article about the book in a newspaper, is interested interviewing me about the film version of the book.
“Fine,” I say, not really concentrating as I try to decide between All Butter Flapjacks or Luxury Chocolate Chip Cookies.
I go for the Flapjacks and fret all the way back to the house whether I have made the right choice. I am plumping up cushions, and wondering whether I should pop out for the Chocolate Chips when the journalist arrives. I take her coat and offer her a cup of tea or coffee and hope the biscuits are acceptable.
“Just a glass of water, thanks,” she says as she gets out her notepad and Dictaphone. I knew I should have gone for the Chocolate Chips.
The Dictaphone is as big as an old mobile phone and squeaks as the spools turn. Somehow, I find this reassuring.
I am impressed by the thoroughness of her interrogation. She drills down deep on the parallels between my great grandfather and me, and our attitudes to relationships, family and commitment. Afterwards I feel like I have been on the psychiatrist’s couch and just hope that my answers make good copy. Being interviewed in the press is a bit like being in an exam; you never really have any idea how you have done until the results are published.
Shortly after she leaves, the photographer arrives. I was hoping for a coterie of make-up and wardrobe assistants, and that I would get a whole season’s worth of free clothing, but it’s not that type of shoot, apparently. It’s just the photographer and me. He photos me on the roof terrace, the landing and the stairs. “Stair wells often have good light,” he says.
As he is setting up the last shot, the researcher from BBC Tees phones to make sure I’m okay to be interviewed for the primetime show. I say I am and go back face the camera.
An hour later and I am on the phone, listening to BBC Tees. I am staring out of the window, my mind drifting. Suddenly, I’m on.
“And we’re now joined by the writer of The Mango Orchard, which is about to be made into a Hollywood feature film.”
I have to answer briefly, and positively, about the movie which is far from being finalised. I talk about the conversations, rather than the inconclusive nature of them.
“Why do you think your book will make a good film?” she asks.
I tell the story. I talk about the tales my grandma told me as a boy, about the bandits and the bags of silver and the narrow escape from the Mexican Revolution. Then I talk about my journey, about how I tracked down the small village near a small town near Guadalajara… Over five minutes as gone and I haven’t heard a word from the interviewer. Is she still there? I carry on talking about the factory where my great grandfather worked, about my newly-found uncle who greeted me… I still haven’t heard a thing and I wonder whether it is more pathetic to be speaking to a dead telephone line, or to say “Hello? You there?” in the middle of a live broadcast.
Finally she interrupts me. “Who would you like to play you in the film?”
“James McAvoy,” I say. I like Martin Compston, who recently starred in The Disappearance of Alice Creed, but I momentarily forget his name.
I hang up and open the packet of All Butter Flapjacks.

Read Full Post »

Billy Connolly once said that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. He’s right, up to a point. Personally I find weather inappropriate if it’s so cold that it I’m forced to wear so many layers my arms stick out at ninety degrees from my body like a Teletubby.

I’ve never really been one for the cold weather; I’ve never seen the point in it. This doesn’t mean I am one of the head-in-the-sand climate change deniers. I think that having both poles covered in ice is a good idea, I just don’t want it to be North Pole-like anywhere near me.
I guess I’m finding the icy conditions that much more difficult to take this morning after having spent the weekend at the Travellers’ Tales Festival at The Royal Geographical Society. There, I talked with some of the world’s best travel writers and photographers about spectacular corners of the planet – almost all of them warmer than London this February.

I was there to make a presentation on The Mango Orchard. The talk seemed to go well. The audience was appreciative and asked good questions. Afterwards, I had a book signing session in Stanfords, and pleasingly, the book sold out.

Then I set out once more into the rigours of Kensington arctic winter.

Read Full Post »

The edit

Of the many fantasies (which I can admit to) that sustained me during the years of writing The Mango Orchard, one of the most vivid was the one about marking up the final manuscript in the sun, the swimming pool water lapping gently at my feet.

A few days after meeting with Trevor in the Random House offices, this dream is realised when I am invited by my sister, Emma, her boyfriend, Mark, and their daughter, my niece, Sophie, to join them on holiday. They journey in style, from St Pancras, through France and northern and central Spain in a first class train compartment, and arrive in Andalucía relaxed, already in a holiday mood. I follow a few days later on a cheap yet distinctly unpleasant Irish airline.

I establish myself in a sun lounger next to the pool, and in between periodic inquiries from Sophie about why I am spending so long scribbling into a green folder with yellow Post-it notes sticking out of it, I begin to work through Trevor’s comments.

The comments are, as he had said, not as bad as they look. He has deleted superfluous words, and every now and then, circled a sentence or paragraph and written “Do better” next to it. I cross out the superfluous words and try to make the circled paragraphs less deserving of his comments.

There is just one chapter that Trevor thinks needs cutting down. It’s towards the end of the book, about my journey home across the States, and has long been one of my favourites. During that stretch of the trip the stark contrast of being in America after months in Mexico helped to see it all in perspective for the first time, and yet I was still in a foreign land; still a long way from home. I had explained this to Trevor. He was sympathetic but maintained that I could take out several pages and still convey that emotion.

Eventually I realise the real reason I don’t want to cut the passage is because of the months I spent researching and drafting. I struggle with the decision for several days. Then I cross out 1,500 words and open a bottle of Albariño.

Read Full Post »