Category Archives: Bookshops


In mid-September a Swedish book fan was ordered by Stirling Sheriff Court to leave her favourite author alone, and to go back to Sweden the next day. And no, that wasn’t me.

The author in question is Stirling historian Neil Oliver, who has been bombarded with letters and photos and CDs by this woman over the last year. Her stalking continued when she turned up at a book signing Neil was doing at Waterstones in Glasgow this month, trying to hand him an envelope.

I understand that this must have been upsetting for Neil. I’m wary of people knowing where I live, so for his address* to have become known to her will have made him feel unsafe.

But, the man appears on television regularly. It’s easy to ‘fall’ for a charismatic television presenter at the best of times. As an author he’s a bit of a public figure. At a bookshop signing he is doing a public event.

It’s tricky. I understand her fervour, and I get his fear. I don’t know what the solution is.

But I can sort of see myself in her place. It can be hard not to admire too much.

(*The full name and address of the poor fan has been made public, with the help of the Stirling Observer. This is something that wouldn’t happen in Sweden.)

Btw, I love you all!!!!!!

Capital Crime; Edinburgh Noir

They are busy upsetting tourist boards all over Scotland. They, being Neil Broadfoot, Doug Johnstone and James Oswald. I mean, how dare they commit murder in the lovely settings the tourist boards are meant to promote?

Yes, well, they do. But last Sunday morning the topic for discussion was putting people off Edinburgh, or rather, telling us about how they have approached murder in the Scottish capital.

James Oswald – described in a blurb as the new Ian Rankin – started writing his Tony McLean books in Wales, so had to pick the areas of Edinburgh he knew from when he was a student. Besides, Stuart MacBride already had Aberdeen, which would have been a second choice for James.

Doug Johnstone is from Arbroath and thought that Dundee is a big city, so he simply ‘got over it’ [Edinburgh’s reputation], and he tries to find areas less well represented in fiction to make them his. He has also written about Islay, and in order to avoid lots of research he makes his characters visitors, so that he doesn’t have to prove he knows a place like a native.

Neil Broadfoot’s only reason for ‘being here’ was Edinburgh. A journalist for the Scotsman he described getting the idea of killing someone by throwing them off the Scott Monument. He also enjoys killing on Skye, and generally likes taking a beautiful place and doing something terrible in it.

So the introduction by Alanna Knight was obviously quite apt; ‘Edinburgh has always been bad.’ She talked about Burke and Hare, saying what a fascinating crime history Edinburgh has.

James Oswald

James’s Tony McLean hardly ever gets sent out of Edinburgh. He needs to be there. In the early days of writing James described the rather nice area of Trinity, off Leith Walk, as a place full of drug addicts and whores. Now he checks his facts a bit better. He also finds he needs to move McLean and the murders to new areas, and not just stick to the few he knew well years ago. A while ago he thought of a friend’s house in Gilmerton, and decided he was going to murder someone there. He then discovered the caves in Gilmerton, which were absolutely perfect for killing people in.

Doug tries to be as accurate as possible, so has maps and photos on his wall. He checks distances from A to B, and which way you’d travel between them, as well as knowing house numbers, mentioning a murder which took place in Ian Rankin’s house.

Neil Broadfoot

Neil said you’d never have a Mardi Gras in Princes Street, and that tone and flavour is the most important. He also seems to have considered, very carefully, how you’d kill someone by running a tram into them.

Questioned on writing series, Neil said that one novel tends to give him the next one. Doug isn’t strong enough to be hard to his characters by having them go through the treatment he dishes out more than once.

Tony McLean gets more scarred with every book, but James blames Stuart MacBride for this. Asked if you have to read the books in order, he said you don’t need to, but that he’d prefer for people ‘to buy all the books…’ (The Benfro books must be read in order, however.)

James read the passage from Gilmerton cove and it was chilling even when you have already read the book. Doug read a suicide scene set on the Forth Road Bridge in Queensferry, which made me want to read the book, while also making me not want to read it. Neil said that as it was after twelve, he was allowed to swear, which he did when he read about murder in a newspaper editor’s office [not the Scotsman].

As to who they write for, they agreed you must write for yourself and not try and please others. James found this out when publishers made him lose the supernatural from his books, but it was rubbish. Besides, Allan Guthrie told him to keep the ghosts in.

Doug Johnstone

Doug said you have to write what you have to write. This former nuclear physicist has always written, and he was encouraged to ‘go for it’ after getting two quite nicely done rejections.

