Category Archives: Caroline Lawrence

EIBF and me, 2014

It is here. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book festival. And I’m sorry, but all I can think of is that Sara Paretsky will be there. It’s been three years, and she is finally coming in the summer rather than freezing her nether regions off in February/March. Which is so sensible.

OK, there must be a few other authors scheduled for the two and a bit weeks. Think, witch, think!

There are some very interesting looking events where authors one admires talk about authors one admires. I’m going to have to see if I can catch one of those, because they look like tickets might sell out fast (small tent). Then there is Patrick Ness who will give the Siobhan Dowd talk and Val McDermid will pretend to be Jane Austen.

Wendy Meddour is coming and there is a lovely pairing of Francesca Simon and Irving Finkel. Another interesting pair is Caroline Lawrence with Geraldine McCaughrean. Elizabeths Laird and Wein will cooperate, and Gill Lewis is also making an appearance.

Many more excellent authors like Sophie Hannah and Arne Dahl, Tommy Donbavand and Liz Kessler will be at the festival. I have to admit to paying less attention to the ‘grown-up’ authors again, in favour of my ‘little ones.’ Those who are given orange juice instead of wine (although I am sure not at EIBF!) because they write for children.

Have to admit that many of my hoped for events are school events. I am glad that some of the best looking events are for schools, because it means someone thinks school children deserve the best. I want to be a school child on a very temporary basis at the end of August.

Deck chair

I’m hoping for plenty of stamina on my part. I have planned a number of full or nearly full days, for about two thirds of the festival. (I was thinking of having a holiday at some point.) The event I am fairly certain I won’t be able to go to but wish I could, is Eleanor Updale talking about Vera Brittain. That would be really something.

Perhaps I will see you in Charlotte Square? (If my eyes are – temporarily – closed, just give me a gentle nudge.)

The Night Raid

Boys will be boys. They were – mostly – just the same back in Roman times. Or do I mean Greek?

Caroline Lawrence has written her first Barrington Stoke story, and it is both an exciting read and quite educational for people like me. If you’re a bit shaky on the Classics, then The Night Raid is for you.

Caroline Lawrence, The Night Raid

It begins with the fall of Troy, when two young boys, Rye and Nisus, flee for their lives, having lost family members. Both want revenge, but first have to start new lives with the leader of the Trojans, Aeneas.

The reader learns what happened to the Trojans in exile, and how they arrived in Italy, years later.

If the story sounds at all familiar, it will be because a chap called Virgil wrote a poem called the Aeneid, and Caroline has borrowed from that to tell us what happened to the teenagers, Nisus and Rye.

I think it’s fantastic the way an author can take something old and seemingly difficult and bring it to a new audience by re-writing something that many of us will happily avoid for as long as we possibly can.

Thank you for educating me a little bit, Caroline.

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.

Q & A with Caroline Lawrence

New covers. Again. I can never make my mind up which set of covers I like best. Sometimes new ones are so fresh that I have to love them. And then I think back to those that were ‘my’ covers and I think I might love them more. And for people like Caroline Lawrence who gets new covers ‘all the time’ there are others in-between to enjoy as well.

So, here are the third lot of book covers for her Roman Mysteries short stories. I read both of them back when, but had some trouble finding my reviews. (Could it be my system isn’t good enough?) Here’s what I said about the Legionary. Trimalchio will no doubt turn up of his own accord.

With Threptus having come to an end, and these stories popping up again, and my concern over saying goodbye to Pinky, I found myself overflowing with questions. So I asked, and the lovely Caroline answered.

Caroline Lawrence, The Legionary from Londinium and Trimalchio's Feast

With the newly re-jacketed The Legionary from Londinium and Trimalchio’s Feast, I suddenly found myself back in Ostia again, with Flavia and co, and that made me all desperate to hear more of their adventures and happinesses ever after. Which, I’m sure was the cunning thought behind sending them out into the world one more time. Will we ever return to Flavia and Ostia and all that?

