Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The strange voice in Michael's head

mainly sunny, cold, temps 4

Heard from both Lise and Tony back home in Sutton that it snowed yesterday! And stayed on the ground. Tony, who is looking after our home and Maggie and Trudy, says the dogs will be very sad to see us return. Oh my. According to Tony, they're having a ball with him and his dogs.

We'll have to put an end to all that fun!

Had lots of fun yesterday. I had lunch with Susan at a funky (do people still use that word? Is it groovy to use it?) restaurant in Old Montreal. Michael had lunch with David Rosenblatt, one of his very best friends. He's a doctor and geneticist at McGill, and they lead each other astray, dietarily. Unlike Susan and me.

Then Michael got his new hearing aids. For the last ten years or so he's worn one in his left ear, but now he needs them in both. He's such a riot. Since being fitted yesterday afternoon he's constantly got his fingers to his ears, 'tuning' the aids. They're quite high-tech with knobs and buttons. For all I knew there might be a tiny satellite dish. He says the oddest part, and the hardest to get used to, is his own voice in his head. With two hearing aids it's changed.

After that I had a coffee with a neighbor, Robert Landori-Hoffman. He writes thrillers. We talked about the market.

Wanted to mention a new blog. It's called stageandpage and it's written by Pat Donnelly, the arts editor at the Montreal Gazette. Fun way to keep up on stuff happening in the province.

And - this is the last day to sign up for my May Newsletter in which I give away 6 copies of Julia Spencer-Fleming's new book I SHALL NOT WANT. And she'll even sign them to the winners!

You can sign up on the home page of my website.

Tonight is the big Crime Writers of Canada event at the Atwater Library in Montreal. It starts at 7pm, and features a talk by Jim Napier. He's just fantastic. He taught crime writing for many years, is a writer himself and writes reviews of mysteries for the Sherbrooke Record. He'll be giving a talk on what makes a winning book. Then there's a panel discussion with NAT Grant, Michael Blair (the president of the CWC), Robert Landori-Hoffman, Andre Baby and me.

And finally, after that, Michael Blair will announce the nominations for this years Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing in Canada. The awards themselves will be announced at the CWC banquet in early June in Toronto.

Love to see you at the Atwater Library tonight! After that Michael and I will drive home.


Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Very Existential

rain, cool, highs 8

Had a great time in Russell last night! I am, frankly, pleasantly surprised. Since this was clearly a very small town/village I was expecting to be speaking to Michael, the librarian Helene and myself. But the place was packed! Standing room only. Wow, does that feel good. I'd love to think it was my fame that had spread, like Bishops weed, all over the county. But I suspect it was because Helene is extremely dynamic and passionate, as were the people there. Many belonged to the book club and had discovered my books.

I put in a paragraph break here for aesthetics - I find a solid page of words is daunting...some breaks feel better. Anyway, they'd discovered my books, but didn't realize they're a series and it's generally a good idea to read the books in order, though not necessary. As a result, some had read all three, some only the third, The Cruelest Month, etc. Happily it didn't seem to matter. Though there was agreement it is best to read in order, and I agree.

Had a very humbling moment while sitting in this great cafe in Russell. It was teeming rain - so much so there were rain warnings out from Ottawa to Nova Scotia - so Michael and I decided to drive up early, take our time. We stopped at a village and found a small restuarant. Home made food. Booths from the 50's. They made Shirley Temples!!! I ordered my favoirte 'road food' - hot chicken/turnkey sandwich. It came with real chicken, gravy, fresh homemade mashed potatoes in ice cream scoops. Perfect! The only thing missing were the runny green peas. Michael had his favorite 'road food' - bbqd chicken legs and fries. And diet coke. Then we had a mountain of chocolate cake so high we could barely see each other over it. Outside the rain pelted down and we drank coffee in white chipped mugs and tunnelled our way through the cake.


Then on to Russell and found the cafe. Michael had a hot chocolate and I had assorted teas. Outside Helene had put a sandwich board on the sidewalk saying LOUISE PENNY AT LIBRARY 7:30 A young woman came into the cafe and called to the owner 'Who's Louise Penny?' Not once - it felt as though she yelled it ten times. I think she mis-read and thought this Louise Penny was going to be at the cafe. Which, of course, she was. I sank down under my 'O' Magazine and willed Michael not to say anything. He was deep in Sudoku and didn't notice.

Who's Louise Penny? Now there's a good question.

Had an annoyingly correct email from our friend Susan - she who stays at our cottage and never leaves, but bakes great Eccles cakes and gives them to us sometimes. We pretty much just see her as one of the finest journalists in Canada and a leech. Well, she noticed that my grand announcement about the Crime Writers of Canada event at the Atwater Library I'll be at isn't tonight (as I said in yesterday's blog) but tomorrow - Wednesday night.

She reminded me I used to be a journalist and wondered what had happened to my rigor.

I ate it.

So this is a correction. For the thousands of you planning to come to the panel and CWC Ellis award announcement at the Atwater Libary in Montreal tonight - it's tomorrow!

And finally - who is Louise Penny?

Monday, 28 April 2008

Russell or bust

Mainly Sunny, mild, highs 17

Am once again in black cashmere turtleneck sweater. But at least have ditched the longjohns. I think I need to change again. Michael and I are off to Cora's for breakfast, then we jump in the car and head to a small village just south of Ottawa for an event at the local library tonight. A nice woman named Helene Quesnel contacted me months ago and I was so impressed by them I happily agreed to go to their library as part of their celebration of literacy.

If you live in the Ottawa area (short notice I know) I'll be at the Russell Library at 7:30.

It's about a 2 or 3 hour drive for us from Montreal. Michael and I debated staying overnight...the library people were very kind about offering that but we've been away from our bed so long we just yearn for it - so we'll drive home tonight. Should get back by midnight or so.

Tomorrow evening we'll be at the Atwater Libary in Montreal to celebrate the Crime Writers of Canada and the announcement of the Arthur Ellis nominations for this year. We were among the judges for the Best First Novel competition.

There will be lots of great crime writers and reviewers at the Atwater tomorrow night. Please come it you're in Montreal. The event starts at 7pm.

Michael Blair, Robert Landori, NAT Grant will all be there...but the highlight for me is Jim Napier. He's the crime reviewer for the Sherbrooke Record - he taught crime writing for many years - he's an accomplished mystery writer himself and a really smart, astute guy. He'll be giving a talk on what makes a winning novel. Shouldn"t be missed.

Se, we're off to breakfast. I find it easiest to get through the days with equanimity if I break them down into 'bite-sized' pieces. Not look at the gazillion things to do, just at the thing I'm doing, and the next thing. That's it. Then I'm happy and not overwhelmed. And I enjoy the day.

Doesn't always work, as those of you who read the blog regularly know. But today, so far so good.

Speak tomorrow. Michael sends his best!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

A Lovely Grace

sunny, warm, highs 22

We're in Montreal now. Great flight - very smooth and easy. Front row seats! Makes a difference I tell you. Arrived back in time for cappuccino and carrot cake at our favorite Montreal bistro -on Greene Avenue. Walking distance from home. And it's an exquisite day! Feels like late spring. Buds on trees, daffodils out, grass green - no snow in sight. Though the doorman assures us snow is expected for Tuesday.

Snow? Really?

However, have to say that after winning the Agatha it could be a blizzard and I'd be happy. Funny how that works.

What a night it was. I've forgotten what I've told you. So you'll get it all again. Michael and I got to the cocktail at about 6:30. It was already a madhouse - everyone in evening dress, with wine and yakking it up. We had to set up the table we were hosting so we snuck into the ball room and found our table. 20. Lise had shipped us hardcovers of the US version of STILL LIFE as well as the chocolates (wait, this is sounding familiar - so I won't go on and on - or maybe I Stop it!)

We put them out, went outside, talked to a few people then it was time to head back into the ballroom for dinner.

What a sparkling evening. There were 400 people for the banquet. The place was backed and hopping. The people at my table were chosen by heaven. Wonderful, fun and funny people. One is a retired intelligence officer from the navy who now does gui8ded tours of Washington - including one for dogs and their owners (!!) - another two go to Cambridge (UK) to take summer courses, something Michael and I have been dying to do - and go to Heffers bookstore for their annual July crime dinner...which I was invited to this year. This is an incredibly small world. Almost all were libtrarians - whom I love so much I made Reine-Marie a librarian. It was just a gift of a table.

The 'official' speeches, which are often excrutiating at banquets were hysterical - starting with the divine toastmaster/author Dan Stashower. He was very, very funny - and pithy. The fan guests of honor were Ron and Jean McMillen and Elizabeth Foxwell.

A Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Peter Lovesey - who is charming and handsome and funny and brilliant. Just to be in the same room with him was amazing.

The US guest of honor was Charlaine Harris - whose books I don't know but after her speech I sure want to find them.

The Poirot award was given to Janet Hutchings and Linda Landrigan - editors of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchock Presents.

