I know, I know, it’s been much too long.
I spent January and most of February moping (doesn’t everyone?), had an amazing week in Cairo at the invitation of the British Council, blogged for a week for Penguin, then started work on There is No Dog again during February halfterm. Interspersed with more jumping lessons. Horses, in my case, though this is a lot funnier.
In the meantime, I’m unable to keep up with my reading, or to clear the bills and the paperwork off my desk, or to fold up all the clothes slung over the chair in the bedroom – all of which fills me with melancholy. But now we’ve got actual daffodils blooming in the garden (another long neglected chore, the garden) so perhaps I’m coming back to life too.
The Cairo book fair was the main excitement post-Christmas — five days in the company of Anthony Horowitz and David Almond, with appearances by the Archbishop of Canterbury (in all his ‘bling’ as someone wonderfully put it), Dominic Asquith (UK Ambassador to Egypt), Mrs Mubarak (wife of President Mubarak, speaking on the subject of reading and education), Margaret Drabble (encountered in a lift), three beautifully articulate young Egyptian bloggers-turned-writers, and a variety of clinically insane taxi drivers. The traffic in Cairo, for anyone lucky enough not to have driven in it, is part roller derby, part bumper car, part suicide mission.
Anthony Horowitz and I, mutually prepared not to get on at all, emerged from a Falluca ride on the Nile the best of friends. Anthony’s natural ability to bargain impressed me hugely, so much so that I nervously slipped our boatman an extra fistful of cash. David Almond was the perfect companion with whom to crawl up into the deep dark centre of the Great Pyramid and almost have a panic attack.
As part of the festival, I met three young Egyptian writers: Rehab Bassam, Ghada Abdel Aal and Ghada Mohamed Mahmoud. Ghada Abdel Aal wrote a blog called “wanna-b-a-bride”, which she has since changed to “don’t-wanna-b-a-bride”, about the trials of sitting in her front room entertaining suitors. Her writing has obviously hit a nerve, as have the other two bloggers-turned-novelists, hugely successful in chronicling the “ordinary” life of modern women.
I doubt that my books will ever be published in Egypt (adolescence, as a concept, barely seems to exist), but I spoke about censorship and taboos, and fielded comments through my Arabic translator. In any case, it was an extraordinary learning experience and I am very grateful to have been invited. (Remember the name Rachel Stevens, who organized the festival for the British Council, and will no doubt be running the country someday.)
A few nights ago I joined Morris Gleitzman, Tony McGowan, Elizabeth Laird and Patrick Ness for an LSE Book Festival forum on Creative Writing about Social Reality. It made me consider that I’ve had a good deal of Social Reality this month. Possibly too much for someone who needs to get down to work. But it was great to meet Morris, who’s something of a hero of mine; Tony M stymied us all somewhat with evidence that he did indeed have a PhD in Philosophy; and the ten writers who won the LSE short story contest accepted their prizes with as much enthusiasm as teenagers can muster.
It’s been a good month for reading. Some of the best were: Siobhan Dowd’s Solace of the Road (with this, her very last book, I missed her more than ever), Nicholas Clee’s biography of the great racehorse Eclipse, and Sally Gardner’s fantastic new novel, The Silver Blade. I felt cross that neither Sally Hawkins (for Happy Go Lucky) nor Kristen Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long) was nominated for an Oscar. The Class is definitely worth seeing. And that’s all for now.