Win a Carlos Ruiz Zafon prize pack

Seeing Carlos Ruiz Zafon at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival at the weekend is the highlight of my year.  Carlos is the author of my favourite book, The Shadow of the Wind, as well as many other amazing books.  He has written books for both adults and teens, including his latest YA book, The Watcher in the Shadows.

I have a special prize to give away to one Carlos Ruiz Zafon fan – a signed copy of The Prisoner of Heaven and an unsigned copy of The Watcher in the Shadows.  To get in the draw just enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Monday 27 May (international).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Laraine.

Meeting my literary heroes at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival

When the programme for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival was announced I got quite excited.  There were not one, but two of my favourite authors and literary heroes coming to Auckland – Patrick Ness and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I was barely able to control my excitement when I went to their sessions, but I sat in the audience captivated by them and learnt a lot about their writing and their books.  Like all author groupies I was one of the first in line afterwards to get my books signed and thank them profusely for coming all the way to New Zealand.

For those who are interested here’s a taster of what Patrick and Carlos discussed in their sessions.

An Hour with Patrick Ness

Patrick started with a reading from his latest adult book, The Crane Wife (I loved this book and highly recommend it if you’re looking for a magical and eerie adult book).  When it comes to stories, Patrick says that ‘ideas attract other ideas,’ and The Crane Wife came from several ideas.  It’s partly a retelling of the Japanese myth, there are some autobiographical details, and there is a big theme of stories and storytelling.  The main character in The Crane Wife, George, is a ‘kind’ man, and Patrick also wanted to look at what happens to the kind man when he’s lonely.  He wanted to write a compelling ‘good’ character, so he had to figure out what would make George greedy.  Apparently Amanda, George’s daughter in the book, is the closest character to Patrick.  She has a habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time and is terrible in social situations, which Patrick says he can certainly relate to.

Patrick often has theme songs to his books.  One of his favourite bands, The Decemberists, wrote a song called The Crane Wife 1 and 2, which Patrick feels captures the mood of his book perfectly.  Here are some of his other theme songs:

  • Early One Morning by Jim Moray and Map of the Problematique by Muse – The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel – A Monster Calls
  • More Than This by Peter Gabriel – More Than This (his new YA novel coming in September)

I had to listen to these as soon as I got home and I can really see how these fit with the tone and mood of Patrick’s stories.

Patrick said that he is ‘never afraid to leave the reader wanting more’ and that is one of the things I love about his books, especially the Chaos Walking Trilogy.

I didn’t think I could like Patrick even more than I already did, but one of his answers to an audience question proved me wrong – ‘Books don’t need to do anything. They just need to tell stories.’  I know I don’t go looking for a particular meaning in the books I read, I just read them because they’re good stories.

An Hour with Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I never thought I would get the chance to hear Carlos Ruiz Zafon speak and meet him in person so this session was a highlight of my life.

Carlos always wanted to tell the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle in four books.  He wanted to create a labyrinth that could be entered through any door, and your perception would be different depending on which story you started with.  You could then read the cycle years later and re-enter the labyrinth again in a different direction.  When Carlos said that the labyrinth will twist in the fourth book I got this overwhelming sense of excitement and had this huge grin on my face.  If I loved the first three books so much I have no idea how amazing the fourth and final one will be!

When Carlos told the audience about his writing process there was a collective gasp.  Many authors have sticky notes and flow charts but anything that Carlos can’t hold in his head is dropped.  If this happens it’s usually not a good idea anyway.  He never saves drafts or materials after he’s finished a story.  He believes that it’s his homework and people shouldn’t read it.  There is no paper or digital trail of his work after he has finished a story.

Carlos doesn’t believe that it is his job as a writer to tell people what they should think.  He uses his skills in setting the stage, writing lines, applying makeup and putting on the costumes, and he takes the reader ‘into the theatre of their mind.’ He also uses dramatic devices to incorporate his research and morals into his stories and he believes the reader will decode these subconsciously.

All of Carlos’ stories are set in the past and he explained that this is because it ‘allows the storyteller to objectify elements.’  He can remove noise (cellphones, the internet) by setting a story in the past.  Carlos has always had a personal fascination with the time period after the industrial revolution, as ‘human beings had been in the dark for so long and they finally had a chance to get things right.’