And for the first time Malice Domestic had an International Guest of Honor. That was Lindsey Davis - who writes the Falco historical mysteries...which are brilliant. And she was extremely funny as well...talking about hosting a breakfast gathering of fans a few years earlier at a similar convention, and deciding as a joke to show up in bathrobe, slippers and curlers. Except no one realized it was a joke - and she still gets stopped by people asking if she's the same woman who went down to breakfast by mistake in her curlers and nightie.

And then if was time for the Agathas.

I was calm itself. Very Zen. At one with the universe and the chocolate mousse. Unflappable. Because I knew I wasn't going to win. I wouldn't have to (and didn't) worry about a speech, or getting up in front of 400 people. Normally at these things, or when I give lunch or dinner speeches I don't eat - nerves get me in the stomache. But last night I ate like a horse.

Before the awards were give out I went over to the St Martins Minotaur table to say hi - and to meet Charles Finch, whose remarkable debut mystery was up for Best First Novel Agatha. I'd blurbed his book - with great gusto. It's called A BEautiful Blue Death and well worth reading. I wanted to wish him luck.

Then the awards started.

The Agatha for best young adult mystery went to Sarah Masters Buckey for A LIGHT IN THE CELLAR

The Best Short Story Agatha went to: Donna Andrews for A RAT'S TALE

Best Nonfiction Agatha went to: Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower (also the toastmaster for the evening) and Charles Foley for ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: A LIFE IN LETTERS

The Best First Novel Agatha went to: Hank Phillippi Ryan for PRIME TIME
(Charlies Finch didn't win - but how fantastic to be shortlisted and distinguished from the sea of other great first novels...and he's going to have a great career.)

Then it was time for the real reason anyone was there - the most important moment in everyone's life (are you still awake???) The best Novel Agatha.

They read out the nominees:

Margaret Maron, for HARD ROW
Louise Penny for A FATAL GRACE

My hands were in the air ready to applaud whoever won.

The host read: And the winner is.... A FATAL -

Blood rushed to my head - and time stopped. I remember hearing a roar - could have been people, could have been blood. Never realized how similar (and sometimes inseperable) they are. Then I tilted backwards in my seat and clapped my hands over my face. And for an instant all went my dark coccoon. Then I took my hands away - a glare of lights, hands on my shoulders, applause. Andy Martin the publisher of St Martins Minotaur had appeared right there. I think I hugged him. (he might have been on his way to the bathroom poor man, but he got mauled by me) then up the three steps (i counted - it all happened in an instant but also extremely slowly) to the stage. Verena Rose, the chair of Malice Domestic handed me the Agatha Award.

Even writing this I can feel tears.

All those years reading Agatha Christie - introduced by my mother. All the comfort traditional mysteries - Dorothjy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey have given me. They're what I turn to still when life is unkind. I'd heard of the Agathas long before I even began writing. I'd heard of the teapot award, because that's what it is. A lovely teapot (actual size and useable) glazed a royal blue, and inscribed...Malice Domestic XX (20 - our year) and on the other side words I never, ever expected to see except as applied to someone else. Best Novel Agatha Award

I don't know what I said expect I looked at my hands at one stage and they were trembling. And beyond the quivering hands I saw a sea of smiling, kindly faces. Who only wanted the best for all of us. What a great community mystery reading and writing is.

I remebered to thank Michael. And Hope Dellon and Andrew Martin of Minotaur. And the other nominees. But don't know what else I said. And then in a daze I was back at my seat with a miraculous teapot in my grip that I didn't have to steal from Donna or Rhys or Margaret or Elaine.

Hope Dellon (who celebrated a birthday yestrerday and didn't tell us until this morning!!) said she'd express post the teapot home to us...since our luggage was already bulging and there was a real danger the teapot would break and I would die.

As some of you know, I really struggled writing the second book. Filled with fear I'd put all I had into STILL LIFE and there was nothing left. I know winning the AGATHA would be meaningful at any stage in my career, but to win it for A FATAL GRACE - a book that didn't come easily but was finally the book I really, really wanted to write is even more meaningful to me.

What a lucky person I am. As I wrote to someone this morning. I've grown to realize it isn't enought to have great good fortune (and I've had so much) but the real blessing in life is knowing how lucky I am.

Gratitude is the gift and the reward. And I'm filled with it. And cake.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Oh, my Gooooooood

Five to eleven - Saturday night

I won!!!!!

The spirit of Agatha Christie

sunny, hot, highs 80

stunning day in washington, again. Michael and I went for a walk outside - first time outside in two days! lovely. Met Julia Spencer-Fleming - a terrific writer who has a new book out in June. I'll be giving away 6 signed Advanced Review Copies for her latest - through the newsletter. If you haven't signed up for it yet, you might want to. It'll be the May edition.

Having a fun day. Just got back from lunch with hope Dellon - my editor at St Martin's Minotaur. Went to a tapas restaurant. I'm not all that familiar with Spanish cuisine so this was a treat. It also gave us another walk outside. Bliss.

This morning Michael and I went to the new authors breakfast here at Malice Domestic. Each author is interviewed by the MC for about 3 minutes. I remember doing it last year. Very scary. There must be 250 people in the room - that alone is enough to make you want to throw up - but then also needing to make sense and only having a few minutes. I have such respect for these authors who did such a great job.

Then at 9am I had the panel for the writers nominated for the Agatha for Best Novel. Also on the panel were:

Donna Andrews
Rhys Bowen
Margaret Maron

Elaine Viets would have been but she couldn't make the conference.

And moi.

Amazing company. Tonight is the bnaquet - and I completely expect to applaud when someone else's name is called. And you know, I'm just fine with that. I'd love to win an Agatha - but I genuinely will be happy no matter who wins. There have been awards I've been up for where I kinda thought maybe I should/could win. But not this one. This one I'm just delighted to have been on the shortlist.

Tonight lots of authors have been asked to host a table of 10. I'll be doing one - and my fabulous and attractive assistant Lise worked hard to design and get mugs for everyone at our table. But at the last minute the company said they'd be late! poor lise. After I finished whipping her we decided to give everyone signed copies of STILL LIFE and a small box of handmade chocolates from Muriel's Maison du Chocolat in the village I live in. Some of you might remember there's also - by sheer co-incidence - a Muriel's Maison du Chocolat in the books! What are the chances?

So I'll let you know how it goes tonight. And thanks to all the people who sent good wishes - I really appreciate it!

We head back to Montreal tomorrow morning so I'll probably write tomorrow afternoon.

Take care.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Malice Domestic

Sunny, hot, highs 80

Gorgeous outside. Very nice inside too. The conference Malice Domestic has started, though the first day is always a little quiet. Had a nice buffet breakfast - meeting lots of people we know from last year and from other mystery conferences like Bouchercon.

It's great to ease into it. I always feel shy at first. But as the day goes on I feel more and more comfortable. I think it's about belonging.

They do a thing here called Malice-go-round - there are 15 tables of 10 seats. First time authors each sit at a table with 9 readers/fans. They have 3 minutes to tell the people at the table about their book - then they move to the next table. I did it last year when Still Life was just out in the States. Very exhausting and intimidating.

This year I went as a 'reader' - to support the new authors. It is so moving to be part of their excitement. And there are a lot of very talented new writers out there.

Then they did a Malice-go-round for the other veteran authors like me. So for two hours we did the rounds of the tables - 3 minutes at a time. Introducing ourselves and talking about our books.

Quite exhausting, but exciting and invigorating too.

Now we're on a quiet time - a two hour break in our room to read the programme and make plans. Actually, we have to rush out now for the official opening ceremonies. they'll be introducing the Agatha nominees. Thrilled to be among them!!!

tomorrow is an early day - there's a new authors breakfast. I did that last year too - so it's nice to go and support this years new crop.

Speak to you tomorrow!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Bye London - hi Washington

Sunny, warm, temp 22

We're in Washington! Wanted to do a quick post just to let you know. I should really give the temperature in Fahrenheit but don't know it...22 celcius would be about 70 - 75? Anyway, it's gorgeous here. Rain in London when we left.

The flights was great - very easy check in. Since we've flown a gazillion (approx) miles on British Airways we qualify for the BA lounge. Wonderful. Had breakfast there - read the papers, watched the flights, and the rain. Then walked to the gate. The plane was a 747 - love them. Those are the ones with the two levels. Was hoping we were on the upper level, but nope. Actually, last time we flew one was a Qantas flight from Syndey to Los Angeles last fall. We were on the round the world tour - first class!!! and we requested row 1. The very best seats since no one is around you...and it's in the very nose of the plane. The pilots are up above. And since it was first class we all, in effect, had our own little cabins. Absolutely amazing experience. I joined Michael for dinner someplace over the his 'cabin'. They set up a table, with linen and silver and china, and I sat facing him, and we looked out the windows on the clouds below. Beyond magical. I'll never, ever forget it.

