Kathmandu!

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It is always wonderful to be invited to visit an international school, but occasionally an invitation will be especially thrilling. This happened recently with my author visit to the British School Kathmandu.

Kathmandu had long been on my Bucket List, so I was deeply saddened to hear about the 2015 earthquake. Not only because of the lives lost and homes destroyed, but because so many treasured temples had collapsed like piles of cards.

So when I arrived in the city, with a few days free for sightseeing, the mighty Buddhist stupas and ancient Durbar squares of Kathmandu and Patan were top of my list. How were they looking now? Had they been rebuilt?

IMG_2732.jpgYes and no. The immense Swayambhunath and Boudhanath stupas have both been rebuilt and are stunning. Patan Durbar Square is still glorious upon first sight. But it soon becomes apparent that there are gaps, like missing teeth in a smile, where the wooden pagoda-type temples no longer exist. There are piles of bricks. Empty bases and plinths that used to have buildings standing upon them. Many, many walls on the surviving temples are being propped up by firm supports.

But the magic is still there, and the stories are glorious. How the local people, even in the midst of personal tragedy, rolled up their sleeves and helped conserve the buildings, literally brick by brick, salvaging and storing intricately carved doorway lintels and decorated panels. Everywhere there are piles of stonework and mountains of fallen tiles, all neatly stacked and ready to be used again. But it will be many years before the restoration is complete, and some temples will stay lost forever.

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What a wonderful city Kathmandu is… The British School is lovely too, with its rooftop staffroom and persimmon trees in the courtyard. I had a wonderfully warm welcome, and thoroughly enjoyed my week, working with every class in turn.

 

My visit clipped the end of the monsoon season, so the clouds were too low for me to see the Himalayas. But as I flew out, over a thick fleece of cloud, I noticed one that didn’t appear to be moving. Sure enough it was a peak, piercing the clouds like a sharp tooth, and as I watched, breathless with excitement, a whole string of them appeared, one by one. It was an exhilarating end to a fabulous trip. I hope I can return some day to see the restoration progress. And I fervently hope there will not be another earthquake to devastate this truly magical region.

Austria International Storytelling Festival

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This is always a fabulous festival to do. My first was in 2003, and I have done four more since.

It is actually a series of festivals, in various locations around Austria. This time I performed in Graz at the Schauspielhaus (above), in a glass factory, in the lingerie department of a 1913 department store, and in a wonderful floating cafe/bar on the river.

Then it was on to Linz, and the Brucknerhaus. What a place to sing! Glorious acoustics.

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I was sharing the stage with wonderful acts like the acrobatic duo Liv & Tobi from Germany, vocal performer Zero Boy from New York and puppeteer Roberto White from Argentina. Watching from the wings is always exciting. Very magical. The physical acts work so hard to keep at the top of their game. The dance duo did an hour’s warm up before every show.

Mind you, I had to work hard for this festival too. I prepared new stories especially for the glass factory (The Princesses with Glass Hearts) and the lingerie department show (The Onion Princess) Both of these were adult stories, though they might not sound it! And for the teen shows in Graz, I prepared a bi-lingual version of the classic ghost story The Golden Arm. And I got the German right on the night 😊

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Society of Authors workshop, London

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It felt like I was stepping back in time the other day, as I slipped inside the Society of Authors HQ in Drayton Gardens, Kensington, London. Such a wonderfully atmospheric old building. And when I found a heavily-laden bookshelf with a sign saying ‘Help yourself to a book,’ my happiness was complete!

I was there to lead a workshop for authors on how to present your work live. So we did everything from microphone technique to how to choose a perfect extract to read. Along the way we hurled socks at each other (a confidence building exercise – honest) and shared our experiences as working authors. Best of all was hearing about the fabulous new books the participants were bringing out. Such a talented group!

 

Kyiv

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March was crazy busy with World Book Day (!) work, and the snow really didn’t help… I had to reschedule two schools and four adult shows. So it was funny to find myself heading to Kyiv, with its deep snow and -10 degree temperature! But I had a truly wonderful time. First at the Kyiv International School, where I worked over three days with all ages, from  3 – 16. And then I had an adult event for Mystetskyi Arsenal, talking to children’s authors about the interface between live storytelling and novel writing.

This event was also the Ukrainian launch for my picture book BREATHE. It was great to meet the whole team, especially illustrator Olga Kuznetsova (pictured on the far right here)

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Breathe: A new picture book about yoga!

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When you can’t control your emotions and your birthday is coming, you need great friends…

Introducing my gorgeous new picture book BREATHE! I met the publisher, Liliya Pochkun, at the Arsenal Book Fair in Kyiv last year, and we immediately knew we wanted to make a book together. It was illustrated, designed and printed in Ukraine, by Liliya’s Wise Bee books.

I hope this is the first of many collaborations with my new Ukrainian friends 🙂

 

Christmas 2017 in India

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I was fortunate to spend another Christmas in India this year, beginning in Hampi then moving on to Palolem Beach, where I wrote a new children’s book – The Girl in the White Mirrored Dress.

It still needs some polishing, but I have a very good feeling about it. There’s magic, friendship, dogs and a shadow tiger, all set against a Goan beach backdrop…