Category Archives: Crime

How to – not – write ten books

Arne Dahl and John Harvey, who appeared together at Charlotte Square on Tuesday evening, have something in common, apart from being crime writers. They both intended to write a crime series of ten books, rather like Sjöwall & Wahlöö. Both failed, by writing too many. John also failed spectacularly at pronouncing the names of his heroes, but Arne pointed out that it is hard, so he might as well carry on saying it wrong.

They were talking with Russel McLean who began by talking so fast that I suspected we might be done after twenty minutes. The rest of the time he laughed so much that he nearly cried. The two authors were reasonably amusing, but they weren’t that funny…

Although, I did find John quite interesting, with a nice sense of humour. He started by trying to hang his coat on some invisible hook and ended up throwing it on the floor, sending his cap after it with a flourish.

Arne Dahl

On the basis that guests go first, Arne began by reading an extract from his most recently translated book, To the Top of the Mountain. (I’d have been interested in knowing who translated it.) One fervent fan in the audience wanted to know how soon she could have all his novels in translation. She has all 23 in Swedish and reads them with the help of a dictionary (that’s what I call determination), but felt that translations would be helpful. I should say so!

John read from his Darkness Darkness, Resnick’s last case, which is partly set during the miners’ strike, and the part he read was definitely an ‘ouch’ kind of extract. He said this would be the last book about Charlie Resnick, but apparently he has said that before. The difference being that he lied on previous occasions. Well, we’ll see about that.

Both Arne and John praised each other’s books so much, that compliments were flying across the stage. Arne plots with the help of post-its and arrows which he puts on the floor. But as he pointed out, when he had small children, anything could happen. John has tried listening to young people in secret, to learn how they speak, but he couldn’t understand a word they said. But he has learned to tweet.

And who’d have thought that this man spent several years writing pulp fiction and teen romances? Writing a book every month for four years helped teach him the craft of writing.

At this point Russel’s phone made itself known, which was a little embarrassing for a man who had told the rest of us to switch ours off.

Talking of translations, Arne’s novels have been translated into 30 languages, and whereas he can read some of them, he has no idea what has happened when the Estonian version comes back and only half of it seems to be there.

The crime in crime novels is not what’s important. It is mainly there to facilitate the story. And because it’s what publishers want.

The long day

You can’t get into Charlotte Square before 9.30. I’d do well to remember that, and I could – and should – stay in bed for longer. But a witch can always read, so on Tuesday morning time was killed with Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier.

Thanks to Theresa’s generosity I was able to be her husband for the morning. Not as nice a one as her regular Mr B, but I did my best. And I can confirm that while I was in the authors’ events prep area, I didn’t hear anything. At all.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

Then I went along to Theresa’s school event with Mary Hooper, and afterwards in the bookshop I listened in amazement as Theresa asked a female fan (obviously in her upper teens) if she was the school librarian  – from one of the visiting schools. It was quite clear that she was a mature upper secondary school student. No. Apparently she was the head teacher. (The librarian was the greyhaired ponytailed gent next to her.)

Eating a sandwich very fast before my next event, I ended up letting four Swedes share my table. I didn’t share my Swedish-ness with them, however. I listened as they speculated on the nature of Charlotte Square. Apparently it’s a bookfair of some kind. ‘But where are the books?’ one of them asked. Quite. The book festival as a mere coffeeshop for tourists.

Ran into Keith Charters, who was clutching 60 copies of  David MacPhail’s Yeti On the Loose. Did some heavy hinting, which resulted in Keith handing over 59 copies to the bookshop. I mean, he had promised me one ages ago.

After school event no.2 I chatted a little with Linda Newbery, Tony Bradman and Paul Dowswell, getting my anthology signed by all three, each in the right places. Then went in search of Cathy MacPhail’s son David, and found him where I thought he’d be but not where Keith had said, along with his mother and a lovely baby. I’d been told he’d be a slightly taller version of his mum, which as Cathy drily pointed out wasn’t hard to achieve. I forgot to take a picture, but got my Yeti signed with an extra generous RAAAAAR! Then I admired the baby.

