Saturday, June 24, 2006

It is not often that an author has a book nominated for two prestigious awards at the same time - and then has to decline both before the winner is even announced.

That's what happened to me this month.

A month which began with my appearance, in Paris, at the annual announcement by Elle magazine of the winner of its Grand Prix - a literary prize awarded by eight juries of the magazine's famously discriminating readers. I was there because the first of my China series, "The Firemaker", had been shortlisted for the prize in its French incarnation of "Meurtes à Pékin". It didn't win, but just to have been nominated was a tremendous honour.

A month which saw me zig-zagging across France from book festival to book festival; attending the Paris launch of "L'éventreur de Pékin" ("Chinese Whispers) by the biggest French bookclub, France Loisirs; speaking on panels; performing radio interviews; reading from my book to the accompaniment of a tenor sax; and signing hundreds of copies of "Le Quatrième Sacrifice", the second in the series. All, of course, in French - which I have been studying hard to try to improve.

A month which approaches its conclusion at the end of a gruelling week-long writing course - one of two which La Patronne and I hold every year at the Hotel Victor Hugo in St. Céré, near where we live. It went quickly and well, due in large part to the fine bunch of students who descended on us from all parts of the world for this first of the two courses.

The thousands of kilometers travelled in blistering heat did, however, have some compensations. Like sharing a stand at the Frontignan Polar Noir book festival on the Mediterranean with such luminaries of the crime-writing genre as Elmore Leonard and Larry Beinhart - a couple of seriously nice people. Or sneaking away from signing duties to share a beer or three in a gloomy bar with English crime-writers Graham Hurley, Maxim Jakubowski and Mark Billingham - all of us glued to a giant TV screen as the English soccer side stumbled its way to an early victory at the World Cup in Germany.

There are not, unfortunately, many compensations for striking yourself off the list of nominees for two of the best-known prizes given in the United States to books in the mystery genre - the Barry Awards and the Macavity Awards. But, sadly, that is what I had to do.

"The Firemaker" was nominated for both awards in the category of Best First Novel published in the US in 2005. It WAS the first book I had written since quitting television in the nineties, and it WAS the first book published in the States in fifteen years. But I had previously written four other books, and two of them had been published in America. So my initial euphoria at being nominated for both a Barry and a Macavity was very quick snuffed out. There was no getting away from it. I didn't qualify, and I had to fess up. And so I e-mailed the award organisers to (very reluctantly) rule myself out.

If there were any compensations, they came in the form of the righteous, if regretful, satisfaction I took from knowing I had done the right thing. Then there were the kind words of Macavity organiser, Janet Rudolph, who apologised for the mix-up and consoled me with the comment, "great book, though". And my agent in London, who said, "Still, everyone thinks it's a bloody good book."

Ah, well, onwards and upwards. The proofs of my new book, "Extraordinary People", arrived this week. Published by Poisoned Pen Press, it will be released in the US and the UK at the end of November. Advance reading copies (ARCs) have already provoked enthusiastic responses. "Wonderful," was how one bookseller described it. "I found it hard to put down," said another. Let's hope everyone else feels the same way.

And it would be nice if it were to win future nominations - perhaps in the category of Best Eleventh Novel!

Onstage during a televised debate at Saint-Malo, France

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I'm taking a quiet moment to reflect on a turbulent few months. The first of my China Thrillers, published in France as "Meurtres à Pékin", has really taken off.

Selected by the readers of the French magazine "Elle" for their annual Grand Prix, it is this month's (April) Crime Book of the Month. Seven other titles are in the running for the Grand Prix, and the winner will be announced in May. I don't really expect to win it, but just to be selected is a huge honour. It has meant that the book is getting front-of-house promotion in Virgin Megastores throughout France - which can't hurt sales.

I am now receiving invitations from all over the country to appear at Book Fairs and Festivals. One weekend I'm at St. Malo on the English Channel, the next weekend I'm at Frontignan on the Mediterranean. I have a meeting with my readers at FNAC in Toulouse, a jazz dinner organised by a bookstore in Figeac, a signing in Marseilles... I wonder when I'm going to find the time to write.

The Salon du Livres in Paris - the biggest book fair in the country - took place in the middle of March. I was signing on my publisher's stand for two days, and also made a public appearance as part of a forum of four writers being questioned by a journalist - ALL IN FRENCH!!

The second in the China Series has also just been published here - "Le Quatrième Sacrifice" - and at the beginning of June the sixth in the series, "L'Eventreur de Pékin" will be published by the biggest book club in France, France Loisirs. They have four million subscribers! I met two of their editors in Paris - attractive young ladies who wined and dined me in a classy restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. Life could be worse!!

During a month spent in California, in February, my New York publisher St. Martin's Press confirmed that they will take books two and three in the China Series. "The Fourth Sacrifice" will come out in the States on January 7th, 2007, with "The Killing Room" following shortly after.

During my California sojourn another US publisher - Poisoned Pen Press - snapped up the first book in a new series, set here in France. Working with editor/publisher Barbara Peters has been an absolute joy. The first book, "Extraordinary People" will be published in the US and the UK in November, 2006. I have been commissioned to write the second book in the series, and have just returned from a research trip to the undiscovered wine region of Gaillac - about two hours south of where I live.

Having to research wine for a crime thriller is one of life's great bonuses. I hope to have sobered up by next week.

By way of a footnote: when I returned from Gaillac, it was to find an e-mail from my pal, artist Gilbert Raffin, enclosing photographs he took of "Le Quatrième Sacrifice" in the window of one of the most influential bookstores in Paris. By coincidence, right next to it, was a book by a Chinese crime writer called Qiu Xiaolong, whom I met at Bouchercon in Chicago last September.

A double coincidence, really, since Gilbert sent me a photograph of the same window a few months ago, when "Meurtres à Pekin" was prominently displayed - right beside a book written by my old friend, the Chinese crime writer He Jiahong, who lives in Beijing.

It seems I can't help bumping into old friends in shop windows!