I would love to return to Flavia et al… but wanted to do a YA spin-off trilogy first. See below.

I know we’ve sort of remained there, in the company of Threptus, while he continues to solve mysteries as Lupus would have done. Am I right in understanding that the fourth recent book about Threptus was the last one?

Threptus was fun for a while but my heart lies with Flavia and her friends and that slightly older age group (both characters and readers).

Does the fact that Threptus might ‘take a break’ mean we can revisit Flavia and the others? Please?

Hoping so… See below.

We wouldn’t object to that trip to London we were half promised several years ago. Could we?

The first in a spin-off trilogy takes one of the kidnapped twins to Londinium. But I have to rework it, as it was deemed too edgy for my readership. (So maybe I should stick to the 9-12 age group which is my own inner child’s age!)

And what about the twins? You had ideas for a separate series of books about them I think?

Yes, that was the idea for the YA spin-off trilogy. A story reuniting Soso and Popo 14 years after Popo was kidnapped and in the final year of the evil Domitian.

If I don’t come across as too greedy, I would also like to know what the future holds for Detective Pinkerton.

I’ve enjoyed writing the Pinkerton books but they haven’t really taken off and it’s incredibly hard to write in a vacuum of reader response!

I understand that not all power lies with you as the author, and that publishers also have to have some say in what gets written and published. But if you could forget about them for a moment; what would you write next?

I have also been thinking about writing something set in present day London, but with flashbacks to San Francisco in the mid 1960s, the days of Flower Power. And Barrington Stoke have commissioned me to write a retelling of a story from Virgil’s Aeneid.

Finally, is there anything else you can tell us, that I haven’t thought to ask you about?

Still waiting for the next lightbulb moment! Or film deal. 😀

Well. I can’t think of a better Flower Power girl than Caroline. I’ll just sit down and wait. It’ll be worth it.

The Two-Faced God

What do you know? I have learned even more things I didn’t have a clue about. I almost hesitate admitting this, for fear I sound stupid and uneducated. But you’ll want to know that this fourth book featuring the lovely Threptus is as educational as the other three.

I just love the chickens! They’re not educated or educational, but very wise. I don’t know where Threptus would be if he didn’t listen to Aphrodite. (She’s a chicken.)

This time Caroline Lawrence offers us a ‘faustum annum novum,’ which is New Year (the last book was Christmas), and it is more appropriate than you might think for July. I’ve been considering a new start, and what better way than with a new year?

I had no idea Janus was anything but two-faced. Not that he’s a God, nor that he has given his name to January, because he does his godding at the start of that month.

Threptus’s guardian Floridius needs to earn some money, again, having drunk and gambled the last lot. He offers to read a freshly sacrificed liver for a banker who hears bumps in the night. (Don’t ask.) Trouble is, liver makes him faint. So what can Threptus do to help his dear Floridius? The chicken knows.

It’s nice the way a few simple plot devices work together, making this a very satisfying read. The Two-Faced God ends well. Obviously.

Happy New Year!

Caroline Lawrence, The Two-Faced God

A Romantic Job

Caroline Lawrence, The Case of the Pistol-Packing Widows

Or The Case of the Pistol-Packing Widows, as Caroline Lawrence’s third P K Pinkerton Mystery is officially called. That sounds good, too, but nowhere near as satisfying as all this romance stuff.

It’s funny. P K finds kissing disgusting, and there is a fair bit of that going on in Carson City, where he/she has gone on a case. It appears to be yet another ‘romantic job,’ which is tedious for this rational detective, but it pays well. So P K leaves Ping to mind the shop in Virginia City, and goes off to see about widows and other unusual females.

I loved this adventure, where P K is almost growing up; learning about legislation, learning shorthand and coming to realise that whereas never having time to yourself can feel bad, the opposite is not necessarily better. (I know that feeling well!)

