I’m early for one and late for the other, but let’s just pretend it’s Presidents’ Day and celebrate both together! Here’s the cover for the Brazilian edition of Seraphina, which came out in April:
Hurray! I hope Brazilian readers are enjoying the book!
And then, coming out at the end of May, we’ve got the Indonesian Seraphina!
My Indonesian translator informs me that this is original art by Martin Dima. I love how it’s reminiscent of the North American cover – sepia tones, Medieval city – while still being entirely its own thing.
Happy (late and early!) birthdays, international editions! It is humbling to realize how many places people are (and will be!) reading my book.
Last weekend I did a reading at McGill Library in Burnaby, where my madrigal choir (plus an extra musical guest) very kindly agreed to sing, and where my friend Els very kindly agreed to take some pictures.
I started off reading excerpts from Seraphina and fielding questions from the crowd. And it was one of the biggest crowds I’ve had:
I talked a lot. It’s a well-known fact that I can go on and on:
The second half was devoted to our musical performances. The choir sang two Renaissance songs: “Belle Qui Tiens,” which is a pavane (like the pavano Seraphina dances with Kiggs); and “Mille Regretz” by Josquin Desprez, a goosebump-inducing piece of music which was an inspiration for the book itself.
Then we had some special instrumental demonstrations. Here’s Lise – my librarian friend who set this all up – demonstrating the wooden transverse Renaissance flute, just like Seraphina plays:
An intrepid recorder trio then played Praetorius’s “Bransle de la Torche”, which is one of my favourite Medieval dance tunes.
I even demonstrated the bransle, or bits of it. It’s really more of a line dance, but I’ve never been embarrassed about dancing with myself.
For the grand finale, Lise’s cousin Nathan gave us a demonstration on his amazing bass sackbut! That’s right, friends, the sackbut is a real thing. I didn’t make it up.
At the end of my visit, I received some tulips, a special bookmark, and this, a lovely piece of art from a talented young lady named Caitlin.
So that was last weekend. THIS weekend, I got to go to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, and attend the BC Book Awards Gala Dinner. No point keeping you in suspense: I didn’t win the award I was nominated for, alas. But I had a cultural experience most Canadians never get to have, a reception and dinner with my province’s Lieutenant Governor. The Lieutenant Governor is, at a provincial level, what the Governor General is at the national: the official representative of the British Crown. I have never been anyplace so officially fancy in my life.
That’s the VIP reception, pictured above. My son was SO EXCITED to be part of it. He’s totally planning to brag to his friends that he was a VIP. I’m pretty sure this is not what his friends are going to imagine he means.
Then there was the award presentation and banquet, in the ballroom:
After the awards ceremony, we had a fancy dinner involving things like “White Asparagus Panna Cotta” (it was white! And gelatinous! ), and “Stinging Nettles & Fresh Goat Cheese Custard” (which didn’t sting, even a little). My son was far and away the youngest person present, and he got quite a bit of attention for being patient, well-behaved, and a good eater (even of the unusual foods, above). I may not have won the prize, but I did get a weekend that my whole family is going to remember for a very long time, and that is worth a lot.
And who knows, maybe I’ll be back someday.
Edited to add: Geez! I should tell you who DID win! It was Caroline Adderson, for her book Middle of Nowhere! I haven’t read it, but I’d better correct that. All the winners and nominees are listed here. What a writing culture we have here in BC!
My friend John told me about this recently, but it took me a while to work up the nerve to listen to it. It’s an interesting bit of experimental music. It’s also 45 minutes long, so don’t feel you have to sit through the whole thing. You get a pretty good idea of where it’s going just a few minutes in. I was astonished how distorted it was by about seven minutes, utterly unintelligible at twelve.
I’ve got it running in the background. Right now, it sounds like blurry chords.
It’s an interesting way of thinking about human voices, though. Even while speaking, our voices are made up of different frequencies. The room echoes back some frequencies more readily than others, and by the end of this piece that’s what you’re hearing, notes that were always present in his voice, selected by the properties of the room.
The notes are all there, even when we don’t perceive them.
It’s getting more and more drone-like. It reminds me of this harmonica I had as a kid that would make eerie mooing noises if one didn’t blow into it with enough force. I suspect we’re headed toward even the rhythm of speech disappearing.
In the comments of my Wall Song Query, astute commenter David mentioned some music I love that I hadn’t listened to in years: Les Baricades Mysterieuses by Couperin. How fortuitous! I was looking for an instrument of the week, and it may as well be the trusty harpsichord:
This piece is, in fact, the entire reason Seraphina plays keyboards at all. When I was very young I had a disastrous course of piano lessons, ending with my teacher telling my mother to stop wasting money on me. You know it’s bad when you can’t pay the teacher to teach. I still don’t like piano music to this day — with a few exceptions — but I like harpsichord, and this Couperin piece is the reason. When Seraphina says, “The timbre of [the harpsichord] is, to me, the musical equivalent of a warm bath” — that’s me, talking about this piece.
