Monthly Archives: September 2019

Bodies

Pippi was in town. Well, she’s been in Scotland for a week, dividing her time between Glasgow (The Prom) and Edinburgh, where I arranged to meet her for another afternoon tea. But never mind the tea, although we were seated on a very comfortable sofa, which is what I like in my old age.

Pippi wanted to know where I sit to read. Seems there’s some programme in Sweden where people are asked this question. She asked twice. Well, at our ages we forget.

On her last visit Pippi bought Sue Black’s All That Remains, about her life and dead bodies and all that. It’s one of the best books she’s read for some time. I’m not surprised. I like Sue, who’s always interesting. Although, when Pippi tried to interest her friends in the book, it seems pathology isn’t high on people’s TBR lists.

When we were fully stuffed with afternoon tea, we took ourselves off to Son’s, who doesn’t live that far away. He was also asked where he sits to read (after Pippi had had the guided tour of his home, which Swedes insist on).

On the way back to Waverley we had to wait 25 minutes for the 25 bus, and by the time it arrived I was so stiff from standing, it was all my body could do to get itself onto the bus and fold my limbs into a sitting position.

At Waverley we said goodbye and agreed that if we are both still alive next year, there can be more tea.

Then I had a nice read of my new book on the train home. It’s about [dead] bodies, but has such a colourful cover that Pippi mistook it for a children’s book.

🙂

The #26 profile – Ambrose Parry

It was the witchyness again. In the past few months I’ve come closer to Ambrose Parry than most of the other big Scottish crime writers I am capable of recognising in the wild. By that I don’t mean I’ve been stalking him [them] but just that we’ve ended up in the same doorways several times. So that will be why Ambrose [was] volunteered to answer my silly questions to mark the 2019 McIlvanney prize at this year’s Bloody Scotland, where his The Way of All Flesh is one of the shortlisted hopefuls.

Though it appears it really was Chris Brookmyre, despite me suggesting some split personal history between the two halves of Ambrose Parry. I suppose it would have ended up with arguments over who read Enid Blyton and who didn’t…

So, here he [they] is [are]:

Ambrose Parry (c) Alan Trotter (1)

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Four. I made the mistake of trying to write what I thought publishers wanted. When I wrote for my own amusement, I got a deal.

Best place for inspiration?

Outdoors. Doesn’t matter where, as along as I’m walking.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I write with my wife Marisa Haetzman under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry.

What would you never write about?

Nothing. I have learned that the things you forswear can end up central to a subsequent book.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

Playing Glastonbury as part of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. I can’t think of any other confluence of events that could have seen me playing guitar on-stage at one of the world’s biggest music festivals.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

None of them. Even the cool ones are beset by horrible things that I would not wish for myself.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Unequivocally a good thing. Having your work reinterpreted by someone else in a different medium is both flattering and exciting. Even if they arse it up.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

‘Can I bring up this book [on-stage] to be signed so that I don’t have to wait?’

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I used to be pretty good at Quake 2 and Quake 3 twenty years ago. These abilities were of limited assistance in my day job.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

I grew up on Douglas Adams and Tolkien. Blyton and Lewis were too twee for my taste.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth. He brings dry humour to progressive death metal.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I don’t even want to think about this. There is no sense, no reason, no arrangement. Just chaos. It haunts me.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

You’re A Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton. If he isn’t laughing out loud after about three pages, he’s unsavable.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing. It’s a need that does not sleep.

Hmm, well… More Swedes I’ve never heard of. Quake 2 and Quake 3?? I’m pleased the young Ambrose/Chris was good at it. And my victims must be getting younger. It’s not natural to have been brought up on Douglas Adams, but it does explain rather a lot.

And really, playing Glastonbury is cooler than meeting Obama. I don’t reckon anyone will be able to top this on here. Ever.

Bloody Scotland Blog Tour 2019

Tin Boy

Steve Cole, Tin Boy

I’ve never seen Steve Cole so dark. And I’d not expected it in this short book for Barrington Stoke. But it’s excellent, and so very stirring.

Tin Boy is about a young boy in Indonesia, mining for tin in the most dangerous of ways. Just so we can have our mobile phones, and as cheaply as possible. I imagine that after reading this story about Tono, the young readers will chuck out their phones in disgust. Although, it’d be better if we all kept our gadgets until they die, so people like Tono do not have to die mining for tin.

Living with his uncle, Tono has to dive for tin, until the day he has a near fatal accident in the water. He finds a stone, which might be magic, giving him powers just like the heroes in the cartoons he inherited from his father.