I’m a huge fan of Carlos’ Young Adult novels and I was glad that he talked about these.  He said that these books (Prince of Mist, The Midnight Palace, The Watcher in the Shadows, and the soon to be published Marina) were an experiment.  Carlos didn’t feel that he had much to offer the YA genre, that he was just entertaining the teenagers, but he hoped that through writing these stories he was communicating the pleasure of reading to them.  He obviously had something right as they have sold millions of copies, both in Spain and the rest of the world.

Carlos finished by saying that his Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle is ultimately about ‘language, books and storytelling,’ and that he ‘writes for people who love to read.’  I certainly hope that he continues to write for many, many years.

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is one of those authors whose books I will always read, no matter what they’re about.  I’ve read everything that he’s written (that has been translated into English) and have loved every single one.  I’m indebted to Text Publishing who introduced me to Carlos Ruiz Zafon when they published the first of his books translated into English, The Shadow of the Wind.  It’s my absolute favourite book and I still remember how I felt when I first read it.  Whenever I read one of his books I find I get completely wrapped up in the story and can think about little else.  Carlos’ latest book from Text is his third book for younger readers, The Watcher in the Shadows.

A mysterious toymaker, Lazarus, lives as a recluse in a crumbling mansion by the sea, surrounded by the mechanical beings he has created. Strange lights seem to shine through the mists that envelop the small island where the old lighthouse stands, and somewhere in the woods nearby lurks a shadowy creature.

When her mother takes a job as a housekeeper for the toymaker, fourteen-year-old Irene meets Hannah and her alluring sailor cousin Ismael, and what seems like a dream summer begins. But Lazarus’s house contains dark secrets and before long Irene and Ismael find themselves entwined in the mystery of the September lights.

The Watcher in the Shadows is my favourite of Carlos’ novels for younger readers.  It’s a Young Adult book but adults will love it too, especially if you’re a fan of Carlos’ writing.  As soon as I started reading I found myself wrapped up in this magical, mysterious and dark story.  Carlos’ wonderful descriptive language transports you to the mysterious setting of the story, with the dilapidated mansion and the light house at its center.

Like the characters in the book, you slowly put together the pieces of the puzzle as the story progresses.  The more you find out the faster you want to gobble up the story.  It’s the sort of book you want to read all in one go because it’s so difficult to stop.  Carlos is a master of mystery and suspense and I just love the way he pulls everything together.  He certainly leaves me in awe at his amazing storytelling.

One of the things I love the most about his books, and this one especially, is the way that he layers the story.  There are stories within the main story.  Characters in his books often tell stories to other characters to give you pieces of the puzzle.  In The Watcher in the Shadows the toymaker, Lazarus, tells stories to Simone and her son Dorian about his childhood, and Irene uncovers the story of Alma Matisse through reading her diary.

The Watcher in the Shadows is deliciously dark and spooky.  There were several parts that made a shiver go down my spine.  The story is all about this shadowy creature, the ‘watcher in the shadows,’ but there are plenty of other creepy things in the story, including a crumbling mansion filled with strange mechanical beings, that has many dark corridors and secret passages.

Like his other stories, I’m sure The Watcher in the Shadows will stick with me and I won’t be able to stop thinking about it for a long time.

I’m incredibly excited to be meeting Carlos Ruiz Zafon at the Auckland Writer’s Festival this weekend.  I hope that I’ll be able to say more than ‘I love your books’ to him and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say about his writing and his wonderful books.  I never thought I’d get the chance to meet him (as he’s a Spanish author) so this is a dream come true for me.

The Watcher in the Shadows book trailer

The Watcher in the Shadows is the latest Young Adult book from one of my favourite authors, Carlos Ruiz Zafon. His books are eerie, atmospheric and mysterious and The Watcher in the Shadows has hooked me in after only a few pages.  It’s out now from Text Publishing.

I’m very excited to be going up for the Auckland Writer’s Festival on Saturday to hear Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I’m really looking forward to hearing all about his books and getting some of my favourite books signed.

What books hold a special place in your heart?

I read a lot of books.  Some of them I forget about almost straight away, but others stick with me long after I’ve turned the last page.  There are only a handful, however, that have a lasting effect on me and hold a special place in my heart.

Some books feel as if they’ve been written just for you, like my favourite children’s book, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  As soon as I started reading it I knew that I would love it, and the more I read it, the more I felt like Cornelia had written it just for me.  She felt exactly the same about books and stories as I did and it was like she had put the thoughts and feelings inside my head down on paper.  I can’t tell you what I was doing or where I was at the time I first read it because I was completely caught up in the story and didn’t want it to end.  My favourite adult book, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, also had this effect on me.  I’m going to meet him at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in a couple of weeks and I think I’ll probably die of excitement just listening to him talk.