This flight wasn't magical. We were paying, so the best we could do was World Traveler Plus - which is slightly above economy and well below business...and not in the same galaxy as First. But - one trick I've learned...always ask for the emergency rows - especially in economy. Way more leg room, and the people in front can't put their seats back. Or, failing that and perhaps even better, always ask for the first row in your section. Again, lots of leg room. That's what we had. Extremely easy flight.

And now we're in Washington for the malice domestic convention. Wonderful. Unpacked, picked up soft drinks, had a Shirley Temple in the bar (Michael had a diet coke) - no one makes really good Shirley Temples anymore, do you find? Michael averted his eyes when I ordered one, as though my clothes had just fallen off - or I'd made what Gordon Ramsey called a 'bum burp'.

Had fun in London - but am exhausted. Not keen on returning anytime soon. Really feel quite drained by the whole experience. I think trying to promote one book, edit the next and write yet another - and try to have fun in one of the world's great cities, might have been at least one thing too many. Really kind of disenchanted by the whole thing - but I think I'm just pooped. Feels like forever since I actually had a holiday and I think I was going to London thinking this might be one - but of course it wasn't. happy to work - especially promoting - but trying to do it all felt like being yanked in all directions. And I can't honestly remember the last time I had two days 'off' in a row. Not writing, not promoting, or traveling, or editing, or giving speeches.

All these things I love - and am genuinely grateful for. But sometimes I just want to curl up and cry. Feel like that in the last couple of days.

But I adore Malice Domestic - so this will be a tonic.

Speak soon - will let you know what the conference is like tomorrow. Right now we're back in the hotel room and will nest. Bliss.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Our last day in London

cloudy, mild, temps 13

Seems an unsettled day here in London - go figure. Not at all sure what to wear. Probably way overdressed...perhaps I'll leave the tiara at home. Made out of flannel anyway.

We're off for breakfast at Tom's Kitchen, just off Chelsea Green. About a 15 minute walk. Then we might go to the Natural History Museum. We were there in our first week but it was school break and insane with kids. There's a show on about the Antarctic Michael's dying to see so we thought that would be fun.

Then Michael's having lunch with his sister Carol at a place called Papillion on Draycott Terrace/Place/Avenue/Court/Street/Mews/Road. I'll tell you, that's the most difficult thing about London - there are only about 10 'first' names for streets, but their 'last' names go on forever. You can't just say, 'It's on Draycott' - because it will take the person the rest of their lives to go through all the possibilities.

In Quebec we have something similar, but it's for restaurants. If you want to call for a reservation and need to look up the number, well, you'll starve to death. It might just be Papillion. Or it could be Le Papillion, or Restaurant Papillion, or Bistro Papillion or Resto-Bar Papillion or some other creative option.

All this to say Michael's chances of finding his sister for lunch are pretty small. I'll get him to pack a lunch.

I'm meeting my editor Sherise and agent Teresa for lunch. Teresa's choosing the place after my disasterous choice for dinner the other night.

Then this afternoon we pack up. God knows how we'll get the stuff in. Had a funny email from Susan asking us to find and bring home Marks and Spencer's Shrimp Crisps. Which we're happy to do but I think our socks will be crushed can't begin to image what shape the shrimp poptato chips will be in. Dust.

Must be off - Michael just appeared. Very handsome in his new spring outfit. But I'm in cashmere turtleneck and blazer. We're going to the same place but in different seasons. I think I might change.

Not sure if I'll have time to blog tomorrow either from here or Washington, but will try. If not I want to thank you for being such great traveling companions!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


Sunny, warm, perfect!

This is the most spectacular day. Is this the first day of Spring? You'd think I'd know. Well, if it isn't it should be. So, with the power vested in me by myself I want to wish you all HAPPY SPRING!

Glorious day in London. Picture perfect. Sunny and almost hot.

We went off to dinner last night to the OXO building, which is on the south bank. Peter newsom, from Headline, chose it. It's apparently quite well known. It's an old industrial building - the (you guessed it) Oxo company building. Now it's design studios and on the top this amazing restaurant right on the Thames looking across the St Paul's Cathedral, and Somerset House and all sorts of iconic London sights. As the sun set, and the lights came on in the buildings it was almost enough to make me weep. Splendid.

And Peter was very, very funny - telling us about the perils of export sales. Namely visiting countries he's unfamiliar with, like japan and korea. Places where the food and customs were quite unfamiliar. He said he was once at quite an important business dinner in Japan and ate the table decoration.

Today Michael and I worked on our books in the morning - our usual cherished routine. Then a car came for me and I headed off to the Headline International Authors lunch, which was basically two writers from South Africa who write under one name - Michael Stanley. The book ( a first) is called A Carrion Death. I haven't read it, but it's getting great buzz and seems like one to buy! It's set in Botswana. And the two men are lovely. I'm trying to convince them to come to Bouchercon in Baltimore this year.

Mike Ripley was there as well - one of my favorite people. Wonderful reviewer, columnist for Shotsmag, and writer. I'm reading his book: Boudica and the Lost Roman. He's also an archeologist and gave me a Roman jug he excavated a few years ago. It's so deeply moving to hold it and think of the hands that first held it. The man, or perhaps woman, who made it. And what their lives were like.

Two women, Anna and Sarah, were there from the Borders Airport bookstores. They order the books. Good people to know - but loads of fun too. We talked about the books we'd pretended to have read. More than I care to admit to.

Once home Michael and I walked through the gorgeous afternoon sun to The Kings Road for a hot chocolate and pastry at Paul's Cafe, then to Holy Trinity Church on Sloane street to see his sister Carol's exhibition. She's one of a number of artists with a group show on now. The church is serves as an active church for the parish, but has chosen the arts as a vocation, and so supports artists in the area. of which there are a few. Carol is an extremely gifted artist and it was great to see her show.

And now home. Reading the Times, the Evening Standard and The Independent. And OK magazine. Mustn't raise the bar too high.

Only a couple more days in London - but we'll be back in a month, so not too upset about leaving. Besides, I miss home, and the puppies, Maggie and Trudy. Sent them a card. God help us, we're that sort of dog people.

Be well.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Thousand - please, oh, please, say 'thousand'.

mainly sunny, cool, temps 10

Zoomed all over London today, visiting Borders stores mostly. Did Oxford Street, then Fulham then off to North London, and area I'm totally unfamiliar with, and still am. This however won't stop me from talking knowledgeably about it, preferably to someone who has never been to London. In the world of the blind, the one eyed man is King. Normally I'm the one fumbling around in the dark, so it's refreshing to have any nuggets of knowledge.

The rep let me off at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Michael met me for coffee and cakes at the Brompton Quarter restaurant. A kind of odd place. Not sure I'd recommend it and yet we keep going back there. But I did have a wonderful smoothie - mango, banana, yoghurt and honey. But, when asked whether I'd like fizzy or still water, I said still, thinking tap. But they brought bottled. My mistake, I should have been specific. But there's a growing discontent among London consumers that restuarants foist bottled water (expensive at that) on customers. But that you can tell the quality of the restaurant by whether they offer tap water, and even bring it without asking. The Brompton Quarter doesn't. But, I learn.

We're off for dinner tonight with one of our favorite people in the book biz - Peter Newsom, the head of Export sales for Headline and the man responsible for our Around The World tour in the autumn. Need to get him drunk and have him agree to South Africa and India this year. Not sure there's enough wine for that anywhere.

Had the funniest, and very humbling experience the other day. Sherise, my Headline editor, was telling me Peter had called her last week from South Africa to say sales of The Cruellest Month were booming - and had tripled from Still Life. I, of course, was about to put the downpayment on the London flat based on that, when Sherise did managed to mention that the sales of Still Life in South Africa were 250. I waited for the 'thousand'. It didn't come.

'So,' I said to Sherise, 'that means The Cruellest Month in South Africa -'.
'Has sold 750 copies,' she said cheerily.

No London flat. No London fizzy or even bottled water at that rate! Oh well. Room for growth.

Must run - speak tomorrow. Hope this finds you thriving.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Flying around London

Sunny, warm (ha ha), temps 16

Finally! An absolutely stunning day in London. We just came back from a walk. Past garden squares in blossom - all the young leaves on the trees. We worked this morning then about 1 we decided since our time was running out in London and I have wall-to-wall lunches next week we'd do our last lunch out for this trip. So we went around the corner to Walton Street, to an Italian restaurant called Scallini's.

Such fun.

Very few people when we arrived then within 20 minutes the place was hopping.

Michael had the proscuitto and melon followed by tortellini and gorgonzola. I had spaghetti with seafood. Yum. Michael's melon was juicy and so sweet. My spaghetti was piled with shrimp and scampi, clams and mussels - in tomato and garlic sauce.

Then Michael had strawberries and cream and I had strawberry cheesecake for dessert along with frothy cappuccinos.

Then we walked through the sunshine up to the Brompton Road and bought the Sunday Times, and I got Hello Magazine. It's fun to read about all these celebrities I've never heard of. Can't begin to imagine why I find that interesting. Perhaps best not to look too deeply at that.

