Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Tate a Tate

overcast, showers, sun, showers, sun temps 12

London, England

Blechy weather - but there's a rain/snow mix in Montreal and Sutton - so we'll take this! Besides, it really hasn't slowed us down. Have been having a blast with our friend Susan, who's over from Montreal and staying in our flat.

Went to the Tate Modern on Monday...a ticketed exhibition, the hot ticket in London - Damien Hirst. Just opened April 4th and everyone's discussing it. His art sells for tens of millions of pounds. And there's a debate raging about whether he's simply a self-promoting poseur, or a great artist. Whether collectors were brilliant to buy his works, or hoodwinked.

to be honest, I'm not the one to judge. I suspect just asking the questions almost certainly makes him an artist. And yet, Michael and I visited the Saachi Gallery on Duke of York Square and walked out, feeling the surely someone was trying to 'have a laugh' at a gullible public's expense. But I guess even that's art. It's all art. The question is - is it great art? Or even good art.

We'd heard so much about the Damien Hirst, his pickled animals, his diamond encrusted skull, his polka dots - it was hard to imagine we'd like it. But we did! Not all. We turned away from the animals - but there was a great deal else to provoke our imaginations and thoughts. Including a butterfly room, where the cocoons are attached to canvasses. The butterflies emerge, and the art literally comes alive. And then we become part of the art by being in the room with the butterflies. It's strangely moving.

We were surprised to have actually liked it. Or at least, to appreciate that a striving mind was at work.

Lots of striving to get there though. The underground had an accident, so the train stopped - and we all got off. Then we got on the wrong bus. Then we had to follow a very nice older couple, who guided us around St Paul's Cathedral. We were hoping to get to the Tate Britain(the original gallery, which houses the classics) and from there take the boat to the Tate Modern (which houses the modern art, and where the Hirst exhibition was). But we ended up across the river from the Tate Modern, and got to walk across the Millenium Bridge. Very beautiful. We saw the Hirst, then grabbed the boat back to the Tate Britain. You can see the photo of Susan and Michael in the front seats....and the Parliament buildings off to the right. And the rain everywhere.

At Tate Britain we saw some of the permanent collection, then had the most wonderful lunch in the formal restaurant. Yum!

Lots of fun running around London. Breakfast today at the Wolseley - again! Then shopping with Susan on Oxford street - then lunch with Teresa my agent at a tiny Thai restaurant in South Kensington. Have you ever had Thai ice coffee? Dear God - I could have drunk ten. And then exploded. Why did no one tell me about these before? Probably for fear of what I'd do with such dangerous knowledge. Forget the apple, I bet it was a Thai Ice Coffee the serpent used for temptation. I'd be a goner.

Tomorrow we're off to Portobello Road....would have liked to go on a Saturday, but Susan leaves Friday, and we wanted to take it in. The most magnificent Deborah Crombie send us her personal guided tour of the area....including insight into where Duncan and Gemma's home can be found (they're her fictional detectives in her fabulous crime series set in Notting Hill etc) Here's what she suggested:

The arcades and the street stalls (including Steve's) are only open on Saturday. But the fruit and veg and flower stalls down towards the bottom of the road are open every day, as are some shops and many restaurants and cafes. And I love looking down the winding street when it's crowd-free--you could almost be in a Mediterranean village, with all the multi-colored stucco.

For pub food and atmosphere, I love The Sun in Splendour right at the top of Portobello Road.

Kitchen and Pantry at the corner of Elgin Crescent and Kensington Park Road is fun for a coffee and a pastry and watching the celebs and yummy mummies of Notting Hill come and go (Duncan and Charlotte spend a lot of time there in the WIP.) Mr. Christian's Deli on Elgin Crescent is wonderful. As is Books for Cooks, on Blenheim Crescent--maybe the best cookbook shop in the world. Sadly, Otto's Cafe is entirely fictional...

As for the shops that stay open during the week, I love the antique sporting goods shop just north of Chepstow Villas (this is where the market part of Portobello Road really begins.) And just past that, Alice's Antiques is one of the most famous and most

Lots of other stuff, if you have a chance to look up Portobello restaurants, etc, and see what appeals.

Also, if you go west on Notting Hill Gate until it turns into Holland Park Road, there's Giraffe, and a lovely Daunt's bookshop, and if you want a really proper meal, The Mitre is lovely.