And politics is generally a no.

A pathological liar

Even though I know I will love listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her new book, it takes me by surprise how entertaining she is. Fun. Intelligent. I’ve had her A Game For All The Family sitting here for a while. First I was going to read it immediately, but you know how that tends to go. After that I was too scared to contemplate it. Because Sophie is one scary woman, too.

Sophie Hannah

She’s satisfied with the title of her novel. She got the words from numerous boxes containing board games and the like, and her novel is about a family playing games, just not Cluedo or Monopoly. It’s her first standalone novel, and she couldn’t use her normal detectives Simon and Charlie, because she needed the police to be useless. And to be in Devon.

It’s about pathological lying, which is different from ‘normal sensible lying.’ She was inspired by her daughter’s friend, who was an unusually interesting nine-year-old boy. (Sophie tends to go out of her way to avoid children.) Set in a house on the same spot as Agatha Christie’s Greenway, it was inspired by Sophie’s family holiday there.

Sophie Hannah

Sophie has to plan everything in advance, as her ‘mysteries are so weird’ and there is generally just the one possible solution. She reminisced about her own house move from Bingley to Cambridge, moving not because they needed to, but because she felt like living in Cambridge. It made her feel a bit neurotic, worrying about having randomly moved her family, possibly tempting fate in doing so.

As a child she used to write jolly, childish stories, but rarely of the fingerprints and DNA variety. She talked about the pathological liars she has known. Her husband told her ‘no one is even remotely as weird as you.’ She feels attuned to the weird side of life, and loves inviting insane guests for dinner. (You’ve been warned.)

Apart from for her Poirot novel Sophie has come up with the titles for all her books, and she likes having the title before she starts writing. She feels there is often a link between what authors like reading and the kind of books they write. Sophie grew up on Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, who are both favourites, as well as P D James’ Innocent Blood which she would go up to strangers to recommend.

Sophie Hannah

At the moment Sophie has four and a half days off from having finished her next book, The Narrow Bed, before she starts on a secret writing task that has to be done by Christmas. I think we can guess.

When I got home, all fired up, I discussed the book with the Resident IT Consultant. I said I must read it. He – who has read it – commented on the plot, and I said ‘that sounded like a bit of a spoiler.’ He looked embarrassed before saying he’d better not say any more. Wise man. Maybe I’ll gag him.

And then it was Sunday

Rubbing shoulders with all these crime writers has made me see the potential for murder everywhere. For instance, the fresh blood spatters in the ladies toilet? The possibilities are endless. The man with the shoulderbag strap? I saw him twice. Just because you see someone a lot, doesn’t mean you know them and that they are safe. (You from them, or they from you…)

Neil Broadfoot and James Oswald

I went to see three more noir boys before lunch. This time they were Edinburgh Noir. They may have been sold out. James Oswald reckoned ‘that was fun’ when I caught up with him in the corridor after the event.

You may remember I had running to do. So after I’d made sure the three noirs sat down to sign at the table laid for three, rather than four, it was all downhill for me again. But at least it was dry.

Outside the Albert Halls

It was so dry I was able to sit in the small park area in front of the Albert Halls to have my lunch. I even had a wasp trying to enter my sandwich bag. It made me realise two things; that we’ve not seen many wasps at all this cold summer, and that here is where I always attract wasps. Between one Bloody September and the next, I forget. I watched two men wielding a mallet and a saw (because that’s not dangerous at all). From their sign it seems they build cabinets. Don’t know why they did it in the park, though.

Queue for Sophie Hannah

Missed Lin Anderson’s signing due to my outdoor picnic. And then I went in for my two Albert Halls events, not meeting a single unexpected person and having a generally uneventful afternoon. If I could have Sophie Hannah’s trousers I’d be happy, but I daresay she needs them herself.

Ian Rankin

If Ian Rankin looks happy it’s because he and his fellow Scots in the Scottish football team drew with England. Naturally this was when it rained. 5-5, which apparently means the local team keeps the cup because they won last year…

It wasn’t so dry that it didn’t rain at all, but it mostly did this while I was indoors and the rain was not. On my way home I could have made it all the way in the dry, had I not stopped to help a lady in a car find her way to the street next to Bookwitch Towers. It struck me I could have offered to show her the way if she gave me a lift, but it also struck me that we’d both be safer not sharing a car with a stranger, however nice we both seemed.

That’s murder for you.