And now we're home. We were so used to longjohns and layers of sweaters we wore them out and almost fainted from heat. Poor Michael was stripping off as we came through the door.

The manager of Heffer's asked me to contribute a 200 word descritpion of Gamache for their next catalogue, so I'll work on that this afternoon. And will be heading out to sign books all over London tomorrow.

It's interesting, and gratifying, to see the change in how the publishers treat me. Two years ago when Still Life came out they said I was welcome to knock on booksellers doors and offer to sign, if I wanted. But they wouldn't organize anything. So Michael and I got a bus pass and went all over London, explaining who I was. Some didn't care, most allowed me to sign a couple copies, if they had them. Some didn't have the book at all.

With Dead Cold (A Fatal Grace in the US) the publisher set up signings but said I had to get there myself.

Tomorrow they're sending a limo and I'll be meeting a rep from Headline who'll escort me.

Next year we're aiming for the Headline helicopter - but I suspect that, like the Minotaur Helicopter, Janet Evanovich has that one out too. She is a vitch.

Looking forward to Washington and Malice Domestic at the end of the week. Hope to see some of you there! I'll be the one without the helicopter.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Happy Birthday Susan!!!

Gray, overcast, cool, temps 7

Dear Lord, my hands are so cold they're almost numb! We have the fire on in the living room. Happily there's a grate. Heading off for the shower, just to get warm. The coldest I've ever been, aside from frozen feet skiing was during the ice storm in 1998. No running water, no heat. Middle of winter. Finally got so cold we found a hotel room, convinced them to take us and the dog, then had a hot shower...and I was so freezing the warm water hurt. Feels almost like that now. Perhaps some shortbread will cure it. Yes, I believe it will.

We're back from our visit to our friends John and Moira in Eye - a village in Suffolk. There are villages with stranger names (though not many) in England, but few more charming. (having visited each and every one of them personally). Our friends have a Grade 1 listed home which means, I've finally figured out, that it's freezing cold all the time. We lived in our - you guessed it - long underwear. I'm hoping to start a new fashion trend. Will approach David Beckham.

Happy Birthday Susan!!!

Our great friend Susan aka Kato had a birthday on Thursday. I had it in my agenda, but got busy with Heffers and the visit to Eye - so forgot to wish her a happy birthday. But wrote her today - with sincere love and good wishes. She's coming to visit in a couple of weeks, so we can give her her pony then.

She reported on the hot weather in Quebec and there are flood warnings everywhere as the snow melts too rapidly. She said the news story of the week (Susan's a very prominent journalist in Canada) was from Quebec City where people have been fined for watering their snowbanks! Only in Canada do people water snowbanks. In hopes they'll shrink, not grow.

But, as Susan pointed out, it's not like the flood danger wasn't high enough.

Also heard from Gary today. He's finished the work at home and says he'll retire back to the basement until needed. He also said it's 26 degrees and sunny - roughly 80 degrees - in Sutton and expected to stay that way until we return, when a snow storm is forecast.

har har.

Massage place was all booked today, so no massage. Poor me. Why do these tragedies keep happening? It's just not fair. But - shortbread will cure that too.

Off to hose down the snowback that is me. Then make a pot of tea. And shortbreads.

Tomorrow back to book 5. Longing for it.

Friday, 18 April 2008


Sunny, cool, temps 9

We're now in an English village called Eye. Not kidding - that's it's name. Gets less silly the more you say it. And see it. It's gorgeous. Picture-postcard stuff. Very old church, timbered and thatched cottages, tea rooms and bakeries. Wonderful.

We're here visiting two of Michael's oldest friends from his Cambridge days...John and Moira Buxton. They came to Cambridge yesterday to see my event at Heffer's bookstore, which is a massive independent bookstore in the city. It was a literary lunch, put on by Heffers and organized by Ruchard Reynolds, the head of the bookstore. Brian Freeman was there as well. When we arrived we were shown into the basement of the store, through storerooms and down corridors and past a dark and dingy lunchroom. Had I been alone I'd have been quite frightened. And finally we were shown into what looked like a boiler room - with sandwiches. It was quite hysterical, and very Cambridge, according to Michael. Very relaxed, almost under-whelming - and the more casual it appeared the more important the place. Heffers does not try to impress - it doesn't have to.

We had the best time. It was very fun, and funny. Helped along by the presence of one Mike Ripley, let out on day parole I believe. He's a fellow author and critic and extremely well respected not simply for his drinking, but his opinion. He came, and insisted on describing this part of Heffers as Mordor.

After the literary lunch, when we escaped the tunnels of Mordor and bought Mike's books John and Moira fdrove us back here to Eye. Spent today here as well - relaxing, getting caught up, being driven to neighboring villages each more charming than the last. Going into antique shops and tea rooms and public gardens.

However - it isn't warm. I still have my long underwear on! Lise wrote to say it's 26 degrees celcius in Sutton!!! It's about 8 degrees here.

Tomorrow we're back to London. Hoping to get back by noon then have a massage. And writing on Sunday.

That's all I want to do. Feel so badly because two kinder people would be hard to find than John and Moira - and I am enjoying their company so much - and Michael is adoring it. But a part of me just wants to get back and sit down and write, write, write.

Must learn to live in the day. Ohhmmm.

Talk to you tomorrow. From the leaded glass and mullioned window of John's study as I write this I see the parapets of a ruined castle, an ancient grave yard in front of the church, and chimney pots. Lovely.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Death and taxes

Overcast, mild, highs 12

I've finally resigned myself to the fact there is no such thing as a weather forecast here in London. For a Canadian that's the same as living without gravity, or Tim Horton's Double double.

The day starts out one way, by the time I'm dresses appropriately it's changed, then changed again - by lunch it's hailing or snowing or brilliant sunshine. And I'm in my long undies.

Having great fun at the Suzanne Beecher DearReader forum. Some readers are loving The Cruelest Month, some loathing it. Because it's in the fiction club some are just annoyed it's there. Some are very kind and persevering even though it wouldn't be their natural selection.

Here's a quite lengthly response I made to a reader (Doris) who seemed annoyed a mystery had snuck into their fiction club. She admitted she might be just a little grumpy because of her taxes.

Hi Doris,

Death and taxes I guess really don`t mix, but they do seem inevitable in your life right now. Sorry you`re not enjoying the book. I hesitated about responding to you. Partly because it seemed your comments were directed more generally, and partly because my feelings were hurt, I realize now. Then, after sleeping on it, I realized I`m a grown woman and agreed to respond to messages, not simply the ones I want to answer.

I also realized you hit on a subject that has become quite a discussion within the mystery and crime writing community and that`s the very issue of community. Of belonging. Of exlusion and definition. It`s a sort of literary nationalism, with all the comfort and danger associated with nationalism.

What is crime fiction. Is it any different that literary fiction, or fiction generally. I must say my question mark icon has just disappeared, so the lack of punctuation isn`t intentional.

Many mystery writers these days are growing less and less comfortable with the label, when it is used to marginalize the writing. For instance, many mysteries are reviewed (if at all) in their own section of the books page, and not on the `reviews`page with the rest of the writers. There`s growing discontent with that, and questioning why. There`s also a growing sense that good writing is good writing. And there`s a lot of it about. Indeed many so-called literary fiction people are writing mysteries - John Blanville, Margaret Atwood, even Shakespeare. To define (and often dismiss) a book as simply a mystery is to do a diservice to the book and the writer.

The genre of `mystery` was created as a marketing tool, and a very successful one too. We`ve certainly benefited by it. But it`s not meant to stratify the quality of writing.

I had dinner this past autumn with the head of Hachette Livres Australia and he described being on a commission charged with coming up with a direction for support for Australian culture, including the publishing industry. They were given a series of questions to answer. One was `Define Literary Fiction`.Now, this is a man who publishes almost exclusively literary fiction. The committee decided to tackle the difficult questions first, and so left the easy, the obvious one to the end - the literary fiction question. But when they got to it, they found it was in fact the most difficult of them all. Everyone thought it was obvious, how could they not know it. But struggle as they might, fight as they might, they couldn`t come up with a satisfactory definition.He said it revolutionized his view of so-called genre fiction.

Having said all this, there is also a lot of not so great mystery writing out there. Superficial, formulaic - relying on blood rather than feelings. But even those have found happy readers.

The sense in publishing seems to be (and one I adhere to) that for a book to `break-out`it needs to be recognized beyond the borders of it`s genre on the understanding that a good mystery is a good book, and good writing transcends boundaries. Traditional mystery readers picking up and discovering À Thousand Splendid Suns` for example. So I was thrilled when Suzanne chose to put a book she knows perfectly well is a classic mystery into your fiction club. Not to `slip one by`you but to introduce you to a book you might not naturally pick up. I`m very grateful to her for that.

The series has received starred reviews from the Kirkus, Publisher`s weekly, the London Times, the Scotsman, the Sydney Morning Herald. And the Gamache series has been described as `literary mysteries`- I believe because they rely as heavily on character as on mystery, and while it`s possible to read them as comforting cozies, there are deeper layers.

