Monthly Archives: September 2019

Time for Bath

Someone I spoke to during the summer ‘knew’ where Janet Smyth was heading after leaving her job organising the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s children’s programme. We were both sorry to see her go, but you kind of accept that people need to move on, and our loss is someone else’s gain, and all that.

But it now seems that this ‘knowledge’ was incorrect, because Janet is about to start a similar role to her Edinburgh one in Bath. Which is very good news for Bath. I even feel a bit jealous that she’s going to live there. At least I assume she is. The commute from Scotland would be tough.

Janet is not the only one, though, as she will be working with Fritha Lindqvist, whom I’ve been in contact with over the years in her role as publicist, both in publishing houses and freelance. So that’s another pair of good hands for this book festival (that I’ve still not managed to visit).

I don’t like change. (Except, obviously, when I demand it…) But this sounds very promising.

Under Earth

Because Ellen Renner’s Storm Witch had resonated so deep within me, and the memory of it had stayed, I was cautious as I began reading the sequel, Under Earth, in case it wouldn’t deliver. But of course it did! Please bring on book three, The Drowned Ones, as soon as possible.

Storm is now the Weather-witch, and more powerful than most, and more than she herself understands. Travelling on her uncle’s ship, they are heading for Bellum Island to trade. But it seems it’s not just goods that can be traded; Storm is also desirable to others, because of her powers, so is not safe among the kind of people who will stop at nothing.

Ellen Renner, Under Earth

As with the first book, this didn’t head in the direction I imagined, nor did it keep going the way I thought it would. She’s only 14, but has to be wise beyond her years if her own island and its people are to survive. But she also wants revenge for the death of her mother.

Bellum is another world compared to Yanlin, and the people live differently there. At times I was wondering if Ellen was describing the island she and I inhabit when she talked about the wasteful and discriminatory way the leaders of Bellum govern. The fact that they don’t ‘make.’

Storm finds it hard to know what to do, and who to trust, but she at least has a few people to guide her. Let’s hope that will be enough. It doesn’t look like book three will involve much plain sailing.

Plane reading?

I’m just as surprised every time. I board the plane – yes, I know one shouldn’t; sorry, Greta – and I have my book handy, and I intend to read. And if it’s then the late plane, as it often is, it’s dark and they turn off the lights.

Yes, OK, one can turn on the little reading light above. Except, I don’t have the arms for it. I imagine they shrunk, because I know I could do it once.

So what to do? Ask the neighbour if they’d mind reaching up for me? Call the flight attendant and ask them to, as though I need a servant? Or I sleep instead.

I suppose, if I could teach my memory to remember, I could turn the light on before I sit down? But then I can’t change my mind.

And speaking of sleeping; most people that late do seem to snooze more than any of the other things they might do. Last time my neighbour switched her light on long enough for her to see to pay for her bottle of Prosecco, and then off again, for some cosy drinking in the dark.

That’s it, really. If I get that light to shine, would I be inconveniencing everyone else? If they want to sleep or otherwise relax, does a neighbouring light disturb? Is it as bad as when the tall chap in front of you leans back in his seat, depriving you of what little space you had left to breathe?

I’m thinking about this now, since everyone in the family is currently flying or did yesterday and/or will tomorrow. It’s only me here. And I am intending to disobey Greta very soon. Only because the cost and the time for the alternative became such an obstacle that I nearly had a melt-down.

Willow and the water

It’s the small successes that count the most. Or so I’d like to think.

The Resident IT Consultant and I popped in to have dinner with friends. Our hostess pointed to Giles Andreae’s and Guy Parker-Rees’s Be Brave Little Penguin, which she had lying next to the sofa.

I gathered that it’s been a big hit with little Willow, her grandson, and it’s been read many times.