Duncan and Gemma's fictional house is at the intersection of Lansdowne Road and St. John's Gardens. The fictional house is not exactly like the real one, but if you go there, you'll be able to guess which one it is.

So, for any of you hoping/planning a trip to London and Notting Hill - there's the perfect Deborah Crombie/Duncan/Gemma tour!

Writing is going well - finally. Struggled a lot with a certain chapter...then I realized I'd started it in the wrong place. They need to talk about something else first - then segue into what I already had. That thought came to me in the middle of a sleepless night. I got up in the morning and wrote the whole chapter. When it's right, it just declares itself in every way.

Took a couple of days away from writing to play in London with Michael and Susan - but happily back to the story tomorrow. In fact, it was Susan's friend Martin who coined the 'Tate a Tate' phrase. Wish I'd thought of it!

Hope you're doing well! Hope you brought an umbrella - we need it!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Beautiful Mystery

rain, sun, storm, sun - this is becoming our typical April day here in London - temps 15

But we still love it!

And - guess what came in today's mail? I'll give you a hint - it's the Advance Reader's Copy of THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY!

I was writing when it arrived, then Michael and I had a lunch with Carol and David, so I shoved it into my purse (really more of a storage container) and off we went. Took it down Sloane Street, around Sloane Square, past Peter Jones, through the Duke of York Square - and into David and Carol's flat. I couldn't stand to be parted from it.

You can see by the demented photo of me, clutching it, that I'm pretty happy. (by the way, at the very end of the road, you can just see Harrod's. The photo was taken on Basil Street - where we have 'our' flat)

It is so thrilling to hold a new book. Feels like a completely different creature than the manuscript. And Minotaur Books have done a great job with the cover. I honestly can hardly wait for you to have it in your hands! Just don't try ripping it out of mine.

some of you have already won the advance copies (having entered the newsletter contests) - but My Assistant Lise won't be mailing them out until I return mid-May, because I'd like to sign them first. And we'll be giving our more advance copies in the May, June and July newsletters!

Now, I say I was writing when the mail arrived with the ARC, and that's true - but I stopped, tore open the envelope and hugged the book to me. Then I made a mistake. I sat down at the kitchen table, where I'm writing, and flipped through it. Then started reading the Prologue....and got caught up. Such an amazing feeling to become absorbed in a book I wrote, as though I didn't know what would happen next.

Then went back to writing the next book. But I think my mind was still on the excitement of THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY arriving, because, truth to tell, I didn't really get that much work done. But, what the Hell - doens't happen often that a new book arrives, and I get to hold it for the first time. Fun to bring it out at Carol and David's and celebrate with them and Michael.


The other thing I wanted to mention is that this Friday evening, in Montreal, there'll be a special production as part of the literary festival, Blue Met. This year's theme is Crime Fiction, and they asked me to be one of the main guests, but I had to decline since I was going to be here in London. then they asked if Marianne Ackerman - a wonderful writer and playwright - could perhaps dramatize part of my work. I said yes. Such a fan of her writing.

And - she hit on something I think is brilliant. In an interview I'd said that I thought my works owe quite a bit to Hitchcock - that his films weren't bloody, but they were terrifying...because of what wasn't shown, only suggested. The power of the closed door. Why show blood and gore, when a reader's (or viewer's) imagination is so much more powerful that anything I could describe?

So she wrote a short play where Hitchcock talks about the books - and then has a conversation with Chief Inspector Gamache.

If you're anywhere close to Montreal, here's the link for information. It's at the Opus Hotel, at 7pm.


Hope you're having a terrific day....my pink eye has gone. It's possible both Dr. Michael and Dr. Louise were wrong and it was simply a small infection. I felt, for a while, as though I had some tiny member of the French Resistance inside me, stealthily moving from site to site, bombing. My throat, my chest, my eye. Then moving on. Happily the war has ended. Peace reigns.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Rose coloured glasses

Mainly sunny - for now! temps 15

Before I prattle on, I wanted to mention that My Assistant Lise (who really should be promoted to My Wonderful Assistant Lise) gave me a great suggestion...As you might see, I'm not blogging as much as I used to - just no time....but I do post on Facebook everyday. Now, I realize many of you don't want to know about Facebook, and you sure don't want to join. I totally understand...but there is another way to see my daily posts, if you're interested. Lise pointed out that all you have to do is go to my website www.louisepenny.com go to the contact and links page - and there you'll find the facebook posts every day. You don't need to join or do anything.

Just if you're interested.... Thanks for the suggestions, Lise!!!

