Showing posts with label Unbound. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Unbound. Show all posts

Thursday, October 29, 2020

'Immortal' is out, and so is its Wigmore digital launch

It's publication day for Immortal. I am overjoyed to say that we are sending it out into the world with a digital launch presentation from the stage of the Wigmore Hall, thanks to the unbelievably kind invitation of John Gilhooly. 

I'm joined in a unique words&music presentation by the rising star pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen (pictured left), who plays the Beethoven Piano Sonata in F, Op. 10 No. 2. It was a memorable day: both of us were back in the hall for the first time since lockdown and I certainly felt a little strange performing to the empty auditorium, where I've enjoyed so many unforgettable concerts in better times. I hope you enjoy hearing the readings from the early part of the book when Josephine and Therese meet Beethoven for the first time, become his pupils and hear him improvise; and Mishka's playing is out of this world.

My profound thanks to Mishka, John, my lovely publishers Unbound, and the entire Wigmore Hall team for making this possible.

Meanwhile, Immortal is now available from all good bookshops. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

IMMORTAL: my new Beethoven novel, coming soon...

Dear friends and supporters,
If you enjoyed the historical musical mystery of Ghost Variations, you'll love - I hope - my new book currently in the works.
For the past few years I've been reading obsessively about Ludwig van Beethoven's 'Immortal Beloved' - the unnamed addressee of an impassioned love letter that he wrote in July 1812. Supposedly nobody knows exactly who she was, though there have been many theories. Yet when you start looking, you find things... 
Was this woman's identity anything but immortal? Was she deliberately wiped from history by a family terrified of scandal? Was her tragedy - and Beethoven's - perhaps even greater than we thought? I believe so.
While obscure biographies and some terrible translations lurk on dusty shelves, I wanted to present this book as a novel for its roller-coaster emotions, its vivid characters, its you-couldn't-make-it-up plot - and the mulifarious possibilities offered by an unreliable narrator.
The music is ever-present, the piano sonatas most of all: for that is how the majority of Beethoven's admirers would have known him best, through playing his works at the piano, orchestral performances being relatively rare events. The piano sonatas contain, too, some crucial clues - though you'll have to read the book to find out what they are.
I have returned to Unbound for several reasons: first, a publisher in the hand is worth ten in the Writers and Artists Yearbook, especially when there's a topical anniversary to catch, just 23 months away. Secondly, they have done a brilliant job on 'Ghost Variations' and 'Odette' and I trust them completely. And finally - it's fun! I've cooked up a range of rewards at different levels to tempt you in, starting at just £10 for the e-book and a thank-you in the patrons list. But above that you can order an early-bird discount paperback, or two, or five; come with us to hear Vladimir Jurowski conduct the Symphony No.1 at the Royal Festival Hall; attend the launch party (we love launch parties!); sponsor a character and receive a special thank-you on a separate page; or simply make a donation of any amount you like to help turn this project into reality. More rewards are on the way, too, so watch for updates.
On the IMMORTAL page you will find a synopsis, an extract from the book, the complete pledge list, and a video in which I introduce the project and, er, attempt to play Op.111. 
I do hope you will wish to become part of the IMMORTAL family. Your moral support will be crucial as I plough on with the writing. And knowing that you're waiting eagerly for the results is the best spur of them all.
Thank you so much - and here's the link.
Love and best wishes,

Saturday, December 15, 2018



Vladimir Jurowski's recording of Swan Lake in its original 1877 version - before Drigo got his paws on the score - is an absolute stunner, out now on Pentatone Classics. The State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia 'Evgeny Svetlanov' offers sleek, intense playing, the sound quality is excellent and in Jurowski's hands the dramatic climaxes become utterly hair-raising, almost Wagnerian in their magic and majesty. And in the box there's even a set of instructions for how to fold your own Origami swan.

Swan Lake is the inspiration behind my new book, Odette, in which the ballet's heroine meets the present day head-on. This week Odette has been on a 'blog tour' which has found it termed 'enchanting', 'magical' and 'absolutely unique' (for which I'm extremely grateful and happy.)

I'm delighted to say that Pentatone is offering a copy of Jurowski's splendid Swan Lake recording for our JDCMB Christmas Competition. This is your chance to win a double prize: the CD and a paperback copy of Odette.

For a chance to win, simply answer the following question and email your response to: before Christmas Eve, 24 December 2018.

