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 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

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!