This is another great history lesson disguised as a fast-paced and funny crime western. I could barely put it down, and I suffered when P K suffered, and triumphed when he/she did. (One ‘clew’ for you; we learn which it is in this book. Is P K a boy? Or a girl?)

Those widows are really something. Is the pistol-packing one good or bad? Who is killing all those men? And can P K trust his/her old friends? As ever, P K also makes new friends, and it seems that if you know your Bible, you can always count on making decent and true new friends.

The endings of the first two mysteries were more than satisfying. The finale of this one is extremely funny and just what I would have hoped for. Not too much, and not too little. (Of – you know – what…)

Please let there be many more!

P K Pinkerton badge

Bookwitch bites #99

The children’s book world is a very nice place, but not 100% so. My estimation of Terry Deary sank somewhat this week. Not because he thinks it’s OK to do away with libraries. It’s his right to have opinions, and I’m sure there is a (very) small grain of truth in there, somewhere. But it appears he felt it was all right to get personal when Alan Gibbons turned out not to agree with him. Here is what Alan had to say in reply, and he has to be admired for the way he did so. He’s got style!

Rhys - Thirst For Fiction

I don’t know where Rhys of Thirst For Fiction blog fame started off his reading. These days I assume he gets all the same books I do. But he might well have been to a library at some point during his 16 or 17 years. The library is where I first met Caroline Lawrence, and here she can be found talking to Rhys, in an interview that is so much better than what I managed with Caroline.

How did you people do with getting your hands on the free ebook The Storm Bottle during the last couple of days? Don’t tell me you forgot. It’s no longer free and you will have to fork out 77p. But it will be worth it. Katherine Langrish posted a pretty perfect blog about Nick Green on Thursday. With people like her and Rhys around I will soon have to hang up my broomstick.

Formby Books

Another tireless book person is Tony Higginson, whose Formby Books is opening in new premises today. It sounds like he needed more space, and that can only be a good thing. (Please tell me those are the customer toilets, Tony? Or the fitting rooms, where you try new books out before taking them home, perhaps?) The address you want is 5 The Cloisters, Halsall Lane, Formby. Run along now! There is an absolutely perfect book waiting for you.

Formby Books

The Thunder Omen

After some slow days with me picking up the ‘wrong kind of book’ I was relieved to settle down with Caroline Lawrence’s The Thunder Omen. It’s her third Threptus mystery, and as such is short and a quick read, and it would be easy to think that such books aren’t for the adult reader, or for review, even when it’s one of Caroline’s.

I really must forget all such thoughts, because it was not only precisely what I needed, but an exciting mystery and a history lesson, served up with humour. Who knew ‘a leaky shack full of damp chickens’ could lead to romance and culture and sheer fun?

Caroline Lawrence, The Thunder Omen

It’s Christmas – or Saturnalia, as they called it – and Threptus is trying to enjoy it as much as he can, despite the cold and wet and the lack of money.

They need a new roof, and Floridius is selling stolen clay figurines holding clay croissants. (They are ‘really’ thunderbolts, but Threptus sees food everywhere.) And unfortunately Bato’s engagement to Lucilia is still not in order.

Floridius and Threptus set out to sort things out, but despite fake thunder and dyed chickens, they fail at first. WWLD (what would Lupus do?) helps Threptus work out solutions to their problems, and when that’s not enough he can think for himself.

We get to visit a Roman theatre, and once she has stopped being scared of thunder, Lucilia has some fun.

It’s all very educational and very romantic. I’ve said it before, but those chickens are marvellous. And so are these little books, with so much goodness in them.

(What I wouldn’t give for an almond croissant right now!)

The Poisoned Honey Cake

I hesitated before not choosing ‘crime’ as a category for this book. Whereas Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries definitely are crime, I feel her shorter books about Lupus’s friend Threptus are more something else. More ‘life with a twist’ perhaps.