While it’s obviously a rather lovely book, about the penguin who’s afraid of going in the water, it has some relevance for Willow. This summer he went to the beach with his mother [and the rest of the family, so he wasn’t alone] and she went right into the sea and disappeared! By which I mean she likes to put her head under water, so she did. And Willow did not like it. Not one bit. Mothers are not meant to just disappear.

So he’s not all that keen on swimming and water and all the rest. He’s only two, so may come round one day, but until then… It’s good, and useful, to find yourself in literature. In this case, I suppose Willow is Little Penguin.

But to end on a Swedish proverb, perhaps mothers shouldn’t ‘ta sig vatten över huvudet.’ At least not when your toddler is watching.

Bad Day at the Vulture Club

‘Man cannot live on dhansak alone.’ But they certainly try, those Parsees at the Vulture Club.

Vaseem Khan, Bad day at the Vulture Club

It’s time for Chopra and his baby elephant Ganesh to solve another murder when a wealthy and respected Parsee is found dead, in the place where the dead are put to be eaten by vultures. Could it have been an accident?

As usual Chopra does his best in the face of lack of belief in this ‘murder’ and meanwhile his partner Rangwalla is investigating a collapsed building. And Poppy, Mrs Chopra, has a new cause, Poo2Loo, much to Chopra’s embarrassment.

This latest crime novel by Vaseem Khan looks at some of the richest people in Mumbai, and also how some of the poorest people live, both in regard to their homes and jobs, as well as their [lack of] toilets. We get to know more about India today, with the help of fictional crime and a good dose of humour. Singing turds, anyone?

At times Chopra seems more literal than ever, even going so far as to point out to Poppy that ‘I don’t have a husband.’ And this time his mother-in-law actually has a point, and she’s starting to grow on me. Well, I suppose she is responsible for how the lovely Poppy turned out.

The crime turns round and round several times, and both the reader and Chopra think they know who did it, and they don’t, because they didn’t. And we don’t want it to have been one of the people we like.

But more than fairness in finding a murderer, we want a better and safer life for all Indians, at the mercy of crooks everywhere. This is neither cosy nor noir, but entertainment with humour, while educating us about that which we didn’t know or had forgotten about.

At least it rained on the last day

Stirling

You can have too much sunshine. Or can you? Well, this time of year in Scotland it is usually quite welcome. Makes you feel summer isn’t quite over, and you can forget that it will be Christmas in three months.

Actually, I don’t know where that thought came from. I don’t want to think about it.

But it was nice while it lasted, even if it did rain when people woke up on Sunday, for the finishing touches of Bloody Scotland. The sun somehow makes it easier to chat to people, to hang about, to enjoy yourself.

I could easily have stayed on outside the Golden Lion on Saturday night, as I waited for my chauffeur to pick me up. It was balmy and pleasant, and none of that September chill after the sun has set. I almost did have to stay, as the hotel walls – or whatever caused the block – wouldn’t let my call through to the Resident IT Consultant to come and get me. I had to go outside before those telephone lines started connecting up.

Lucky for me, because when I went back inside to wait I discovered James Oswald and went over to bother him for a few minutes. He was very polite about it.

Alexander McCall Smith

Earlier in the day I had encountered Alexander McCall Smith at the Albert Halls. It was his first time at Bloody Scotland, but he chatted to his fans as though they are always doing this.

And all those people sitting out in the sun, eating sandwiches, fighting the wasps (I made that up), and generally having a good time…

Albert Halls

You’ll have to wait until the 18th September 2020 to do this again. See you!

A twist on the cosy

And I’m afraid we all laughed at the memory of Catriona McPherson’s grandmother’s funeral. (But I’d say we were meant to.)

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Last night at the Golden Lion was one of the very best Bloody Scotland events I’ve known, and I’ve been to some good ones. As Vaseem Khan said, it was quality over quantity, referring to the fact that he and Catriona and Lynne Truss were competing with Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon down the road. But really, who’d choose those two over these three, so ably chaired by Laura Wilson, who’s just as fun and capable as I remembered from CrimeFest eleven years ago?

