Category Archives: Blogs

Why, why, why?

Why do they do it? Why do authors even bother to get out of bed before the crack of dawn, to travel for hours, possibly with trains breaking down or getting cancelled, or driving hundreds of miles in their own cars. This is before they even stand up in front of school children in classrooms, talking about books, writing, reading, to audiences maybe not terribly interested. Possibly they will be told off by teachers for drinking coffee from the wrong mug in the staff room. And then they go home again, always assuming their transport works. Or they stay overnight, in dubious hotels, eating badly, before repeating the whole thing the next day.

Yes, there is – can be – money in it. Authors need to eat too. Their books will get better known. And [some of] the children will benefit from the visit by a real, live author.

But it must be so tiring.

This whole subject came up on Facebook, again, the other week. A few of those who know what it’s like, gathered to discuss travel – and other – disasters, again. Barry Hutchison told us about one of his first author outings, quite a few years ago, and I’m reproducing it here with Barry’s permission:

Barry Hutchison

“When I was just starting out, I went on a tour with HarperCollins, where myself and a few other authors visited schools around London.

One school we went to really shocked me. The teachers openly admitted they couldn’t teach the kids, and were basically just containing them until they were old enough to leave. The police were called in most days. None of the teachers had the faintest idea why we had bothered to come to the school, and told us we were wasting our time. They laughed when someone from Waterstones turned up with books to sell.

We were split up into different classes. The kids I spoke to were around 14 to 15 – older than the target audience of the one book I had out. They talked among themselves during my talk. A few of them took time out to look me up and down, whisper something to their mates, then burst out laughing.

I had 30 minutes to talk to them. After 20, I was so thrown-off by everything that I ran out of things to say. I asked if anyone had any questions. Someone said, ‘Is you a paedo, sir?’ and everyone laughed.

The teacher said nothing.

I had maybe a minute left. I asked if anyone enjoyed writing stories, and one boy down the front, who had been staring at his desk the whole time, saying nothing, raised the tip of a finger.

‘Oh!’ I said. ‘You like writing?’

All eyes turned to him. His hand went down. He told me that, no, he hated it, but his mum sometimes made him do it as a punishment.

I said no more about it.

At lunchtime, we brave authors sat at a signing table, swapping horror stories, books piled up around us that nobody was going to buy.

After 10 minutes or so, Waterstones started packing up. We were just about to leave when the boy who’d raised his hand came up, looked around nervously, then took a copy of my book out of his jacket and asked me to sign it.

I signed it and handed it back to him. He leaned closer, whispered, ‘I’ve never told anyone I like writing stories before,’ and then about-turned and hurried off.

On the way out, I found out from the librarian that he’d asked her to borrow the money for the book. She knew she’d never see the money again, so made him a deal – she’d buy him a copy if he came to her book group to discuss it. He reluctantly agreed.

She emailed me four months later to say he was still going to the book group. It consisted of him and her.

I have no idea where that kid is now, but the thought of him has seen me through some pretty abysmal school events over the years.”

Those of us following this conversation that day all admitted to reaching for a tissue when we got to those last paragraphs. Perhaps that is why they do all this stuff. And librarians, eh?

Thank you.

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One cushion, two cushions, three cushions, four

Yes! Adding cushions is a recent, popular trend in Sweden. It is driving me bananas. Because while people – interior design magazine journalists – believe they are suggesting just that, adding cushions to make your sofa or home look so much lovelier; what they are really saying is that you add them up. One two three…

Adding isn’t the only thing Swedes do now. Sometimes they express how they feel uncomfortable. You can have an uncomfortable sofa – with or without those added cushions – but the only way you as a human being can be uncomfortable is if someone sits on you. It’s not about how you feel mentally. It’s the sitter who’s uncomfortable.

On the basis that a language changes constantly, I dare say these new pet hates of mine are fully signed up members of the Swedish language by now. I just don’t like them. I know, it’s a sign of being ancient and a stick-in-the-mud. Intolerant, even.

For years Swedes have gone round saying ‘yes’ instead of ‘ja.’ It’s got so I actually say yes as well. A bit ironic.

Yes!

This Swenglish is interesting. The uncomfortable addings puzzle me. Have people heard English native speakers say this, and simply adopted the phrases? Or did they suddenly think ‘OMG, I’ve been saying it wrong all my life!’ and changed?

Linguistically I don’t have a particularly high opinion of interior design magazines. But this half-Swedish half-English language also turns up in real books. I think it depends on how old you are. Christoffer Carlsson used some interesting hybrid words in his crime novels, and in his speech. He talked of ‘kidsen’ which is borrowing the word kids and giving it the Swedish suffix meaning ‘the.’ Or ‘low-lifesen’ which is plural low-life with another suffix.

All this indicates the international way we live, borrowing freely and imitating others we consider to be cooler. Non-native speakers of English also get US and British English mixed up, and that goes for really proficient speakers as well.

Every month Vi magazine asks a well-known person what books they have on their bedside table, and thankfully most have books, and usually several, and often books that make me green with envy. Because they are so intellectual. But they are rarely not in Swedish.