Well, they do say April showers for a reason....and god knows the UK could use rain....there's what's called a 'hosepipe' order in effect. No one's allowed to water their gardens or wash their cars. Happily, it's been raining every day. Not for long, but violent outbursts. Hail and thunder sometimes. Yesterday we were having lunch outside (at Laduree - part of Harrods) when the skies opened. We were under unbrellas, but were still getting it.

By the way, we went to laduree because someone mentioned it on a post here....we'd walked by the sidewalk cafe a hundred times without noticing - but this time we stopped and are we ever glad we did (rain not withstanding). We had a small omelet and fries for lunch. Excellent. And plan to return for breakfast one day.

Michael celebrated his 78th birthday on Tuesday! We went for lunch with his sister Carol and her husband David. Had a marvelous lunch out. David drove us through London, which is an exercise in magic. Physics doesn't seem to apply here. Streets that are only wide enough for a slender cat seem to accommodate two way traffic. The cars hurtle at each other and manage to pass. I never see it, since my hand is over my face. Most of the great sights of London I have seen through splayed fingers.

It was such fun. though, to celebrate Michael's birthday with the family.

We've fallen into a comfortable rhythm here. I write in the morning, about 1,000 words, then we have lunch out most days and go for a walk - pick up the papers and are home by 4pm. Make a cup of tea and we read.

It's so interesting here - the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is on Sunday (between saturday night and early sunday morning) and the TV, radio and papers are filled with retrospectives. It's absolutely chilling to be reminded, minute by minute, of what happened. And, with the perspective of distance and time, to have perhaps more clarity on what happened. Not so clouded by emotions and people either pointing fingers or trying to protect reputations.

But mostly, of course, it's the stories of the individuals, and their actions that night. We're riveted.

I'd been fighting off a cold or something that seemed to come and go. Sore throat seemed a constant. Now it seems to have settled into conjunctivitis. Pink eye. Very embarrassing. It will apparently go away on its own, but is highly contagious. And with Michael's bad eyes I sure don't want to give it to him. So, plenty of hand washing, and trying not to touch my very pink eye. It's also meant canceling weekend plans. We were supposed to travel to Kent to visit a friend tomorrow. Canceled. And Ann Cleeves and I were to have afternoon tea on Sunday. I'll have to cancel that too. Unless she had tea and I sat on the sidewalk outside....and wrote notes to each other. Very Victorian. Starring Louise Penny as 'The Waif'. Though I'd be hard pressed to pass as a waif, I'll tell you. Especially now that we've discovered Laduree.

Am hoping for lots of sun, so I can wear dark glasses and pass as a non-pink eye human.

As you see, no photos accompany this post!

Hope you're well - healthy and happy. I saw reports of tornadoes in Dallas!!! My God - how upsetting. Relieved to hear my good friend Deborah Crombie was OK. (Hi Debs! - miss you here!!!)

Hope you're enjoying London - and thank heaven conjunctivitis (as I prefer to call it - Michael seems to enjoy calling it pink eye) can't be transmitted over the internet....that we know of...

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Happy Easter/Passover

overcast, temps 14

Threatening some showers today in London, but so far nothing. We had a lovely Good Friday. As I've said, I've realized I'm most relaxed and happy when I've written in the morning - about a thousand words - and that gives Michael and me lunch and the afternoon in London.

Yesterday I thought we might just have a quiet day in the flat. One of the great pleasures of having a whole month or more here is that we don't feel we need to rush around. We can find a nice, gentle rhythm to our days. We've also spent so much time here, it really does feel like another home.

I've also discovered something surprising about myself. I'd always harboured the belief that, given a chance, I was at my core an adventurous free spirit. But guess what? I'm not. Indeed, I'm the opposite. Most of my energies, such as they are, are bent toward pushing through anything adventurous and landing on the comfortable and familiar.

This isn't to say I never want to leave home. I actually like traveling....though I adore being home. But I will never, ever be the one who signs up to go camping in Butan. Or rafting down the Colorado. Or hiking....anywhere. Though, come to think of it, I do like walking. I could see myself on a nice walking tour through the countryside - as long as each day was bracketed by fabulous Inns, with great food and a spa.

that's as 'roughing it' as I want to get.

I like finding a local restaurant, and returning there. I love the familiarity, a sense of belonging. I like knowing the owner's name, and what the daily special on Tuesday will be. My idea of adventure is to order something different off the same menu.