Wrote yesterday’s onsite blog post, before learning that Son and Dodo were coming over to entertain me, and to have coffee. It had got unexpectedly warm and sunny, and Son complained. We chatted, saw Ian Rankin arrive, noticed the longbearded gent from earlier years, and came to the conclusion that the scones which used to be of almost home made quality, were just dry and boring.

Son and Dodo went off to search for more Maisie books, and I had my Dyslexia event to go to. Glimpsed Nicola Morgan and Val McDermid (not together) and then it rained and got unexpectedly cold. I repaired to the yurt for a restorative sandwich and an even more restorative sip of cola to keep me awake, as well as find that cardigan I suddenly needed.

Arne Dahl

Anne Cassidy

Waited for Arne Dahl to turn up for his photocall, and did the best I could when he did, considering how dark and wet it was. He seemed bemused by the attention. While waiting for Arne’s event with John Harvey (whom I’d have snapped too, had I known who he was…) I walked over to the children’s bookshop and caught Anne Cassidy and Emma Haughton (who does not have long brown hair, after all) signing post-event.

Emma Haughton

And after a much longer day than someone my age should attempt, I limped along Princes Street for my late train home. Someone at Waverley told me to smile. He’s lucky I’m a peaceful sort of witch.

How to keep thrillers thrilling

Sara Paretsky

They were so colour co-ordinated that they might almost have agreed in advance what to wear. Sara Paretsky was striking in fuchsia and part of Tom Rob Smith’s jumper was the same hue. Or perhaps vivid pink is the current big thing among crime writers.

Their chair, Jackie McGlone, introduced them as briefly as she could, in order to save some of the evening for the actual event. Sara’s books about V I Warshawski have sold ten million copies, and Tom’s novel about a mother going crazy on a Swedish farm, was based on his own Swedish mother who went a little crazy (understandable) on a farm in Sweden.

Sara started by reading the beginning of Critical Mass; the gory part where V I finds the body. Tom read from The Farm, but I’m afraid I don’t remember which bit. I was too interested in Swedes going crazy on farms in the Swedish countryside, which isn’t as nice as it looks.

Jackie wondered how much of their writing is based on true events and people. Lotty is almost Sara’s grandmother, and Tom’s story is a little true, in that his father did actually phone him to say his mother had gone crazy, and then she called to say her husband was conspiring against her. Except it wasn’t quite like that. He’s had to change things in the book.

Sara was interested in whether or not Tom’s mother had read The Farm, seeing how instrumental she was in its conception. She has, and she came to the conclusion he’d made it up…

At nine o’clock the shooting began. It might be part of the Edinburgh Tattoo, but it makes hearing people speak almost impossible in the rest of town. But Sara and Tom soldiered on as best they could. Sara said that V I does what she herself is too chicken to do, with a ‘certain lack of impulse control.’ She discussed V I’s age and that of the dogs and Mr Contreras, not to mention Lotty, who really shouldn’t be in the operating theatre at 85. She’s letting her characters hover where they are, just so she can let them continue. At Sara’s age when people around her are ill or dying, she likes to be in control of her characters, letting those she wants to stay alive do just that.

Tom’s earlier novel Child 44 is about to be released as a film. He has just seen it and reckons it’s very good. Sara, on the other hand, said that the one film made about V I was as far away from her book as it could possibly be. The only good thing about it was that she was allowed to run on Wrigley Field for one evening, when Disney hired it. The men from Hollywood had been surprised to discover that ‘feminism might be commercially viable’ after all.

Sara Paretsky

Neither author believes in writing about mass murderers, and prefer to stay away from real evil. Asked if V I’s controversial ways of working has had an effect on her sales, Sara replied that they have. She gets a lot of mail and she answers all letters except the very worst ones, for which she has a file labelled ‘weirdos, cranks and idiots.’