And that makes me wonder. Why all this borrowing and everyday spoken Swenglish, and then not read books in English? It would make the readers so much more proficient in this admired language. And they’d stand a chance of discovering why adding cushions works in English, but not in their own homes.

Or would that completely subtract our Swedish?

Read eat travel

I read three books yesterday.

I also discovered there is no such thing as a free lunch. Late. I know. So was the lunch, and it was free – it always is – but it had shrunk to minuscule proportions, even for others not as hungry as I was. Next time I’ll take a packed lunch to this restaurant.

It involved travelling, but the best kind; daytime trains within Central Scotland, outside the festival season. And there was no snow. But that didn’t actually mean the trains ran, or to time. Got to Edinburgh all right, with only the other trains cancelled. As my disappointed stomach and I tried to get home, however… First train cancelled. Second train cancelled. Third train not cancelled, but two coaches taking care of three trains’ worth of passengers? I don’t think so.

I waited for the delayed – and getting ever more delayed – Inverness train. It wasn’t delayed for the same reason all the other trains got cancelled. No, it had to do with vehicle hitting a bridge ‘earlier.’ They kept adding minutes. In the end, me and another four hungry lunching ladies only had to wait an extra 50 minutes. The others actually needed to travel all the way to Inverness, too.

But at least I had my books. When packing all three, I sort of felt it was overkill, but what’s one more book between friends?

Finished the third book a minute before the train pulled into Stirling.

I’ll take four next time. And a sandwich.

Did I know that?

No, generally not. Or at least, I didn’t remember it. Not even to the extent that when it got mentioned again (really?) there was some flutter of recognition.

Anyway.

I asked Son if he saw any Nobel laureates at the Gothenburg Book Fair. He didn’t. I only asked because the Resident IT Consultant and I spent a recent afternoon getting rid of books. We got to one by Orhan Pamuk, and I checked it for a signature. Nope. ‘He signed a book?’ ‘Yes, we kept coming across him everywhere for a couple of years,’ I said. And then I spied another Pamuk book, which was allowed to stay, but I wanted to know if the imagined signature was in that one. It was.

I asked Son if he saw any archbishops. He didn’t. But he did add that he was annoyed at having had to miss an event with K G Hammar, seeing as he’d translated something that the emeritus archbishop had written about Dag Hammarskjöld. ‘I didn’t know that.’ ‘Yes, you did,’ he said. (I later asked the Resident IT Consultant what he knew. He knew nothing.)

Son did see, and have a drink with, Andreas Norman, whose thrillers he has translated. Seems the first one, Into a Raging Blaze, is – potentially – very close to becoming a television series. Move over The Killing, The Bridge!

I have also had reports back from School Friend, who was enthusiastic about her two events – with Stina Wollter, and Anna and Ola Rosling – and Pippi, who apparently met an author whose mother she used to play with when they were children. So, as I said, it’s a small country.

A brand new and fresh Gothenburg Book Fair

This time it’s Son’s turn to haunt the Gothenburg Book Fair. Thirteen years after he and I first went – because I had a silly brainwave – we have both developed into people who can use this gathering more professionally.

And, I don’t know many people. I mean, over there, still, after all these years. So the accidental bumping into them shouldn’t happen so much, except it does a bit, because it’s a small country and a big fair.

But online? I was intrigued earlier in the summer when the fair’s organisers sent out yet another jolly email about booking in time and all that stuff. They had chosen a couple of photographs to illustrate quite how good a time you will have there if you go.

bok o bibliotek

And I thought ‘that looks a little like Motala Boy’ and then, seeing the person next to him, ‘that looks a lot like his wife, Once New Librarian.’ So there they were, tucking into their lunch and studying the map of the fair, to see where to go next.

It is a small world, even if a librarian was involved, and her library assistant other half. I imagine Son might bump into them. Or Pizzabella, School Friend, or his Cousin once removed. And obviously all the people he has arranged to meet for professional reasons.

I don’t envy him the exhaustion that is about to set in. Other than that, it will be fun!

The Kiwis are coming!

I’ve got news for you. They were already there. Here. At Bloody Scotland. Except as with the Swedes, they had to fake it just a bit. Craig Sisterson, the chair, is from New Zealand, and so is Paul Cleave. Fiona Sussman has lived in New Zealand for thirty years, but is still from South Africa. Liam McIlvanney is Scottish, but has a New Zealand passport in his sights after ten years in the country. Denise Mina was the honorary Kiwi, based on her having visited twice.

Glad we’ve got that sorted out.

Denise mentioned ‘bleck hends’ which I understand to actually be black hands. Whatever that is. (To which I can offer the wisdom that blood is ‘rid.’) There is a perceived link between New Zealand and the Nordic countries – to which Scotland possibly belongs. They are all dark places.

Paul Cleave, Denise Mina, Liam McIlvanney, Fiona Sussman and Craig Sisterson

Paul comes from Crimechurch; sorry, Christchurch, and he claims to have an alibi for the earthquake. The quake still has much impact on people’s lives, and Paul reckons that in twenty years’ time, someone will write a crime novel about the murder of an insurance agent; so strong are the feelings on how they’ve been treated.