I think that's why Michael and I rent flats or cottages or apartment wherever we are. So we can unpack, relax, and live like a local. Not because we're bohemian, but because we love the familiar. We're so lucky to have each other. No many people would find traveling with us very interesting. But it suits us.

Yesterday we left the flat in search of any newspapers that might be published on Good Friday. It turned out to be a beautiful day - sunny (we knew that) and mild (which we didn't realize). Perfect for walking through London. Now, in this part of London, you don't stroll. too hectic, too many people (and prams) on the sidewalk. You weave in and out and around. But it's fun and invigorating.

We went off to Harrods, just to look at the amazing food course. Room after room of delicacies. Michael got a Bento box of fresh sushi to bring back to the flat for lunch. I was sort of overwhelmed by the choice, and ended up not getting anything. But wow, I just love looking. Food from all over the world. And small 'bars' set up in the corners of the rooms, serving some speciality - like the Oyster Bar.

And, it being Easter, there were wonderful displays of traditional Easter food - chocolates, and these eggs you see in the photograph. Real eggs - not chocolate or hard boiled - but dyed. I thought if we had children or grandchildren, it would be magnificent. So cheerful. And so British.

Then we walked along the Brompton road to Marks and Spencer's and picked up some newspapers - then took back streets home, where we could stroll and marvel at the buildings. One of the great things about London is that there are very few skyscrapers. Or even tall buildings. Most are five or six stories at most. Apparently Queen Victoria complained when builders started putting up tall buildings - so rules came in....and are still imposed in many areas of london. With some notable exceptions. The tallest building in Europe is just being completed in London....known as The Shard, it stands close to another remarkable modern London building called The Gerkin.

But for the most part, London is bright and airy, with lots of parks and sunshine...and mad traffic!

We're having Easter Lunch tomorrow at the Captial Hotel, just down the street. A place we've been to before - of course.

time to hop in a shower then out into the city. Hope you're enjoying your long weekend of Easter and Passover.

Monday, 2 April 2012


sunny, mild, temps 14

The very hot spell seems to be over, but it is still lovely and mild. Trees are just beginning to move from bud to leaf. That really wondrous few days when there seems a cloud of bright green around each tree.

We've moved from the cotswolds into London - renting a flat on Basil Street, between Harrods and Harvey Nichols...a shoppers paradise. But since I'm not much of a shopper, it is also a foodie paradise. The photos you see are from yesterday. I wrote in the morning, trying to get back into the story...It's really a matter of submerging again into the world. Seeing and feeling it. When that happens, it's more like transcribing than writing. Absolute bliss. But having been out of it for a week, it does take some fighting to get back....like hitting a soft wall, over and over, trying to break through to the other side.

All this to say, I spent Saturday, Sunday and this morning writing. Some great periods and some pretty difficult ones, when I felt I was just meandering around Three Pines, trying to find the plot! Happily, it's a fun place to just wander....and my books really do come together in the second and third and fourth drafts. I keep telling myself not to worry....that long passage I wrote about Eggs Benedict probably won't make the final cut - but just savour the breakfast and move on.

So - did that yesterday, then Michael and I headed out. Walked to Walton Street and stopped for lunch at Scalini's - one of our favorite italian restaurants in the world. It was bedlam...it being sunday there were loads of families...but lots of fun and life - and great food. I had the chef's special spaghetti - simple sauteed vegetables with a tomato sauce. Michael had spaghetti and lobster.

Then we walked to Chelsea green, and back up to the old brompton road....that photo with the gray church is of the Brompton Oratory....a block or so behind it is Hyde Park. From there we headed to the right. The other photo is of Harrods. You can see how empty the streets were yesterday. Not sure I'd ever seen London so quiet. I guess people took off to the country.

We picked up some pastries and sunday papers and headed home for tea and a read.

Finished writing for today - off to Harrods to check out afternoon tea.

Tomorrow we have breakfast at the Wolseley Hotel, then run across Picadilly to the Royal Academy where we have tickets for the David Hockney show. Then I'm having lunch with my literary agent, Teresa Chris. She's made reservations at Kensington Garden Hotel - which apparently has a spectacular view over the gardens and to Kensington Palace.

Dinner tomorrow night with Michael's sister Carol and her husband David, who live in London.

Wednesday I'm having lunch with Dan Mallory, my UK editor at Little, Brown/Sphere.

It's a good thing we do so much walking here - you can't imagine the food intake! Well, off we go again....