The Nordic Noir boys

It was a toss-up between my pasts; Nordic Noir or Brighton Rocks? I went with the Nordic boys, but didn’t admit to having been to Öland when Johan Theorin asked. It was a long time ago and I prefer to remember it as a summer paradise, and not one of Johan’s bleak crime settings.

Johan Theorin

Chair Miriam Owen did a good job, only slightly dishing out criticism at men who eat yoghurt with cinnamon, which apparently no Scottish male in his right mind would do. Well, maybe not.

They are all bleak, in their own way. Apart from Johan’s Öland, we have Gunnar Staalesen’s Bergen and Ragnar Jonasson’s northernmost town in Iceland, where the sun never appears in winter, and the tunnel in might become blocked by an avalanche. Although, he professed to being an Agatha Christie fan – as well as being her translator – so he’s probably all sweetness, really.

It seems that 50 years ago there were no murders in Iceland. They only arrived with the crime novels, so we know who to blame. Johan is hoping there will be a trend that brings new Nordic crime from recent immigrants, and he mentioned how humorous they’ve become in Sweden… (That’s not why people like you, you know!)

Apart from Gunnar’s Spanish translator who felt he had so little food in his novels that he added some for him, there is food in them books. Ragnar does pizza a lot, both for himself and his characters, but his UK editor required more Icelandic fare, so he had to edit his food. Johan tried to explain kroppkakor, but I think we do well to stop at slaughtering the right pig.

Do they work closely with their translators? Well, Ragnar was sure he knew how to translate a book, so helpfully corrected a friend’s work, all in red. Johan’s translator corrects his mistakes, not vice versa. Gunnar has the excellent Don Bartlett, so finds he has to go back to his Norwegian original and alter things he’s got wrong.

And there’s an explanation to the cinnamony yoghurt. It’s not yoghurt at all, but filmjölk, in which case the cinnamon makes sense, and any man should be proud to eat it.

Gunnar Staalesen

Gunnar had been incensed by ‘his’ films. They put an actor speaking in an Oslo accent to play Warg, who has a very strong Bergen accent, and believe me, even a foreigner like me can tell the difference. Johan feels it’s like sending your child out into the world. You just want to go along and hold their hand.

The Norwegian Easter crime trend was explained. Everyone goes to their second home for ten days at Easter. Everyone wants to read crime when they do. So, lots of published crime, easy to carry up that mountain to your cabin. In Iceland you get your books for Christmas instead. Everyone has to read a book on Christmas Eve. Gunnar said it’s those dark night which make Nordic readers such prolific readers.

Asked if they have anything like Bloody Scotland, they said of course they do. And of course they do. There is Crime Time Gotland, and Iceland Noir and there might even be a Bloody Bergen one day.

Gunnar likes red herrings, and in case his readers see them coming, he then adds a green herring for good measure. Johan had been in danger of making his books into tourist brochures, but his translator pointed out they were not. And Ragnar feels it’s best to write for the Icelanders, and offer no explanations. The reason Nordic crime on television has been so successful is that they are very well written.

Ragnar Jonasson

Who would they themselves go and listen to this weekend? Gunnar likes Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and Philip Kerr. Ragnar goes for Peter May, while Johan extolled the writing of James Oswald.

And I simply cannot explain the bloodstain which appeared on the last page of my notebook during the last few minutes…

Saturday’s people

I had a pot of builder’s tea with Roman crime writer Lindsey Davis first thing on Saturday morning. Well, Lindsey had coffee, but her publicist Kerry and I had Very Strong Tea. It was Kerry who suggested I’d love to meet Lindsey, and how right she was! (Kerry usually is.) I’ll tell you more about our chat in a later post, but I have to mention what a beautiful purple coat Lindsey wore. (Apparently she owns matching colour boots. My kind of woman.)

There was some talk about the Nordic authors who had been offered pickled herring for breakfast (obviously to make them really feel at home), when all they wanted was a good old British cooked breakfast. Rollmops, anyone?

We also talked about Kerry’s lovely dog, which I met last year, and this led nicely to the serious matter of shopping. After our tea, and coffee, we hobbled separately down the hill to the Albert Halls for Lindsey’s event.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Allan Guthrie

Since there is no sense in not photographing signing authors when they’re available, I grabbed pictures of Alexandra Sokoloff, Allan Guthrie, Lin Anderson and Val McDermid, all of whom worked the early morning shift.