Threptus is the beggar boy who has been adopted by freelance soothsayer Floridius, and as you can guess, life is as hard, if not harder, than before. That’s as far as food and warmth are concerned. It is nicer than before, because he has someone to live with, someone who cares. Apart from gambling away what little money they had…

Caroline Lawrence, The Poisoned Honey Cake

So Threptus is cold and hungry, when he ends up volunteering to go down underneath the public toilets again, to try and obtain ‘useful information’ for Floridius.

Nice chickens. Bad bullies. And there is a – rich – banker. Very up-to-date, that.

These books about Threptus are perfect for very young readers, and nice for those of us who still enjoy visits to Ostia every now and then.

(And you can always eat your pets, can’t you?)

Dysfunctional Detectives

Back in August 2010 Caroline Lawrence blogged about aspie detectives we all know and love. I have asked her permission to use it on Bookwitch to mark the publication of her second P K Pinkerton novel. So here it is. (If you want to read the comments, or check out Caroline’s links, you can pop back to her Western Mysteries blog.)

‘According to the Pulitzer-prize winning screenwriter David Mamet,
“Asperger’s syndrome helped make the movies.” In his collection of
essays, Bambi vs Godzilla, Mamet talks about the type of autism called
Asperger’s.

According to Mamet, the symptoms of Aspergers include “early
precocity, a great ability to maintain masses of information, a lack
of ability to mix with groups in age-appropriate ways, ignorance of or
indifference to social norms, high intelligence and difficulty with
transitions, married to a preternatural ability to concentrate on the
minutiae of the task at hand.”

Someone once described Asperger’s as “mild autism with a startling
streak of genius.” In other words, many of those with Aspergers are
brilliant but socially dysfunctional. A slightly sexier version of
Rain Man.

Mamet goes on to say: “This sounds to me like a job description for a
movie director.” He also points out that Asperger’s syndrome “has its
highest prevalence among Ashkenazi Jews and their descendants”, who
make up the bulk of Hollywood movers-and-shakers.

Is Mamet joshing us when he claims that Hollywood is run by men with
Asperger’s? Maybe.

Or maybe not.

Sometimes Asperger’s is so subtle that it’s not diagnosed until middle
age. A well known case is that of Tim Page, a Pulitzer prize winning
music critic who only found out that he had mild version of the
syndrome when he was 45. He has written about it in his book Parallel
Play: Life as an Outsider and was recently interviewed on NPR. “I
didn’t suffer from classic autism but something was clearly wrong…”
says Page in one interview. “I couldn’t tell you the color of my
mother’s eyes or what a person was wearing last night at dinner, but
I’ll remember exactly what we talked about.”

If Hollywood is dominated by sexy Rain Men, it might explain why some
of our most popular fictional characters have certain characteristics
which might be called autistic.

Mr Spock, by Richard Lawrence

Think of Star Trek’s Mr Spock and Data. Both characters are
popular among high-functioning autistic people. One of the most famous and articulate autistic authors, Temple Grandin, has confessed that
she is a fan of Lt Commander Data, the android who tries to understand
human behavior.

Then there’s the brilliant but anti-social Dexter. His dysfunctionality is due to a traumatic childhood, like Lisbet Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I don’t think Salander has Aspergers, but she does meet two of the criteria of someone suffering
from that disorder: “high intelligence” and “ignorance of or
indifference to social norms”.

Sheldon Cooper of Big Bang Theory is the perfect example of a
character with “high intellience” but “indifference to social norms”.
Indifference being the operative word in Sheldon’s case.

Sherlock, by Richard Lawrence

Best of all are the many detectives who seem to have Asperger’s-like
qualities. The most famous of these, of course, goes back way before
Hollywood. Sherlock Holmes is a creation of the late 19th century, but is
just as popular today. He has several character traits of a person
with Asperger’s, though Steven Moffatt’s clever new Sherlock sometimes
lapses into ADHD behavior, dashing about with an almost Dr-Who-ish
energy.