V I will never be rich, doing pro bono work as she does. But Sara won’t let the dogs starve. Nor was she able to ruin V I’s beautiful new Italian boots in the next book.

There will be a singing

That’s not just my continued mis-reading of the promised signing after every event. As I got off the tram on Saturday, I found myself struggling to avoid becoming part of a happy group of singers from the something or other gospel. I let them sway on ahead, but they gospelled so slowly that I ended up joining them, eventually overtaking whenever a more spacially aware singer prodded one of the others out of the way. And finally I led the procession, but I speeded up so I’d be out of there completely.

Tram? I hear you ask. Yes, I let the Resident IT Consultant drive me (us) to the Park & Ride and the tram conveyed me into Edinburgh. (It was Saturday. I wanted to make sure I didn’t suffer a repeat of the Saturday in 2012 when the train home was simply too full to join.)

I cased the joint for a while, coming to the conclusion the bookshop doesn’t stock Into A Raging Blaze. Found that the photographers’ background carpet was a more mellow green than it has been. Checked the price of cake – as you do – in case the Resident IT Consultant would need some later. And I, erm, rearranged some books in the bookshop. Although it is hard to put books face out when it is at the expense of other top books. Where is Dan Brown when you need him?

Michelle Harrison and Charlie Fletcher

Joined the proper photographers to snap Charlie Fletcher and Michelle Harrison. Not unsurprisingly they were keenest on the beautiful Michelle (who reminded me of a black haired J K Rowling). Me, I sort of stood behind the dustbins. Which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Being short, I’d already come to the conclusion I might have to take photographs between the legs of the others who have this unwritten shooting order I will never ever be able to join.

Michelle Harrison

After Charlie’s and Michelle’s event I repaired to the press yurt and most serendipitously came face to face with the newlyweds. I had more or less given up hope of fitting Philip and Lady Caveney into our respective schedules this week. So we had all of several minutes before Philip’s interview (for television, he claims) and I dashed on to The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, where I was unable to avoid the Resident IT Consultant. Former children’s laureate Anthony Browne was there too.

The Caveneys

I had asked permission to bring the Resident IT Consultant to the yurt, so we went there for our dinner sandwiches, and the life saving coffee. Sat opposite a woman I slowly worked out must be a Swedish journalist, and even more slowly I worked out that she the man she was interviewing was Bernardo Atxaga (whose book Shola miraculously appeared in my Swedish letterbox over the winter).

Being on translating grounds here, I wasn’t altogether surprised to see Daniel Hahn, but I didn’t tug at his sleeve either, as he was intent on Bernardo. I trawled the square for some action and found I arrived just in time for the signing by Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf, who write the Oksa Pollock books.

Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf

Sara Paretsky

After some killing of time had taken place (it rained…) we finally got to the evening’s long awaited photocall with Sara Paretsky. She jumped straight into her star role, saying the attention she got from the photographers made her feel as though she’s important. Murdo Macleod pointed out she is important. I hung back by the dustbins again, knowing my camera would never totally overcome the fact that it was eight o’clock and a little dark, and that I couldn’t hope to achieve what Murdo and Co did. Meanwhile the Resident IT Consultant chatted to one of the photographers about why they all wear black. (I had no idea he was so into fashion!)

Sara Paretsky

We went straight to Sara’s event with Tom Rob Smith who – it turns out – is half Swedish. Naturally. Not knowing what he looked like before last night, I did miss his photocall on the green carpet. Apologies. (He looks sort of Swedish, if that helps.)

My skills for getting to near the front of the singing, I mean signing, queue had not deserted me, and I had my two minutes with Sara before too long. We agreed that facebook is the way to keep track of house moves and dogs. And stuff.

The light was far too bad for pictures, so I led the Resident IT Consultant back to the tram stop with no more singing, and from there it was a smooth trip home, without any need to get too close to any fellow passengers.