Lin Anderson

Val McDermid

Then it was on to Lindsey’s event with all the civil servants. I’ll tell you more later. To my great surprise I found Blackwell’s allrounder Ann Landmann safely outside the onsite Waterstones, wearing a Bloody Scotland t-shirt. Seems she can’t get enough of book events and festivals.

Lindsey Davis

As I was going about my business taking photos of Lindsey, while discreetly ignoring the fact that Ian Rankin was sitting in the café, I encountered a surprisingly soberly dressed Kirkland Ciccone, who’d brought a friend there as a birthday present. For her, not for him.

Kirkland Ciccone

It was still raining so I ate my sandwiches in the bookshop, as discreetly as I could. I checked out Lindsey’s books and decided they look very nice indeed.

Still in the rain, I walked back up to the Stirling Highland Hotel, passing the man with the interesting shoulderbag strap. I recognised the strap first, and the rest of him second. Caught a glimpse of James Oswald on his way down, as I puffed uphill.

Had plenty of time after that so went and sat in the bar, reading and looking at people. Ann Cleeves came in, and I spied publisher Clare Cain – she who drives Plague Doctors around Edinburgh. Went to my afternoon event on Nordic Noir, before starting on my last downhill trip for the day, conveniently finding James Oswald in the car park, so I stopped and chatted. Good thing, as I’ll be running again after his Sunday event.

Not exactly running, but you know.

Ian Rankin & Co

Putting the Edinburgh 2015 bookfest to bed

Charlotte Square

It’s time to put the finishing touches to my book festival bits and pieces report. If I can even remember what I did and who I saw. If I can even find my notes (Although, I can always make things up.)

The first few days I had my photographer, until she went and left the country. It’s understandable. I’m a hard witch to go gallivanting with.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Then I was on my own, holding pen in one hand (except for when the ink ran dry) and pad in the other, and my camera in my third hand. But it worked, more or less. My first photocall I couldn’t remember who I’d come for, although I recognised Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when I saw her.

Chris Close

And I was pleased to ‘meet’ Nicola Sturgeon and see her selfie skills at first hand. I came to the conclusion that to make your event sell out like Roy Gill’s, you create a Facebook event and invite everyone, even your second cousin in New Zealand.

Nicola Sturgeon and Val McDermid

One day I travelled into Edinburgh in the company of Helen Grant, who was going to the Teen Titles event at the library. In actual fact, an awful lot of authors were going to that, and more still would have gone had they not had book festival events. Crazy Kirkland Ciccone went as some kind of Andy Warhol meets Boris Johnson in a beret. I had the opportunity of admiring Nicola Morgan’s shoes, which is a not inconsiderable experience.


Saturday gave me Eoin Colfer and the ducks.

EIBF ducks

For my last day I made a list of events to go to, official photocalls I was interested in and the unofficial opportunities of catching authors signing after events I’d been to and events I’d been unable to go to. I colour coded them, and had three columns, in strict chronological order, and I still had to refer back to it again and again because I got muddled up. I needed to identify breaks long enough to eat in, and got confused because it looked like the hour I was in an event, I’d be free to have lunch, and then worked out that wasn’t the case at all.

How nice it would be to be less old.

Which brings me neatly to my discovery when I got home and checked Google images to see what Sarah Ardizzone looks like, as I saw several people at her translation event and didn’t know which one was her. She turned out to be the one I’d taken a photo of in the signing tent that day, just because she happened to be sitting there with author Marjolaine Leray, next to Liz Kessler.

Sarah Ardizzone

Marjolaine Leray

Liz Kessler

Luckily some authors spend forever signing books. This helps people like me catch up with them, when I would otherwise have missed them, in the midst of that colour coded list with not enough food breaks. Francesca Simon is one, and she was there with Steven Butler.

Francesca Simon

Steven Butler

Lauren St John

Lauren St John is another long signer, very popular with her fans, as is Tom Palmer who is clearly doing something right with his sports novels.

Tom Palmer

I had ignored the name Gordon Brown on the photocall list, assuming that since I’d seen the politician last summer, it was bound to be the crime novelist this time. But it was the former PM, and I even caught him signing after his popular event, shaking the hands of everyone in the queue.

Gordon Brown

Chris Riddell made a second appearance that day, this time with his long time writing partner Paul Stewart.

Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart

Before I ran for (OK, hobbled towards) my train home, I photographed the still very cute Christophe Galfard, physicist and former PhD student of Stephen Hawking.

Christophe Galfard