Adrian Monk isn’t exactly autistic, but as a sufferer of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) he is a brilliant observer of detail and symmetry but a flop when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
There is great comic and tragic potential in a character like this. Do
all the best detectives have psychological or emotional weaknesses?

Not necessarily. Columbo is modelled on G.K.Chesterton’s apparently
ineffectual Father Brown. Whereas Holmes uses his brilliant deductive
faculties, Father Brown uses intuition. But like Columbo, his
fumbling, bumbling personality lulls criminals into a false sense of
security. They may seem to be socially dysfunctional, but they’re not.

Greg House, by Richard Lawrence

A detective who is wildly socially dysfunctional and delightfully
wounded is the wonderful Dr Gregory House. Like Sherlock Holmes, he is a social misfit with only one true friend. It’s been pointed out before that the creators were partly inspired by
Conan-Doyle’s great detective.

Another modern-day Holmes wannabe is Christopher Boone, the teenage
narrator of Mark Haddon’s best-selling book, The Curious Incident of
the Dog in the Night-Time. Christopher is a genius at remembering facts and doing mathematical calculations, but he is socially inept and takes every statement literally. Christopher’s favorite fictional character is Sherlock Holmes, (in fact, the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time” is a quote from a Sherlock Holmes mystery). Christopher is obsessed with the Victorian detective and employs Holmesian methodology when a neighborhood dog is murdered.

Of all the fictional characters mentioned so far, Christopher Boone is
certainly the highest on the scale. Like most people with Asperger’s,
he can’t decode facial expressions and needs guidelines to help him
figure out what people are feeling. Christopher has a flat, neutral,
toneless voice which comes across as wonderfully deadpan. “He doesn’t
get sentimental,” said Haddon in one interview. “He doesn’t explain
things too much… It’s the voice of person who doesn’t feel there is
a reader out there. So when you’re writing in this voice, you never
try and persuade the reader to feel this or that about something.”

I’ve been thinking about detectives with Asperger’s because the hero
of my new series, The Western Mysteries, is P.K. Pinkerton, Private
Eye, a 12-year-old detective who is half Sioux and half White, and definitely somewhere on the Asperger’s spectrum. Of course, in the 1860’s the syndrome had not yet been diagnosed and had no name. P.K.’s ‘Thorn’ is not being able to determine what people are feeling.

P K Pinkerton, by Richard Lawrence

My Gift is that I am real smart about certain things. I can read &
write and do any sum in my head. I can speak American & Lakota and
also some Chinese & Spanish. I can shoot a gun & I can ride a pony
with or without a saddle. I can track & shoot & skin any game and then
cook it over a self-sparked fire. I know how to cure a headache with a
handful of weeds. I can hear a baby quail in the sage-brush or a mouse
in the pantry. I can tell what a horse has been eating just by the
smell of his manure. I can see every leaf on a cottonwood tree. But
here is my Problem: I cannot tell if a person’s smile is genuine or
false. I can only spot three emotions: happiness, fear & anger. And
sometimes I even mix those up.

When we’re feeling lonely or obsessive or have made a particularly big
social gaffe, many of us probably wonder if it’s because we are
somewhere on the Asperger’s scale. I think that’s why these
dysfunctional characters are so popular, they are like us, only more
extreme. I myself often find people completely unreadable. What I
wouldn’t give to be able to glance at a person and – like Sherlock
Holmes – know instantly who they are and what they are feeling! That’s
one reason I created P.K. Pinkerton.

[The Case of the Deadly Desperados features stagecoach action in the
very first chapters. This Western Mystery for kids aged 9 - 90 is
available in hardback, Kindle and audio download. It will be published
by Putnam's in the USA in February 2012.]‘

And as the Resident IT Consultant correctly pointed out Caroline has not mentioned Saga Norén. Nor, to my mind, Sarah Lund. But then they weren’t around two years ago, so that’s all right. I’m just quite pleased that to be a detective, it’s no bad thing to be aspie-ish.