(In the small hours leading up to Saturday I had dreamed an alternate Sara Paretsky signing. She and her many (?) publicists, as well as a large group of fans, turned up outside my – old – house, to do the signing. I invited them in for soup and sandwiches. Her and the PRs, not the fans, obviously. Once inside it became my new house and that was so not good, because of its unfinished state. Also, my freezer isn’t that well stocked yet, and I was busy working out how to make the small amount of soup I had stretch between so many. But other than that, it was a fine signing.)

Help yourself

DSCN5616

Every time we went past to go to the beach, we saw the box on the side of the road. A box of books. Looking more carefully we saw the note which said ‘help yourself to a book.’ (I mean, ‘varsågod’.)

Books by the roadside

‘Do you want to stop and get one?’ said the Resident IT Consultant. The man has a sense of humour; I have to give him that.

What I really wanted was to look to see what they offered, and then to think about how I could do this at home. It seems so easy, just putting your books out as though they were homegrown tomatoes. Possibly without the honesty box for payment, however.

DSCN5615

One Narnia, a horse book and the rest is crime, including one by the writer who called me an idiot. Yeah, get rid of that one!

You’ll need to keep track of when it rains.

Airborne books

‘Can I look in the bookshop?’ the Resident IT Consultant asked. I was tempted to say no, but gave my permission. We were at Edinburgh airport with too much time on our hands, and after using up the full Caffe Nero card which entitled him to a free drink (naturally he chose the most expensive concoction, something topped with whipped cream), he was dying to look in The Bookshop.

I looked in there myself, and they didn’t have much. Even WH Smith had more. By some coincidence we met up there after deciding to look around on our own. Neither shop stocked Into A Raging Blaze, special airport edition or not. We had both looked.

WHS had their fiction mostly arranged by numbers, a sort of books chart. We couldn’t work out whose chart, i.e. who decided, nor how to find any given book, short of looking at all of them. ‘There’s a blog there,’ said the Resident IT Consultant suddenly. I looked. ‘Where?’ I asked. I couldn’t comprehend the idea of a blog sitting anywhere on those shelves, but felt I needed to check.

Turns out he meant that the difficulty of finding a specific book could be turned into a blog post… Duh.

I had actually walked in there thinking I just might pay for a book. But only the recent fourth James Oswald novel. It’s Scottish, so maybe they’d stock it for that reason, I thought. But, no. Once I’d turned round a few more times I discovered some books arranged in the conventional alphabetical way, and there was a James Oswald book. The wrong one. Or the right one, depending on how you look at it. Not the one I was after. But for the Oswald novice it’d be good to find the first one, seeing as you mustn’t start anywhere else.

For children it was the usual suspects; The Gruffalo, David Walliams, Horrid Henry. I believe I’ve said this before. It’s excellent to find easy to read, good, fun books. But not if you’ve already read those. Then you need something more unusual.

And Terry Pratchett’s Raising Steam made it to the non-fiction.

Hail, hail

During the last year it seems that J K Rowling has learned to hail cabs. The Tube still appears to be a mystery to her, however.

I’m reading the new Robert Galbraith. Last year it was the London travel scene that provided the only slight doubts I had about J K’s new criminal venture. I deduced – possibly erroneously – that when she was poor she’d either not spent much time in London or – understandably – not travelled much by taxi.

And once she could afford to hail cabs, she presumably was forced to travel less publicly, so never got to practise this art of getting around. That will be why she had her detective phone for a taxi, instead of waving one down in the busy street.

Cormoran Strike (that’s her detective) really can’t afford cabs, but as I read, he has just hailed one.

But I had to wince when the poor man and his hurting leg caught the Tube from Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street. He’d have been better off walking, and better still taking the bus.

I don’t agree with the people who have said Robert Galbraith waffles, and that there is too much detail in the books. There are many crime devotees all over the world who like to see where the character in a book is going. They can follow Cormoran on the map, if they want. If they’ve been to London, they might have been to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, and will be delighted to read about it.

I know I would have, once. It’s the Midsomer Murders effect, and one which natives find hard to grasp.

Just please, please, get Cormoran an Oystercard and show him a bus map!

(Or, I suppose, there’s always brooms.)