Right, so it was a discussion on cosy crime with three authors and a select audience, which contained, among others, Catriona’s parents. I liked her parents and wouldn’t mind borrowing them.

But was it really cosy crime we were dealing with? No, it was more whether you can kill kittens, and about writing with humour. Which, as far as I’m concerned is the best. Well, perhaps not the kitten-killing.

Apparently all cats are psychopaths.

It was actually a fairly animal-centred discussion, ably led by Baby Ganesh, Vaseem’s little elephant. While it was his detective Chopra’s wife’s involvement with where to deposit your poo that got us onto this, it was Catriona’s question whether he never worried whether Ganesh might, well, deposit, something somewhere unsuitable as well, which took us straight to Blue Peter’s elephant poo memory. This made us laugh a lot.

(Here I have to insert an apology to Lynne. I am not at all sure I get my thats and whiches and anything else right. But that’s the way I am. I loved Eats Shoots and Leaves. I just didn’t learn anything.)

And let’s get the panda out of the way right now. Not allowed to say what Vaseem thinks about pandas. But he likes vultures. He gets mail from fans, warning him not to let anything bad happen to Ganesh. There is no great plan for his little elephant, since when he wrote the first book he didn’t expect to get published, or that there would be more books. Ganesh will obviously outlive Chopra.

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This makes dogs more suitable to your plots; they won’t live as long. But this thing with age is difficult. Apparently Catriona and her Dandy were the same age in 2002 when they started out, but now Dandy is four years younger than her.

Catriona wanted to write her period crime as though it was written back then, and the greatest praise she’s had was the comment that it was just like a novel you might encounter in a wet Norfolk cottage (and not in a good way). Or, Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym. Her problem is that the action happens in the shadow of WWI, while the reader knows what is to come.

Lynne’s novels are set in Brighton in 1957. She wanted to go back to a time when her parents were young, and while it’s easy enough to know what was in the cinema at the time, it’s harder to get people to act the way they did. Do you let them swear, or not? The criminals can’t be seen to swear, even if they would have.

And you certainly didn’t swear in the wet Norfolk cottage.

Murder on the other hand is fine. Even of kittens.

What all three authors were annoyed by is that cosy crime is seen as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and as not proper books, and you can’t be funny. This snobbery is so unfounded.

Police in Brighton were notoriously corrupt, and Lynne wanted to write about the ‘relentless idiocy’ of her stupid policemen. She quite enjoys the sexism from the 1950s, meaning the police can’t even imagine that a working class woman could be the villain. But Lynne doesn’t set out to scare people.

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This panel almost fought to chat to each other, and to ask questions, and it was all interesting and fun, and if I ever get one of those ‘who would you invite to dinner?’ opportunities, Catriona, Lynne and Vaseem will be the ones, along with Laura. And hopefully Catriona’s parents. Maybe their friends whom I eavesdropped on outside on the pavement afterwards.

Before that afterwards, there was the signing. I already had books by Vaseem and Catriona, but hurriedly bought Lynne’s book as well. It was that kind of event. Vaseem insisted on taking a selfie with me, even after looking dubiously at my [conventional] camera, realising that no selfies would be coming from that. He had a mobile to hand, and now I’m afraid the internet will explode once that goes on Twitter.

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Catriona remembered the Witch, even after so many months, after just the one review. I might have said I now need extra time in my life to be able to read all her books, but all she could offer was more books… Like the fourth in her trilogy. And she couldn’t speak to me until she’d written down the ‘just arrived’ idea for her new book title on the back of the Bloody Scotland programme.

And Lynne, well, her book on the pitfalls on grammar and punctuation has put her forever in my, erm, good books. It’s like talking to royalty. Her next book will be the impressively titled Murder by Milk Bottle.

Talking about the future, Vaseem clearly has too much time on his hands, as Chopra and Ganesh will be joined by a new series, about a female Indian detective in the 1950s.

I really will need that extra time.