There are lots of renditions of this piece on YouTube, including some performed on guitar and (bleargh!) piano. I chose this one because I enjoyed watching this fellow play, he takes it at a humane but lively pace, and I wanted to point out the painting inside the instrument lid. Seraphina’s spinet (a related but differently oriented keyboard instrument) has kittens inside the lid. I love this stuff.
I have one more eccentric anecdote to relate about Les Barricades Mysterieuses. My sister and I used to love making mix tapes for a particular friend of ours. This was in ancient times, so we were often recording off vinyl. It was a point of pride with my sister to leave no blank space at the end of a tape, to have all the music fit perfectly (I would just let it cut off in the middle of a song, which drove her nuts). Anyway, we had just a minute or two of space at the end of our friend’s tape, and we were racking our brains trying to find a piece short enough to fit, when we lit upon this Couperin. Still, it was going to be close. We held our breaths as it recorded, and — miracle of miracles — it fit perfectly. My sister and I cheered and laughed, celebrating, and apparently we were so loud that the needle of the record player picked up the vibrations. Our friend could hear the ghostly echo of our laughter on the tape.
For all those wonderful wall-song suggestions! Even the silly ones. Maybe especially the silly ones, because I can always, ALWAYS use a laugh. It’s good to have a pile of new music, and from so many different genres, too! I am a little astonished that nobody suggested “100 Bottles of Beer”, however.
I was thinking about walls, in particular, because I have been feeling like I’ve put a wall around myself, and I don’t like it at all. I had big defensive walls when I was young, but I tore them down years ago and decided I wasn’t going to live that way anymore. Somehow, though, getting published and making this transition from “Nobody You Ever Heard Of” to “Somebody a Few People Have Heard Of” has been scary and uncertain enough that the walls went back up.
Have you noticed this blog getting more boring and impersonal over time? Yup. That was the walls going up. If you read the entries sequentially, you can see it happening, like time-lapse photography. Little by little I said less and less. It got to the point where I could barely write anything here at all, where I felt the internal censor half choking me any time I tried.
The thing about my internal censor – and my defensive walls – is that they get super zealous about their jobs. They weren’t just applying themselves here on the blog, but everywhere. My “real” writing. My life. I have been cutting myself off at the knees, truncating my thoughts, boxing myself in at every corner.
And for what? Am I so scary that I need to be contained? Are my honest words such a liability that I need to keep a muzzle on?
There is nothing terrible I want to say, but I have to feel absolutely free to say something terrible or I find I can’t say anything at all. Writing – the thing I chose to do, the thing I love – has become a misery as often as not. I’m tired of that, and I’m done suffering. It’s not necessary. I can say exactly what needs to be said. I have the power, the right, and the ability to judge rightly what to say.
The first rule of shame-Grendels is never talk about shame-Grendels — but that’s their rule, invented for their own self-preservation. They know that when the sunlight hits them they will dissolve into dust. That’s why I’m saying this here, because it will help precipitate their disintegration. It is time to stop shouting at myself and enjoy my work again.
And I really, REALLY want to get to the point where I can explain to you why listening to YES is like eating an excellent sandwich. That’s a goal, perhaps. I will know the last brick has been kicked aside when I can finally be that funny and serious — together — again.
Hello, darlings! This is going to sound like an eccentric request – and it certainly IS – but I’m looking for songs that mention walls. Yes, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall. An excellent example, and an album I’ve been listening to a lot. Maybe that’s what’s got me thinking in this direction. I’ve found others too, such as “The Wall” by Kansas:
It doesn’t have to be the title or central obsession of the song, though! Not by any stretch. U2′s “Where the Streets Have No Name” would qualify.
Why do I want songs about walls? I’m just in that kind of mood. It happens to everyone from time to time, surely. And let me just say right now: facetious suggestions, where you stick the word “wall” into a song title where it DOES NOT BELONG are… totally welcome. Because I’m in THAT kind of mood, too.
Walls! What are they good for?
Mark your calendars, darlings! I’m going to be appearing at McGill library in Burnaby, Saturday April 27th at 2pm. Here’s the BPL listing for it, and they would like you to pre-register if you’re planning to come because space is limited.
This is going to be a particularly special event because we’re going to talk about Renaissance music and have some real-life examples! My fabulous madrigal-singing friends have very kindly agreed to come perform a few songs, and they will even demonstrate some Renaissance dancing and instruments. Thought the “sackbut” was something I just made up? THINK AGAIN.