And for a while that does seem to be the case, until…

This is powerful stuff; not at all like Steve’s other – excellent but lighter – fiction. I’d love to read more from serious Steve.

(Illustrations by Oriol Vidal)

White Eagles

This relatively short – because it’s for Barrington Stoke – novel by Elizabeth Wein, featuring a Polish teenager at the outbreak of WWII, is as wonderful and, yes, life affirming, as you’d want it to be.

Elizabeth Wein, White Eagles

I would obviously have welcomed a much longer novel, but White Eagles confirmed that you can have a full grown novel with few words. It’s as heartrending as Code Name Verity, as exciting and as sweet, as well.

Again, it’s worth being reminded that war didn’t only start in Britain. It broke out all over Europe, and it was equally devastating, or possibly more so. It’s easy to forget. And reading White Eagles I realised that there may well be an outbreak of fiction to ‘celebrate’ that it’s now 80 years since the war began. Unless one doesn’t mark the start?

18-year-old Kristina is a flying instructor in Warsaw, but when the Germans invade, she soon finds herself having to escape, with her plane, and before long nothing is as she’s known it.

Kristina is another young pilot in the mould of Maddie from Code Name Verity. I can read any number of stories about these early female pilots.

A summer blown away

They’ve been picking glass splinters out of cushions. Or trying to, in any case.

The Once New Librarian noticed the oddly parked bike outside her block of flats on her way to work one morning in June. The bike with a parcel carrier at the front, with a bomb on it. Except she didn’t know it was a bomb at that point.

It was the day after my birthday, and many people would have had the day off. Luckily, Once New Librarian didn’t, nor did her husband Motala Boy. And Motala Boy’s colleague and his family were away on holiday, or they would have been having breakfast on the balcony. The balcony that is no longer there.

Because when that bomb exploded, the block of flats was severely damaged, but mercifully with no fatalities. Not even too many serious injuries. A bit like the Manchester IRA bomb, really. (Which didn’t then mean that there wasn’t rebuilding taking place for a very long time.) As there will be in Linköping.

This summer was only the beginning. Once New Librarian and Motala Boy have not been back to their home. Not allowed. They had what they stood up in plus a small work rucksack each. And after rescue services had gone in, they also had their two cats. Mercifully not covered in glass splinters, unlike the cushions.

And the old dresser. And many other items, with which they were only reunited last week, three months after the bomb. They have now been spending over a week deciding what to get rid of, because the glass simply can’t be removed.

Linköping

It wasn’t just the loss of their home and having to camp out with family. There were hours and hours of talking to insurance companies and the authorities and being interviewed by the police. They had less holiday than planned, because of this. Less of a summer, really. A week after the bomb they attended a friend’s wedding, wearing borrowed clothes. They didn’t have access to their car for most of this period.

But this being Sweden, three months on, they have been provided with a lovely new house to live in while the flats are rebuilt and made safe.

And the cats are all right.

Click Bait

How I have missed Gillian Philip’s YA novels! Gillian is an author who can make you enjoy the dark and gritty lives of dark and gritty people, when that’s the last thing you are into. With Click Bait she’s back big time, providing the answer to the question ‘How low will you go?’

Pretty low, is the answer, but the thing is, you’re sort of with Eddie all the way, no matter how wrong and stupid he is, once he’s got started on the way to hell.

Gillian Philip, Click Bait

Eddie is 19 and lives in his dead grandma’s house, enjoying the company of his rich and beautiful girlfriend – despite her father’s objections – and tolerating Crow, the little boy next door who is forever scrounging bacon sandwiches off him. There’s Sid, the friendly girl who seems satisfied with mere friendship.

And then Eddie goes and puts a very bad joke, tasteless in the extreme, on Facebook. As tends to happen online, it spreads fast, and there is an explosion of anti-Eddie tweets, not to mention a YouTube clip, and soon Eddies’ life isn’t worth living.

The stupid boy doesn’t even apologise.

Job gone, and girlfriend mostly gone, Eddie at least has Crow and Sid on his side, plus the press camping outside his house.

This is all completely believable and not in the slightest bit pretty, but it’s compelling and you do root for Eddie, except you can’t see how he’s going to get out of this at all. Especially not when there are only twenty pages or so left.

I for one am glad Gillian is back with such a cracking story. More please!