I realize some people will dislike the books. They certainly aren`t for everyone. But I also know they belong in this club, as surely as many works of fiction belong in the mystery club. Happily lines are being blurred.

Still, Doris, I`m very grateful for your comments and for making me look at my own fears and insecurities, my issues of belonging, and legitimacy. And probably my own jealousy that at least your taxes are close to done!

Be well - and know that I do understand.


And on that gabby note I'll leave you, except to say Doris wrote this morning the loveliest response, saying she'd done some more research and plans to read the series, starting with the first book. Isn't that remarkable? (the question mark is back!)

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

IMBA Bestseller!

sunny, mild, temps 14

Now, this is more like it. Walked around London this afternoon actually carrying my coat. What a relief.

Had fantastic news yesterday from the United States. The Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) bestseller list for March was just published and THE CRUELEST MONTH debuted at number 1!

Thank you, thank you for going out and buying it, and telling friends about it. I'm SO grateful to you. Michael and I yipped and yelped and danced around the living room when we read Hope's email last night. Absolutely over the top wonderful.

And - more good news from the lists - A FATAL GRACE has moved up to number 4 on the mass market list, from number 6 the month before. Generally books start high and go down. It's very unusual to go in the other direction...but I'll forgive it this once. Yippeee!!!!


Life doesn't get much better than spending a couple of hours at the London BookFair, schmoozing, then dinner at Carol and David's, then home to the flat in Lennox Gardens and the news that we topped the IMBA bestseller list. It seems a dream.

However, Karma alert, karma alert. This is not a test.

At the drinks party at the Canada booth at the London BookFair (lots of 'at thes') Teresa my agent kept introducing me to all these very charming women. Most of them European publishers who'd bought the series. So I was busy chatting, as delightful and charming as can be and even tried out my German on the German agent (since Germany is such a HUGE market I thought the extra effort was worth it) when the woman's face changed. I know that look. It's universal. It means: I'm in the presence of almost limitless stupidity. Seems she wasn't German, but Swedish.

She left.

I found her again in the crowd and talked knowledgeably about the strengths of the Swedish literary market, and the very exciting crime writers coming out of Sweden. The two women seemed impressed until, as they left, I noticed their nametags said they were my Finnish publishers.

Seems in one golden hour I might have exploded my entire European writing career. My only comfort was knowing I didn't panic completely and try out my Russian on the Russian publisher.

Adeen haladeelnik. One refridgerator.

Of course, I probably would have said it to the Polish publisher anyway.

Somedays I just shouldn't leave home.

Today was great. Wrote in the morning...not a lot, but I like what I've done. I'm at another turning point, where each sentence needs to justify itself, and each scene must carry a few meanings - and do it with a light touch. We'll see if it's worked, but so far so good.

Must say, I long for two or three weeks with nothing to do but write. No meetings, no visits, no lunches or dinners. Nothing but the computer, Three Pines, and Michael.

But if I can't have that, this is a pretty good second!

Tomorrow busy. TV interview in the morning, lunch with my wonderful US publisher, Andy Martin from Minotaur, then the UK Headline party to celebrate the crime list, at a restuarant called SWAY. Then a late dinner with Michael, Teresa and Patty, my US agent.

Danke, haladeenik sauna to you. And I mean that sincerely.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Happy Birthday, Cheryl!!!

sunny, rainy, cool highs 9

I've frankly never seen weather like this. I'm freezing! How can a Canadian freeze to death in London in April? Baffles me, but I am. Need to put on my long underwear. I think it's the damp, the rain, the hail and the wind. But I might be wrong.

Ah, April. And I was so smug about being in spring while back home in Quebec it was still winter.

Though I have received a few emails from friends saying it's still snowing. That really must stop.

Speaking of home - it's our good friend Cheryl's Birthday today!!!! Happy birthday, Cheryl. She and Gary are married and have two great sons, Evan and Sam. And Joan, another wonderful friend, is Gary's mother and Cheryl's mother-in-law. And people wonder where I get all the inter-relations in Three Pines!

Am the Dear (not Dead) Reader fiction pick for this week. You might want to go over there - I think Googling DearReader will do it - and check it out...they publish 5 days worth of readings, so you get the first few chapter of a book (in my case The Cruelest Month) for free. Get to preview it.

Wrote for most of today. Eva, Erika's cleaning woman came. She speaks no English, only Polish. And I speak no polish, but found myself speaking French to her for some reason that confounded both of us. It obviously didn't help. All I really wanted to do was ask if she minded if we didn't leave, as we normally would. But stayed to write.

After an hour or so, when we didn't leave, she brought out the vacuum cleaner. That had a limited effect. It chased Michael out of the living room and into the dining room where I was working.

Working is a relative term, of course. I'd been very happy with yesterday's writing. Then we went out for a pub lunch on Walton Street, just around the corner, then bought the Sunday papers. When we got home I wrote for another couple of hours. But when I'd finished I wasn't feeling so good. Not physically, but just sort of uncomfortable.

I ignored it for a few hours, but eventually gave in to what I knew to be right. What I'd written was wrong. It wasn't necessarily bad, just wrong. The wrong way to convey the information. I wasn't sure what the right way was, but at least I've come to trust my instincts.

So this morning I re-wrote the whole thing. It was hard - had to back up a few times as well. There seem to be stages like that in my books. Sections where a few things need to be related - and not all verbally. Anway, after stuggling all morning, and trying to ignore the vacumm with the same determination Eva ignored my Frenc, I finally finished. And I like it.

But wow, is it ever hard to go back and erase thousands of words. And start again. Though I must admit, it's getting easier. Perhaps because it's getting easier to trust my feelings.

Busy afternoon. Heading off the London BookFair to meet kim McArthur at the Headline Publishing Booth. Kim's my Canadian publisher and affiliated with the UK Headline. We'll meet the Canadian ambassador there - James Wright and his wife Donna Thomson. then all go to the Canada booth for a party. Kim says I'm a guest of honour, but I'll believe that when I see it. Still, thought I should put on my party frock, and perhaps even remove the long underwear.

Then it's off to Michael's sister Carol's and her husband David, for dinner. A man named Eddie Botterell will be there. Michael and Carol knew him when they were kids. They sailed together and Eddie went on to compete in the olympics - sailing for Canada. He's in London because his grandfather is being honoured. eddie is in his late 70's, and his fgrandfather just died, can you believe it?

He was the last flying ace from the Great War. Died at the age of 106, a couple of years ago. The Brits are honouring him and Eddie Botterell is here to represent the family.

I'm really looking forward to meeting him!

Watched the Masters until 1am last night. How thrilling for Trevor Immelman - though when he put his drive into the water on the 16th I shuddered. Michael and I held hands as though at a horror flick until he was safe.

Must be off. Speak to you tomorrow. Be well.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

On the masters, the marathon, and missing 's'sssss

sunny, rainy, cloudy, hail - you name it.

Had a wonderful day yesterday - stayed up until about 1am watching the Masters. Immelman hanging on - Tiger 5 back. Very exciting. The BBC commentators are a riot talking about a players 'wee wink.' And gently insulting each other. Very funny.

Slept late - something we can never do at home - dogs won't let us.

Wrote for a few hours - decided after much consultation, not to go in the London Marathon, but carbed up, just in case we changed our minds.

The 's' isn't working right on my laptop. It's really old, a war-horse. And I love it. Most the letters have been rubbed off - and now the 's' isn't working. I have to pound it. So it book 5 doesn't have many plurals, or posessives, you'll know why.

Must run. We've decided to go out for lunch, take a break. hope it doesn't hail on us.

Talk tomorrow if not before. Hope this finds you well.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Ste Louise, martyred among the Meringue

rain, hail, cool, highs 10

What a day - bright sun this morning then it suddenly clouded over and there was a thunder storm so sudden and violent it produced hail. Then did it again an hour later. But April's like that. I believe it's sometimes called The Cruellest Month...and sometimes The Cruelest Month.

We're having the most marvelous (or marvellous) day. Like the obsessive that I am I originally was going to write all day...looking ahead the next two weeks are packed with events and getting even busier each time I look at the emails - and I really want to make inroads into the book. We had nothing scheduled for today so I thought, great - I'll write.

But this is Saturday - market day. So after quite a ridiculous inner struggle I finally stumbled upon my good sense (cowering in a corner, comfort eating) and gave it up. I realized that a few months from now I'm never going to remember, or care, whether I finish the book mid-April or mid-May. It'll certainly get done. I won't miss a days writing here or there. But sure would miss a great day in London!

Michael agreed, so off we went for breakfast in the Duke of York Square (surrounded by yelling kids who seemed to break orange juice glasses at will - I'm begining to think it's either the same pack of children, or it's karmic, or both). Then we went to the market, but being so full of eggs and bacon and cafe au lait we simply waddled and looked.