QUESTION:Which ballerina danced the role of Odette/Odile in the world premiere of Swan Lake, at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, on 4 March 1877?

I will put all the correct entries into a hat and the one to be drawn out wins the prize. The winner will be notified by email. The prize will be dispatched when the post office reopens after Christmas.

Don't forget that you can see Swan Lake itself on BBC4 TV on Christmas Day at 7pm. It's the Royal Ballet's gorgeous new production and stars Marianela Nunez and Vadim Muntagirov. More details here.

Friday, January 26, 2018


If you're around north London on 10 February, please join me and my fellow musical Unbounders Tot Taylor (author, The Story of John Nightly, and record producer extraordinaire), Lev Parikian (author, Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?, and conductor) and Miranda Gold (author, Starlings and A Small, Dark Quiet) to discuss those glittering, magical realms in which music and literature intersect. MAP Studio Café, 45 Grafton Road, London NW5 3DU. Tickets: 020 7916 0545.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

MEETING ODETTE: The Swan Lake Book

I used to have a recurring dream. I was in the library, looking for a book. I knew I'd seen it once before. I couldn't find it. It was a book of Swan Lake. I would always wake up knowing there was something inside it that I wanted, or needed, but I could never remember what it was.

This isn't the cover and it probably isn't the title either,
but a kind and creative author friend came up with the image on Canva and sent it to me

I had this dream right through my childhood into my teens and beyond, in one form or another. At first it showed me Swiss Cottage Library, which was our local. On other nights I'd see myself in Foyles, looking through the ballet section for a book that wasn't there. Wherever it might be, I always knew that it was my Swan Lake book.

Then, when I was 26, I decided that as it hadn't pitched up yet, I would write it myself.

That was in 1992. Since then I have rewritten it about 200 times: differences as small as changing the names or as large as reducing the length to half its original. The first draft was, in any case, hopeless: it was full of words.

Periodically I've shown it to people. Literary agents, publishers, friends, family. The typical reaction from the professionals? "Oh darling, we love it, it's beautiful, but it's very, er, whimsical..." They didn't fancy whimsical. Magical realism, which had flourished while I was a teenager gobbling up Angela Carter's books, had gone out of fashion. Meeting Odette, as it became called, at least for the moment, didn't fit anywhere.

Yet occasionally one of those friends or family members would pop up after reading another of my novels or attending one of our concerts and say: "What happened to the one about the swan? That was actually my favourite..."

Therefore I thought, after the splendid job that Unbound did with Ghost Variations, that I'd run it past them, just in case. Unbound likes quirky. Unbound likes whimsical. They love things that don't "fit" easily. And it didn't bother them one jot that Meeting Odette has little in common with Ghost Variations other than an association with an actual piece of music or, in this case, ballet.

It isn't a "ballet book", though, and it has nothing to do with Black Swan or any of the ballet's various stage updatings. It's a fairy-tale for the 21st century. The story of what happens when Odette is blown off course and crashes through Mary's window in a university town in the east of England has begun to feel oddly "relevant".

This isn't the title or the cover either. This is just me messing around on Canva...

All the ducks - or swans - were in a row at last. And today, 21 June, Summer Solstice 2017, we launch the campaign for Meeting Odette.

If you've enjoyed Ghost Variations, you'll probably know how Unbound works now. It's like an 18th-century subscription model. Essentially you are buying the book before it's published, rather than after, and you get thanked for it in print. It's now called crowdfunding, of course, but the inspiration is really quite archaic. (I should add, because people often denigrate self-publishing, that this is not self-publishing in any way, shape or form. Unbound has a different model, for sure, but they are top-flight professionals. I wouldn't have the first clue how to publish my own book and wouldn't like to attempt it.)

You can go for various different reward packages at different levels. Prices start at £10 for the e-book and your name in the book. The paperback basic is £20, but there's an Early Swan deal for £15 on the first 50. A book club package includes five paperbacks and an author visit; a larger contribution gets you and your plus-one an invitation to a buffet lunch with me and some wonderful friends from inside the ballet world to enjoy food, drink and good conversation about books, music, ballet, Swan Lake and, no doubt, more. Ballet enthusiasts could also consider clubbing together for the biggest one, for which I'll come to your house or institution and give a lecture about Swan Lake itself (and you get 10 paperbacks too).

Later in the process I am hoping to add further rewards in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, where a new production of Swan Lake directed by Liam Scarlett is due for premiere in May. If you've already pledged by then, you can upgrade to one of these if you want to. The site makes it nice and easy.