Fiona feels crime fiction is primarily a social commentary, and Denise added that it summarises what’s happened during the last year or two; the time it takes for a novel to be written and published.

Denise is inspired by real life, and there are some things you can’t make up, whereas Paul does not borrow anything and makes everything up, as he doesn’t want to be seen to be making money from real crimes. Denise informed him where he was wrong, and would most likely have taken Paul outside to make him see things her way, if she could have. You’re ‘doing it for the money.’

Craig mentioned that Paul was the one who’d travelled the furthest to get to Bloody Scotland, because Fiona lives further north. Scotland and New Zealand have in common that they are small countries with a larger English-speaking neighbour.

According to Paul everyone, but him, wants to live in New Zealand; this ‘dull, hygienic, social democracy…’ Fiona is still worried about being thrown out of her adoptive country for what she writes. And Liam has bad experience of criticising the country’s cheese. Apparently you mustn’t.

Paul is always bumping into people in Crimechurch, but never anywhere else. It’s small enough. He has some advice on what to do about bad reviews. This involves a lawyer, so he hasn’t read any reviews in five years. (At this point it looked like Paul and Denise needed separating, as they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on anything…)

Denise Mina, Paul Cleave, Liam McIlvanney, Fiona Sussman and Craig Sisterson

Fiona loves VW Beetles, and has had a lot of experience of them. But when she wrote about one in a book, it still passed both her own and her husband’s reading, before an editor mentioned that its engine is not in the front of the car! (Well, you can’t remember everything.)

This event also over-ran, and we finished with a semi-heated discussion on audiobooks and who is best at reading them. It seems no one. With one little exception in Fiona’s case, none of them have recognised their characters in the actor reading their books. It’s always the wrong voice. Paul, needing to be the ‘worst’ again mentioned the time he was offered a choice of eight American potential readers, all with very fake New Zealand accents.

(I’m afraid time constraints meant I wasn’t able to take any worthwhile photos of our quintet. And Denise had to run. But it was fun anyway.)

Paul Cleave, Liam McIlvanney and Fiona Sussman

Family Secrets

At the end of this randomly chosen event, my imagination ran away with me for a bit. I couldn’t help but think that maybe someone in the audience had been there to gather ideas for how to kill… In which case there would have been much inspiration. Or, I suppose, someone could write a crime novel about this possibility. Feel free to use.

Caroline Mitchell, Ruth Ware, Mel McGrath and Alexandra Sokoloff

Women are far scarier than men, and Alexandra Sokoloff, standing in for Lin Anderson, promised some killing of men the following day. So I’m guessing Saturday’s Family Secrets panel was a little milder.

Caroline Mitchell, Ruth Ware and Mel McGrath have a lot of pseudonyms between them. Alexandra was barely able to list them all.  And of course we wouldn’t rather have gone to the football! A group of muddy male crime writers is nothing compared with murderous females.

So, domestic noir. Caroline’s new novel features a woman who discovers her biological parents are infamous mass murderers, and she is asked to come and meet her real mother, in exchange for some information on the victims’ whereabouts. Caroline really likes ‘evil mothers; bad female antagonists.’

Ruth Ware

Compared to that, Ruth’s heroine who is offered an inheritance that isn’t actually hers, but a mistake, sounds more like a picnic. Except I gather there are interesting undercurrents in the family of the dead woman who wanted to give her money away, in a Gothic sort of way.

And Mel had been inspired by a friend’s experience of discovering her adopted son holding a knife to her biological child. It’s about children’s secrets, and nature versus nurture. Can you prevent serial killers from becoming killers? Because ‘kids are just people.’

According to Mel what you do or say within the family, means you are making choices every day. Caroline calls herself a ‘very nosy person.’ Mel used to have criminals as neighbours and she and her writer husband used to vie for listening to them through the shared wall, hoping to learn something to write about.

Caroline Mitchell

Asked about their research Caroline makes use of her nine years in the police. It’s a good background and she’s been ‘really lucky.’ The worst time for domestic crimes is around dinner; especially Christmas dinner. She sees her writing as therapy, having burned out during her time with the police. Crime writers are the nicest.

Mel McGrath

Mel finds it easy to ask people what she needs to know, as most professions want to be properly represented in books, so are happy to talk. She finds that the right amount of really nice cocktails helps, and one of her new friends can pick a psychopath in a crowd.

Faced with the cocktail idea, Ruth said she can’t be ‘bothered to research’ as she has small children. She reads and uses the internet as her ‘easy option.’ And she admits she always had safe jobs.

Not so Mel, who as a journalist learned that some things you don’t report, if the upside of your silence means you stay alive.

Ruth Ware, Caroline Mitchell and Mel McGrath

And right now I’m a little hazy on which of these lovely ladies had a ‘grandfather who was a petty gangster in the East End.’ Doesn’t matter. They are all ‘killer women’ and on Saturday they convinced a man who was only accompanying his wife, to buy some crime novels and start a new life in crime.