On our way down we'd passed a shop called Baker and Spice. It looked great, so on the way back we stopped in...Dear Lord, it was packed to the rafters with baking. We bought a lemon cake, a cinnamon bun and a large meringue. It has become our church, a blessed place to worship. We plan to visit tomorrow, Sunday, to show our devotion.

Then up to the Brompton Road to buy the Saturday Times and Daily Telegraph. We were back home before the storms, and in time to put in a few hours writing anyway...fueled by cafe au lait and meringue!

Becky, the publicist at Headline, wrote to say I have a TV interview on Wednesday. Got all excited until I realized it was with Borders the store, not Richard and Judy (the UK equivalent of Oprah). But, upon thinking about it ( and re-reading the message more slowly) I realized this was great. The interview is with someone who has actually read the book - quite an advantage - and will be sent out to tens of thousands of subscribers who actually want to read books and aren't just waiting for the interview with Jennifer Lopez. (as I normally am) Becky's email specifically requested I not wear spots. Just wait until she goes through menopause and see how hard it is to not have spots! She said nothing about a moustache, but I might shave it off anyway. I have, by the wait, figured out why we women grow our's so we can saw our way into the ridiculously packaged Midol pills.

And, more terrific news, The Cruelest Month has been chosen by DeadReader to be the Fiction selection for this coming week. This is huge because it goes to tens of thousands of mostly Americans who have subscribed. It's interesting that Suzanne Beecher, who runs DearReader would put it in the fiction section and not the mystery section. She also asked me to be their author forum guest next week. I said yes, of course. But between us? Our computer isn't working all that well for emails, and neither is the BlackBerry, so God knows what will happen. Might be a fiasco. But how could I say no?

If it all goes pear shaped, I'll blame Michael. It's good to have a plan.

Tomorrow is another quiet day - no plans (beyond practicing blaming Michael) - though we want to watch the soccer match and then the final round of the Masters. But will probably be in bed.

Take care and I'll talk to you tomorrow from Our Lady of the Carbs cathedral.

Friday, 11 April 2008

When losing is winning

sunny, highs 12

Do you know what just about our favorite part of being in London is? Sitting in the afternoon reading the newspapers. We get The Times, The Evening Standard and The Daily Telegraph.


It was a quiet day today after much excitement and exertion yesterday. Walked 100 miles (at least) and just had a wonderful birthday day with Michael. Dinner last night was very nice. Walked home. At one stage, closing in on midnight as we strolled through central London from Sloane Square to Lennox Gardens I wondered how foolish that was. Would the News Brief in today's Evening Standard read, 'Canadians Killed by Stupidity'? Or perhaps, 'Numb-skulls Brained'.

Thankfully, like that great Monty Python sketch, nothing at all happened.

Got home in time to call Laura at the bookstore in New Hampshire for the book club chat. We'd prepared for it - taking our new British cell (mobile they call them here) to the Orange store and topping up the credit on it. Plugged it in so there was plenty of juice. Then at 12:15 I called...and the phone refused to work. I tried again and again. Swore at it. Tried again. Spanked it a few times. Even that didn't work. Since I'd run out of sensible things to do I handed it to Michael saying, roughly, 'ah, ah.'

He used his blackberry to call and all went smoothly. It was a real gas to speak to the book club. Really fun questions about character development and where the series might be going. I totally enjoyed it. If you're reading this, Laura, or any other the others there last night - thank you!

Writing going well. Have slowed down - but feel very relaxed and calm and confident. Funny, each stage of this book seems to have a life of its own. I can see the end, I know exactly what I have to do, though the details I leave up to that day's inspiration. I'm enjoying it more, though each morning I still feel a slight tremble, a little frisson of fear. But still, I sit down and go to work.

I've said it before but I think discipline and perseverance are key to writing a book. Creativity helps - but it's far from enough. Huge creativity and little discipline or perseverance will get you nowhere. Those are often the people who have 5 partly finished novels. Which breaks my heart. Each is probably brilliant - but somewhere along the line the writer runs out of steam and instead of digging deep and really working through it, they give up.

But a dash of creativity and huge discipline and perseverance and you're off and running.

I sometimes wonder whether massive natural ability is a curse. It means the person doesn't learn to work hard. I was a terrific athlete as a kid. Didn't have to work - it came naturally. I beat everyone around at tennis, golf, swimming - any sport I turned my hand to. Then one summer I showed up, tennis racket in hand, and lost. do you know why? it wasn't because I got worse. But I failed to get better. I didn't work at it, taking winning as the natural order. So I'd spent the winter relaxing. While the other kids worked their asses off.

And beat me. I can remember standing on the court dumbfounded.

I walked off, pissed-off. Refusing to play anymore. I shudder when I think of that.

But I never forgot it. That summer and those defeats were the best thing that could have happened to me. Now I take nothing for granted. And work my ass off. And know now that when things don't go my way, and I fail, or lose - it wasn't for lack of trying. I might be disappointed, but I have no regrets.

That's important.

And so ends the sermon. You may leave now - single file. And no noise.

Be well and I'll write again tomorrow - we've had more good news (a TV interview) and some other offers.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Happy Birthday Michael!!!!

partly cloudy, mild, highs 13

It's Michael's birthday!!! Thank you to all of you who've already sent birthday wishes - that is SO kind. I know Michael appreciates it, his face lights up. And I know for sure I do. No Michael, no books. Because of his support and his inspiration. His patience. His amazing ability to be happy for me (not every husband would). He's the framework for Gamache. Stronge enough to be vulnerable, brave enough to admit when he's wrong (and I'm right!). He's joyous even though his work was heartbreaking. Wise and funny and kind.

And today's his day.

First thing we headed off to Tom's Kitchen (we're nothing if not predictable) for breakfast. Large cappuccinos and for the birthday boy a full English breakfast which means - wait for it - fried bread, two eggs (yokes almost amber), bacon, sausage, blood sausage, grilled mushrooms, poached tomatoes and baked beans.

That was one happy guy.

Then we walked to Sloane Square to visit his sister Carol and David.

Then onto the 360 bus for the Tate Britain, which is the 'official' museum for great British art (though there are some works by other artists too). We immediately got on the ferry down the Thames and that took us to the Tate Modern, which has been open a few years. WONDERFUL boat trip - past St Pauls and Big Ben and the Parliament. Stunning.

We toured the Tate Modern (exactly as it sounds - houses modern works of art) It was very exciting. As you know, I write a great deal about art, but depend upon Michael and friends to help me. I don't know a lot about it, but I listen very well. And while I'm not necessarily the most rational person, I am intuitive. I think that helps with all art, and perhaps especially modern art.

Michael was just in bliss. He's a true scientist - always marvelling at the world. Wondering, questioning, taking it all in. But he's also a gifted artist himself. So he was thrilled to see so much modern art.

Then back onto the boat, back to the Tate Britain...a cup of tea and shared sandwich - then into the William Blake exhibit.

Then home, via the Boots pharmacy and the Waitrose grocery store on the Kings Road.

A couple hours to relax then we're off back to Carol and David's for a birthday dinner. They've asked another Canadian couple - the Hampsons. Those of you in Canada might know their daughter, Sarah. She does The Hampson Interview in the Globe and Mail.

But need to be home by midnight because I'm doing a call-in to a book club in North Conway, New Hampshire. Actually, it's about 12:30 am - for about 20 minutes.

Long day - and just the MOST fun. Can't tell you how wonderful it is to give a man who gives me so much, one very special day.

Oh, and we woke up to great news - Gary has emerged from our basement and is putting the support beam in our living room at home. Have asked him to also install a conveyor belt to run through the kitchen, into the living room past the fireplace then upstairs to the bathtub...ala 'No' restaurant in Harvey Nichols. Can stock it with pastries. Can you imagine?

Go Gary!

Take care of yourselves and I'll write again tomorrow.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Riding the conveyor belt at Harvey Nics

mainly sunny, highs 13

Wonderful day. Sorry I didn't blog yesterday - pooped. Did a lot of writing including a 'feature' for Shotsmag, a UK based webzine. Mike Ripley writes for them - when he's not in jail.

And I finished the line edits on book 4 (still no title). They're amazing things - this wonderful editor named Nancy literally reads every word, every line and corrects spelling, grammer, and inconsistancies - things like characters eating two breakfasts, or the murderer never actually revealed. Details.

As I did them I realized how much I dislike doing line edits. I love actual editing, but by the time it gets to line edits I've lost interest. Not in the book - honestly, reading book 4, I think it might be the best yet - unless, of course, it's actually crap. But I know that I'm not, by temperment, a detail person. Michael is, thank God. And normally he would do the line edits, but he's writing his own book (selfish, selfish man) so it fell to my tender hands. Some of the sting of it was removed by doing most of the line edits in a new cafe we found on the Kings Road called Paul. It's actually a chain, from France. Heavenly coffee and apparently amazing hot chocolate (chocolat chaud). And tiny little bite-sized baby croissants.

So now the manuscript for book 4 has cafe au lait rings and little butter smears. God, how I suffer. Why do these things always happen to me?