Sitting pretty

It must be old age or something. I need my chairs to be softer these days, despite my built-in padding being quite well-padded. But on that basis, my old desk-chair was not up to it. Worked fine in most respects, but it was hard. Nothing soft about it at all.

I’d say I probably had it for 25 years. Hard to pinpoint exactly, because it looks – looked – much the same as the one before it, so the years blur a bit.

Had tried a new chair at IKEA when I was there last, like a year ago. Kept thinking about how comfortable it had been. So when Daughter drove me to shop a little, I tried the chair out again. It was still nice. But in the meantime, there was an even newer chair on offer, and it was even softer.

So I now have what I never thought I’d go for; a black leather desk-chair, on wheels. It is soft.

And ever so slightly lopsided. But by the time Daughter had built it for me – and it required a lot of building – we were hardly going to take it back, on the off-chance that the replacement would be straighter. And it would have needed building…

Balloon to the Moon

There are a lot of crazy people in this world. There always have been, and that’s lucky, because where would we have been if no one had crazy ideas and tried them out?

Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielsen, Balloon to the Moon

Gill Arbuthnott has traced the early days of space flight, which seems to have been balloons, several hundred years ago. Who’d have thought?

Even then, they started cautiously by sending a sheep, a duck and a chicken, rather than humans, up in a balloon in 1783. And after that there was no stopping them.

This book is illustrated throughout, by Christopher Nielsen, and I rather like his snakes and ladders approach to showing how what happened and when. It all began with kites in China in the 5th century BC. And here we are, two and a half thousand years later with a Chinese space probe on the ‘wrong’ side of the Moon.

In between there were many men, but also quite a few women doing daring things, and various dogs and monkeys and other animals.

It’s funny how it’s possible to get excited about a thing – in this case space exploration – over and over again. No matter how many books, it’s still fun.

I thoroughly recommend this book to, well, almost anyone. You don’t have to be a child. Like Gill, I was a child in 1969, and it seems neither of us has outgrown this fascination for space. I feel sorry for those who didn’t experience these milestones in real time. But here’s this book, anyway. In case you are young.

Crossfire

Malorie Blackman has still got it. I was concerned that after so many years since the first four Noughts & Crosses novels she would have lost momentum, but with what’s going on in the world to inspire her, there is little risk of that. In fact, more than ever, Malorie has hit the right spot re what’s wrong with our country. It comes across as just as bad, whatever the skin colour of the people doing wrong things to others.

Malorie Blackman, Crossfire

The intervening years had made me forget exactly how we left Callie Rose and Sephy and Tobey. But it didn’t take long to get back in there, and it felt like returning to old friends, and getting to know new ones. Troy and Libby are the next generation, still at school, and formerly great friends but now at logger-heads over colour issues and politics, as well as their different chances of having a good future.

Troy is the black son of Sephy, half-brother to Callie Rose, and Libby is the white daughter of Tobey and Misty. And yes, Tobey is now Prime Minister – the first Nought to get that far in politics.

There is much going on here, and I won’t list it. However, I will mention that this book has no plot ending, but finishes with a resounding cliffhanger. It’s probably for the best, as the issues at stake are far too big to sort out in one volume. Just like our own troubles, which occasionally appear to be just the same.

I’ve been saying for some time that I’m not ready for a Brexit YA novel. But this story, set in an alternate Britain, is just about something I can cope with. Upsetting and heartrending, but not ‘real’ real. Just awfully real, all the same.

Hey, Sherlock!

Reading the third Garvie Smith mystery, I again blessed Simon Mason for having written these books. They fill you with a happy glow as you enjoy both the humour and the crime mystery. As I may have said before, in real life 16-year-old Garvie would [probably] be horrendous, but in print he’s everything you want in a hero; intelligent, handsome, kind, good at maths, understands his fellow human beings and knows instinctively what they might have done and why. He’s also rude and smokes and drinks and sleeps all day. And he’s about as good at building fences as he was attending school in the run-up to his GCSEs.

Simon Mason, Hey, Sherlock!

This time we have a disappeared girl; a maths genius (or close) and someone who is also a nightmare to her mother, just like Garvie is to his. Can he find Amy, or is she already dead?

I love the way Garvie’s useless friends are so very useful when it comes to what he needs, be it knowledge about vans, or tricks for breaking into places. Or getting out of them again, in a hurry. His contacts are about as good for fact-finding as those the police have.

What I like so much is that Garvie understands human nature, in a way the adults around him don’t. And he’s kind. He really is.

As long as he can find a different job from fence building to be useless at, I would love to meet up with Garvie again.