Some books unsettle you and creep in to your head so that you can’t stop thinking about them.  Alex Shearer’s The Speed of the Dark was one of those books for me.  I can’t remember much about the story (I will have to reread this again soon) but the sense of mystery and feeling of unease I got while reading has stuck with me for many years.

Some books just wrench your heart out, by putting you in to the head of a character that faces some horrific situations.  I’ve just finished reading Morris Gleitzman’s books about Felix, Once, Then, Now and After.  These were books that I had been meaning to read for a while but hadn’t got around to reading.  Last year one of my best friends, who is a school librarian, told me I had to read Once.  I did and I’m incredibly grateful to her for making me do so, as this book (and it’s sequels) had a huge impact on me.  Morris Gleitzman is a very talented storyteller, who can write incredibly funny stories as well as incredibly sad and moving stories.  Morris’ stories of Felix’s fight for survival in Poland during World War II are heartbreaking and I know that I will always carry these stories in my head and my heart.  Once, Then, Now and After are stories that everyone should read.  I’ll be meeting Morris Gleitzman at the Reading Matters Conference in Melbourne next month and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will be telling him how much I love these books.

What books hold a special place in your heart?

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

In 2004 I discovered my favourite author.  As I was walking through a Christchurch bookshop (which is no longer standing) I spotted a beautiful book on the shelves with an intriguing title, The Shadow of the Wind.  As soon as I started reading it I became obsessed with the story and couldn’t get it out of my mind.  I didn’t want to do anything but read this amazing story that captivated me.  Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a Spanish author, transported me to post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona, and introduced me to Daniel Sempere, Julian Carax, Fermin, and The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.  Ever since The Shadow of the Wind I’ve eagerly awaited Carlos’s other novels being translated into English.  In 2009, the prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, was released and I also enjoyed this.  After much anticipation, The Prisoner of Heaven, the sequel to The Shadow of the Wind, has just been released.  I couldn’t wait to meet my favourite characters again and discover what had happened to them after the events of The Shadow of the Wind.

The Prisoner of Heaven returns to the world of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere & Sons bookshop.

It begins just before Christmas in Barcelona in 1957, one year after Daniel and Bea from The Shadow of the Wind have married. They now have a son, Julian, and are living with Daniel’s father at Sempere & Sons. Fermin still works with them and is busy preparing for his wedding to Bernarda in the New Year. However something appears to be bothering him.

Daniel is alone in the shop one morning when a mysterious figure with a pronounced limp enters. He spots one of their most precious volumes that is kept locked in a glass cabinet, a beautiful and unique illustrated edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. Despite the fact that the stranger seems to care little for books, he wants to buy this expensive edition. Then, to Daniel’s surprise, the man inscribes the book with the words ‘To Fermin Romero de Torres, who came back from the dead and who holds the key to the future’. This visit leads back to a story of imprisonment, betrayal and the return of a deadly rival.

The Prisoner of Heaven was everything I was expecting and more.  I was immediately taken back to Barcelona to meet my old friends to find out how life had been treating them.   Carlos Ruiz Zafon has skillfully woven strands of the stories from The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game into The Prisoner of Heaven.  Characters that have shown up in each of those stories make an appearance in The Prisoner of Heaven and relationships between these characters are revealed.  The marvel of these three books (and what will ultimately be four books) is that they are amazing stories in their own right, but if you read each of them, you get even more out of the story because you know about key events that have happened in the other stories.  For instance, if you’ve read The Angel’s Game you’ll already know of the David Martin that is a prisoner in Montjuic Prison in The Prisoner of Heaven.

Several people have mentioned that they didn’t really enjoy The Angel’s Game because it was too confusing (I personally loved the story), but when you read The Prisoner of Heaven, pieces of the puzzle fall into place and you realise why David Martin’s story was so strange and dark.

A large part of the story concentrates on Fermin and his past.  Fermin was my favourite character in The Shadow of the Wind so I loved finding out more about him and how he came into Daniel’s life.  It is through Fermin’s tale that we learn of his connection to other key characters in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books.

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, my favourite fictional place, makes another appearance in this book.  The way that Carlos describes the sights and smells of this wonderful place makes me so unbelievably happy and I only wish that I could visit it.  If you don’t know about The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, you must read one of Carlos’ books just to discover it for yourself.