On Meeting Odette's page at Unbound, you'll find a video welcome from me, a synopsis, an extract and the full list of pledge rewards. Please swan over and have a look. I do hope that you will consider backing this book, which after 25 years is very, very close to my heart.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Calling all Dartingtonites: here's the book we've been waiting for

I had many of my most important formative musical experiences at the Dartington International Summer School as a teenager and have never ceased to marvel at the thrill of its melting pot, its gorgeous surroundings, the virtually "sacred space" atmosphere inside the Great Hall and more. Its history is as astonishing as its music. Imagine my joy, then, on discovering that Unbound has taken on a new pictorial history of the summer school by the music journalist Harriet Cunningham. I've jumped in to contribute to its funding - I'll take the full-whack hardback, please! - and hope that all my fellow Dartington fans will consider doing so too. You can find it here.  All photos (c) the Dartington International Summer School.

Meanwhile, I asked Harriet what set her off on this wonderful project.

Stravinsky and his wife at Dartingon, 1957
JD: Please tell us something about your own experiences of the Dartington International Summer School? What do you think makes it such a special place?

HC: My experience of Dartington Summer School goes back way, way before I was even born. My parents met at Dartington sometime in the late '50s/early '60s. She was a student, he was a trog [Dartington's student-assistants]. So by the time I first came to Dartington, aged 4 months, in 1967, it was already in my blood. We continued to make the trip down the A303 then the M4 (once it was built) every summer. I am told that at the age of 4 I listened, transfixed, to the Amadeus Quartet playing Haydn and then demanded to learn the violin. It’s a nice story. I can’t remember it at all! My first memories of the Summer School are of wasps on danish pastries, rides on the Donkey and swimming in Aller Park pool. 

I do, however, remember sounds and artists and concerts. Like the sound of the choir warming up in the Great Hall every morning; like Jacqueline du Pré, beautiful and difficult, teaching cello; like being scared witless hearing ‘The Soldiers Tale’, and listening to the two pianists rattling out the orchestral accompaniment for the Schubert Mass. As I grew older I participated more - I sang in the choir, I worked in the kitchens, I trogged and, eventually, played in the orchestra for the conductor’s class, under the lovely Diego Masson. 

What makes Dartington special? I’ve thought about this a great deal. Of course, there’s the beauty of the surroundings, which everyone remembers, even if we gloss over the rain and grey skies in our memories. But I think it’s also to do with the mix of people, and with mixing people. There’s something about shoving a diverse bunch of musicians into a space and saying ‘play’ that can act as a catalyst for some amazing creative leaps. Or not. But there’s always the chance!

Benjamin Britten & Peter Pears at Dartingon, 1958

Why did you want to write a book about it?

I didn’t! I emigrated to Australia 25 years ago and felt happy to have left the Summer School behind me. But then it weasled its way back into my life when I was visiting my father and he showed me the archive, which he’s been curating for many years. It was quite an emotional experience, looking through all the old programmes, reading letters from artists and lists of bursary students. (All the usual suspects are there! Imogen Cooper, Simon Rattle, Stephen Hough...) My father was making plans to have the archive transferred to the British Library, and I decided that before it went I wanted to make something for my father to have, something to hold in his hands. Then, of course, I got completely sucked in by the many stories in the archive, and here we are... 

Janet Baker & Viola Tunnard, 1965
What aspects of its history have "jumped out at you” most strongly?

1950s Britain is fast becoming something of an obsession for me. Post-war Britain underwent a social, economic and intellectual revolution, and the Summer School, and Glock’s approach to music and education were very much part of that revolution. I’m also fascinated by the characters — Glock, of course, and people like Imogen Holst, Nadia Boulanger, Hans Keller and George Malcolm, so many others — who make up the story.

Which images have you most enjoyed discovering in the archives?

Silly, random things have caught my eye in the photos. The 1950s fashions — hats, gloves and, for men, jackets and ties at all times, except if you are violist Cecil Aronowitz, in which case you only wear shorts. The smoking - pipes and cigarettes. The posing, and the lack of posing. People often seem uniquely relaxed and expressive in the photos - as if being immersed in music and musicians allows you to be who you want to be. Perhaps that’s part of Summer School magic. 

I also enjoyed finding pictures with personal connections, although I don’t think I’ll ever forgive my mother for allowing me out dressed like that.

A very young Harriet in a violin masterclass with Roger Rafael