But finished that...and was going to spend all today writing the next book when we had a call around 11 to say the estate agent wanted to show the flat. It's for sale, as you might have guessed. And apparently Michael and I are considered clutter, so we needed to tidy ourselves out of there. We packed up the writing and headed for Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square.

I'm the world's worst shopper. Impatience and very large hips get the better of me. But since I'm doing more and more public appearances, and since it's now clear flannel pajamas just don't do it (until I'm WAY more successful) then a few new outfits are necessary.

To that end I've made an appointment with a personal shopper at the department store Peter Jones. It's for three days before we leave. Tried to make it sooner - like before the tons of parties and events next week - but there weren't any openings. This delay allows me to eat my way into the next dress size.

Speaking of which, from there Michael and I walked up Sloane Street to Harvey Nichols (or Harvey Nics by those in the know) for lunch. One of our favorite places is the restuarant 'No' on the fifth floor of the department store. There's a more formal 'European' restaurant up there, and then there's the 'No' - which is kind of a Japanese cantine. It's basically a moving suchi bar. You sit, it moves. On conveyor belts, around and around. Each offering in a little dish. You just reach over and take it off the conveyor belt. perfect for Some Pigs like us. It's become part of our London tradition, and in fact we had the delight of finding the same sort of set up at a Japanese restuarant last September in Brisbane, Australia.

So Michael and I ate Harvey Nics, then came home. We spent a few hours writing our respective books, and now it's quiet time - drinking diet cokes, eating parsnip crisps (yum!) and reading the Times.

Had lunch the other day with my agent, Teresa Chris. We had the best time. Always do. Yakking away about all sorts of things. She informed me that my garden was out-of-date. Seems no one has David Austen roses anymore - except me. I adore them. Old English style roses - big and blousey and very fragrant.

I have the unfashionable trifecta...or Grand Slam perhaps. Hair, clothing and now, garden.

And....loving it.

Actually, I didn't want to spoil the fun, but my favorite rose in my garden is called a Sweet Briar. Very old variety, and quite rare in Quebec. It's sometimes called the Shakespere rose since he refers to it several times. It smells of young apples. Not the delicate single pink blossoms, but the leaves! After a rain on a hot Quebec day, as the water is evaporating, it fulls our garden with the most heavenly, sweet scent, of apples.

Had the best news from Lise at home. Her husband Delmar had to have an operation and it's over. Not without it's drama's - it is Lise after all - but he's safe and sound back home. And Lise is nursing him. She really is just about the kindest person I know.

Well - this is long. Sorry about that. Wanted to make up for yesterday's silence.

Michael's birthday tomorrow!!!! 74. Have made reservations for breakfast at a restaurant of his choosing, then we're off to the Tate Britain and then taking a boat down the Thames to visit the Tate Modern. Then home in time for a birthday dinner with his sister Carol and brother-in-law David.

A great day in a great city married to a great man.

Be well and we'll speak tomorrow. Thanks for reading this far...

Monday, 7 April 2008

Lady Louise passes judgement

overcast, cool, highs 10

We had a wonderful dinner last night with Alan and Anne Craft. Never met them before but as you know Michael's writing a book on a massive screening for neuroblastoma (a tumor in infants) that he was involved in. It had quite startling results. So he's doing research. How great is life when researching a book means sitting in a terrific Knightsbridge restaurant with two delightful people? He's a paediatrician and former head of the Royal Society of Paediatrics and she's a former head nurse (matron as he kept kidding her) and very involved in hospice care here.

He was also recently knighted - which he explains they give to you after you've collected 273,000 Wheatabix boxtops. He said his elderly mother and her fellow residents at a seniors home helped.

I told them the story of my agent Teresa, who is actually Lady Teresa someone, married to Lord Someone - a hereditary title. For some reason no one finds this quite as extraordinary as I do. I think I'll have to stop telling this story. Can't begin to imagine what Teresa's husband, Charles, had to do for his title. (beyond winning the familial lottery).

I think I was raised in the wrong century and perhaps even the wrong gender. I was raised to believe in chivalry and sacrifice and courtesy. I hold doors open, and say 'thank you' and mean it. I remember my mother impressing on me that a 'real' lady or gentleman makes others feel good about themselves. Makes them feel safe and comfortable. Cared for and about. Not patronizing, but equal.

That made sense to me.

But I'm constantly surprised, especially here in the UK, by how few Lords and Sirs and Ladies I meet who are courteous to others.

Alan and Anne were last night.

Perhaps I need to understand that what my mother meant was the generic 'noble' spirit, not the actual 'nobility'. And perhaps, despite vigorous denials on my part, I really am a product of the colonial mentality, who expects Lords and Ladies to have been brought up with the same appreciation of courtesty as my mother, whose family were butchers in Wolverhampton.

Or - perhaps - I should just worry about my own behavior and let others be who they are.

Now, that sounds noble.

Off to a cafe this morning with Michael. Am taking the edited manuscript for book 4 with me to work on. Nearing the end of that editing. It's an amazing feeling to be promoting book 3 (The Cruelest Month), doing the final line edits on book 4, and writing book 5 (at 85,000 words)

Then meeting Teresa for lunch at Tom's Kitchen on Cale Street.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling overwhelmed, or very pleased with myself, I look at Michael and remember his job. Working with children with cancer. Or I listen to the conversation last night between those two charming men, Michael and Alan. Doesn't diminish what I do, but it sure puts it into perspective.

Be well, and I'll talk to you soon.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Some Pig

overcast, cold, highs 3

Well, we woke up to snow! In London. And I don't mean London, Ontario - and even there it would be surprising! It was forecast but I sure thought it wouldn't happen. Then lying in bed this morning I opened my eyes and through the slit between the blind and the sill I saw it. Huge flakes. Lots of them. And on the slate roof opposite? Snow - staying.

In the front room we could see snow covering the cars and bushes and balancing on the wrought iron fences. At one stage it was a veritable storm. Then sometime around 10 it stopped and by noon it had all melted - but not before neighborhood children went into the garden square, and played in it.

Worked on the book for most of the day. Now feeling much better about it. I know this is a familiar and perhaps necessary part of the creative process. Self-doubt. The struggles. Not a single writer, artist, musician I know doesn't suffer from it now and then. But it sure feels horrible, even knowing 'this too shall pass.'

Well, for now it has passed...yay! Had a lot of fun writing today. This fifth book is a real puzzle for Gamache et al. A classic mystery, with lots of smaller mysteries along the way. Let me throw one in, by way of example. One I had fun with today.

Some pig

What do those two words say to you? They're a small clue - and if you figure out what they mean I'm not giving anything away since you'll lack the context.

Some pig

Such fun, writing. Especially when it's going well. In fact, I'm thinking of calling the book 'Some Pig'. (I put this in just to see if any of my editors read this blog) What do you think? Some Pig by Louise Penny. Or better still - Louise Penny, Some Pig.

Speaking of which at 2:30 this afternoon Michael came into the dining room, where I'd established my writing beach head, and announced it was tea time and he was taking me to Patisserie Valerie. As most of you probably know this sort of decadence revolts me, but I felt I needed to support my husband, so I went.

I'd actually spent the entire day in my flannel pajamas and wondered fleetingly (and longingly) whether I really had to change? Would the people at Patisserie Valerie notice I was still in my pajamas?

Perhaps not, but Michael would. And while he's a man of immense tolerance, this might just test its limits.

So I changed, and off we went. He had a tea and a HUGE wedge of a strawberry cream cake and I had a cappuccino. No cake at all. Perhaps because yesterday I ate the entire flat, including, I think, a sofa. We're in talks with the Japanese to turn Saturday into a movie. Called, perhaps, Some Pig Ate Tokyo.

Back home now. I insisted we come back so I could watch the Grand National steeplechase. Been looking forward to it all day. Though we needn't have rushed...we actually had 364 days to wait. The race was yesterday.

Once again Michael's tolerance put to the test. He got over that jump very easily though, his good humour fueled by cake.

We're off for dinner to a restaurant called Racine with Alan Craft and his wife. We haven't met either before and I'm embarrassed to say we don't know his wife's name. But they probably don't know mine either. At least we know the name of the restaurant.

Then lunch tomorrow with Teresa Chris, my agent. Always a riot.

Will report in after that. Be well.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

second printing and bestseller list!

overcast, cold, light rain, temps 5

Well, heard from my friend Susan McKenzie (she calls herself Kato because she comes and stays in the guest cottage, and just never seems to leave) that it was snowing so hard in Montreal yesterday (Friday) that flights were cancelled. I sent back a smug email - only to hear from Michael a few minutes later that snow is forecast for London this weekend!

Petards everywhere, hoisting away.

Spent today getting back into the book - revising a couple of chapters and feeling yet again that this book is crap. The oddest thing is even as I felt like that I also felt a thrill, that indeed this book was far from crap...a kind of nervous excitement that this was the best book yet. But I still managed to also be very worried. Clearly the Critic has traveled to London with me, probably in the First Class cabin, with lie-flat beds and champagne...all rested and ready for the attack.