The Prisoner of Heaven has left me dying to read Carlos’ final book featuring these characters (not yet written) and I really want to re-read The Shadow of the Wind.  If you haven’t read any of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books I suggest you start with Shadow of the Wind.  You will fall in love with Carlos’ Barcelona, his memorable characters, and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books

The Prisoner of Heaven Release Day

Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s sequel to The Shadow of the Wind, called The Prisoner of Heaven is released in Australia and New Zealand today from one of my favourite publishers, Text Publishing (based in Melbourne).  Carlos Ruiz Zafon is my favourite author and The Shadow of the Wind is my favourite book so you can imagine how excited I am to read the sequel.  I can’t wait to immerse myself in Carlos’ Barcelona and return to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

The Prisoner of Heaven is an adult book (one of the few that I’ll read this year) but Text have also published several of his Young Adult novels in English.  The Prince of Mist and The Midnight Palace are dark, atmospheric, gothic stories for teens and adults alike.

Take a look at the beautiful book trailer and make sure you get your hands on a copy from your library or bookshop.

Enter to win a Carlos Ruiz Zafon Book Pack

Win a Carlos Ruiz Zafon Book Pack

To celebrate the release of The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s sequel to The Shadow of the Wind, I’m giving away a Carlos Ruiz Zafon book pack.  The pack includes a copy of The Prisoner of Heaven and his two Young Adult books, The Prince of Mist and The Midnight Palace.

All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Friday 29 June (open to NZ and Australia).

Return to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books

My favourite all-time book is Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind so I was really excited to read today that I’ll get to return to The Cemetery of Forgotten Books next year.  Here’s the info from Carlos’ newsletter:

“The Prisoner of Heaven returns to the world of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books and the Sempere & Sons bookshop. It begins one year after the close of The Shadow of the Wind when a mysterious stranger enters the shop, looking for a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo .

The Prisoner of Heaven is published in Spain today and the English language version will be out in the UK on 21/06/2012″

I haven’t got word of when it will be released in New Zealand but am assuming it will be published in Australia and NZ by Text Publishing, who have brought us Carlos’ other English language translations.  June 21, 2012 certainly can’t come around fast enough!

The Devil Walks by Anne Fine

When I first read about Anne Fine’s new book, The Devil Walks, I knew it would be an amazing book.  Anne Fine described it “as a venture into 19th-century gothic” and it sounded like the kind of dark, creepy story that I’d love.

The Devil Walks is the story of Daniel, who has been hidden away from the world for most of his life by his reclusive, disturbed mother.  However, this changes one day when a stranger takes Daniel from his home.  This stranger, Doctor Marlow, takes Daniel into his home, where he is embraced by his family.   Meanwhile, shocked by her son’s kidnap, Daniel’s mother is taken to an asylum where she hangs herself.   The house where Daniel spent his life is sold, along with everything his mother owned to pay her debts.   Daniel’s only inheritance is the one possession that Daniel takes with him from the house; his mother’s dolls house that is modeled on the house she grew up in, called High Gates.  In the dolls house are a family of dolls, including a stick-thin woman who looks remarkably like his mother.  During one of his games with Dr Marlow’s daughter, Sophie, they discover another doll, hidden in the house.  This doll is two-in-one, at one end a mischievous looking boy, and the other end a man with ‘green eyes that gazed out with a more piercing look and the thin smile had curdled into something sourer.’  The more time they spend with this doll, the more it’s wickedness creeps into their lives.  Just when Daniel is settled into his new life, Dr Marlow tells him he is being sent to live with his only surviving relative, his Uncle Severn at High Gates, the house that was the model for his dolls house.  Daniel is not sure what to make of his uncle – one moment he’s cheerful and the next he is pounding his fists on the table in anger.  As Daniel explores the house and the grounds, he discovers the terrible truth about his family and the sinister dolls house that his uncle will do anything to get his hands on.

The Devil Walks is one of the most spine-tingling books I’ve read in a long time.  Days after finishing the story it’s still stuck in my head and I keep going back over the story in my head.  The story is so dark and mysterious that I was hooked right from the very first page.  Anne Fine’s beautiful writing made me feel like I was right there with Daniel through the whole ordeal, from being hidden away in that dark house, to the labyrinth of rooms at High Gates.  I think the reason I liked the story so much was that it had everything that I love about Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s gothic stories, like Shadow of the Wind and Prince of Mist.   The Devil Walks is definitely one of my highlights of 2011 and I highly recommend it.