What I find strange is that I can feel two contradictory and strong emotions about this book at once. Maybe I'm just nuts. Let's hope.

One sure sign that this book isn't actually all that bad is that even as I tried to revise it I couldn't help just reading it, forgetting to edit, wanting to read more and more.

Had a fun day yesterday. Lunch with Erika, the woman who owns this quite magnificent flat in Knightsbridge, on Lennox Gardens. We popped into her tiny car and she took us at break-neck speed down these tiny side streets until she'd screeched to a stop in front of a small Italian restuarant...I'm sure we were about 100 feet from the flat and could have easily walked, but with the network of windy, one-way streets in London it seemed as though we'd driven to Wales. Food was great...for once I didn't over-order - aware that this was just the first of two extraveganzas.
After lunch Michael and I walked through South Kensington then I hopped on the 14 bus and arrived at Piccadilly for my Afternoon Tea with Sherise, my UK editor. One hour early. Dropped in at one of our favorite galleries - the Royal Academy. Needed to speak to Rachel who is one of the curators of the sculpture department. She helped with Book 4 as you'll see when you read it. Then I was going to go to Hatchards - a wonderful Independent bookstore - but was kidnapped and held against my will by Fortum and Mason. Just fun to wander the aisles and look at the teas and cookies and candies. Bought Michael a couple of birthday gifts - then headed off to tea.
But not before Michael called with fabulous news from the USA. The Cruelest Month has gone into another printing!!!
And Still Life is on the BookSense bestseller's list!!! It's a network of 12-hundred Independent Booksellers across the States! This is a real dream - and bodes well for the series, since the hope is that people will buy the first book, and then want to read the rest.
This doesn't happen out of the blue. It happens because people like you - probably even you - told others and they told others, and before long people are buying the books. I'm just so grateful to you! Makes struggling through the Critic infested waters all worth it!
Had more good news from Sherise. Waterstones, the largest chain in the UK, has taken The Cruellest Month in it's 3 for 2 promotion - which Sherise assures me is huge. And Borders, the second largest UK chain, has decided to make The Cruellest Month a lead title.
I asked Sherise what that meant, and she didn't know, but we agreed to decide it was great news.
Then we ordered more scones and clotted cream.
On my way home I tried to call Michael - no answer. Called and called. Still no answer. I knew he should be home. Got more and more worried. Then frantic. Had visions of him crossing the street, forgetting to look in the right direction and being schmucked by someone like Erika, zooming along. When I arrived home still no Michael and no note. Was just about to totally panic when he arrived back, having spent a relaxing and gentle hour or so in the garden doing a stunning watercolour.
So, successes seem to come and go, but there is one constant - being nuts.
Writing more tomorrow - then Michael and I are having dinner at a restuarant on the Brompton Road with a man Michael's interviewing for his book - a prominent British physician and medical researcher named Sir Alan Craft.
Speak tomorrow. Anyone want a slightly used Critic? Very experienced. Going cheap.

Friday, 4 April 2008

I`ll have the apple and celeriac soup, followed by intolerance, please.

sunny, warm, highs 16

Another lovely day in London. Sun streaming in to the flat. Michael's on the blackberry trying to arrange a meeting with a colleague about the book Michael is writing. Yesterday we had a great time. We walked over to the Kings Road, got a cell phone exclusively for UK use since we're here so often (coming back in June for CrimeFest in Bristol), then off to the Starbucks for a carrot cake, large cappuccino, and a quiet read in the upstairs lounge. Michael had printed out his book and I had the line edits of book 4 and we read through them.

As you can imagine, it was magical. I'm sure there are now more trendy, even more comfortable places than this Starbucks - but it's a place we both so associate with writing. we sat there years ago before STILL LIFE was written, with a carrot cake and large cappuccino. I remember staring out the sash windows at the flower stall opposite, notebook on my lap, imagining Three Pines, and making notes about possible villagers. Immeasurable delight to be back there with the manuscript for my fourth book, and Michael with the manuscript for his first.

Then we decamped and made for Chelsea Green and Cale Street. One of our favorite restaurants is there - Tom's Kitchen. Very bistro, all white tiles and long wooden tables and black and white photos on the walls of the people who raise the food. It's owned by one of London's top chef's, Tom Aitken. He has a Micheline-starred restuarant around the corner which Michael and I later visited, just to look in. The receptionist was so snooty we decided we didn't need to spend time there. But the wait-staff at Tom's Kitchen are wonderful.

It was packed, and noisy. Three mothers and their screaming children were at the long table behind us. The kids were shrieking and pounding spoons on the wooden table and the mothers seemed oblivious.

I was sending looks of loathing toward them, willing them to leave. Really whithering looks learned from my mother, the mistress of that steely gaze. I don't generally do that, not having enjoyed receiving them it seems unkind to do that to someone else. But this was an emergency. And the mothers really could have been more sensitive to MY needs.

Despite my Herculean efforts none of the women looked my way.

I took a break from my job of trying to reduce these women to puddles of cashmere and briefly turned my attention to Michael, who'd been talking for a few minutes now. He said something very funny and I laughed. Then, smile still on my face, I looked up. And caught the eye of one of the mothers.

She looked surprised - and then she smiled back.


I turned back to Michael. The children still shrieking, I tried to hear what he was saying. But the funniest thing had happened. A kind of alchemy. The screaming wasn't annoying anymore.

And I quite liked the mothers - or at least the one who had caught my eye and we'd exchanged a moment of humanity. Humour (albeit unintentional) on my part, and gratitude on hers.

Loathing was replaced by tolerance, even understanding. I hate it when that happens! Very humbling. I was reminded of something Golda Meir said - `A hero is someone who turns an enemy into a friend.`

The rest of the day was very pleasant, and I found no need to slay anyone with well-practice looks or a voice raised just enough for someone to hear the insult.

Today we have lunch with Erika, who owns the flat we`re renting - she seems to know everyone and everything in London, as well as Washington and New York. And I suspect she could have reduced those mothers to tears with a single laser look, instead of my heavy-handed harrumphing. Happily she seems very nice to us.

Then having Afternoon Tea in Piccadilly with my UK editor, Sherise Hobbs of Headline.

I sometimes wonder how I dare be in a bad mood when I look at my life. Mostly, of course, our great good health. And good luck.

Speak to you tomorrow with another postcard from London.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Big Smoke

sunny, mild, highs 16

Wow, we're in london and it really is Spring. Was almost afraid to hope. The trees are in bloom, the daffs are up - heaven. We arrived yesterday morning - British Airways flight changed to Terminal 4 - yay. Easy flight. We changed airlines from Air Canada to BA because BA has a thing called World Traveller Plus. Basically economy class but a slight improvement. A little more leg and bum room. Not trivial on a long flight.

And - after decades of flying AC all over the world they never once upgraded us (never expected it actually) but on our very first BA flight two years ago they upgraded us to business class, which is spectacular on transatlantic flights. Lie-flat beds, individual pods. They had to practically drag us off the plane when we landed.

That didn't happen this time, but we are constantly warmed by the memory.

When we arrived at Heathrow Seamus picked us up. He's a driver we've used before. Always great to have a driver from heathrow.

We rent a flat in Knightsbridge, on Lennox Gardens. Delightful. It's a one bedroom - but unexpectedly large ande bright, and perfectly located. Michael's sister, Carol, and her husband David live just off Sloane Square, so it's an easy walk. And there's a Marks and Spencers very close. We buy all our food there, including fabulous prepared meals - all organic and healthy.

Blew the diet (not even a pretense anymore actually) by doing our traditional Afternoon Tea at Harrods the first afternoon, after a short nap. Bought groceries and bouquets of fresh tulips from street vendors. There are flower stalls all over London. Lovely.

Now it's the next morning - sun pouring in - line edits for Book 4 to read (biked over from the publisher). Will take them to a cafe on the Kings Road.

Before we left for London I had the launch of the Canadian Mystery/History website event at the Redpath Museum in Montreal. That's on the campus of McGill niverstiy and I'd never been there before. It's very impressive. Like a small version of the Natural History Museum in London - with a couple of mummies thrown in.

I was supposed to do a dramatic reading from a very old mystery written about the Redpath murders. But before the event Michael and I had lunch with the Muirheads, friends from Los Angeles. They were staying in our Mtl apartment. Over lunch I was telling them about the event and then I remembered (d'oh) that Oliver is an actor. Very accomplished. Starred in a number of movies - been on lots of sitcoms including Will and Grace, Seinfeld, Friends. So I asked if he'd help. bless him, he agreed.

So the people at the launch (of which there were way more than anyone expected) were treated to me doing the boring bits (He said, she said, ...and then he added, angrily....) and Oliver standing centre stage actually acting out the dialogue. Fantastic!

Life is good. Michael and I have had breakfast (coffee and fruit) and are heading out for a walk - then he'll read his manuscript and I'll read mine - in a city we both adore. Lucky people.

Hope this finds you well, and I'll write again tomorrow.