Category Archives: Bookshops

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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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.

The Swedish Crime Wave

‘Nu sätter vi igång, eller hur?’ said Jacky Collins to her three charges Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean. They all agreed to some ‘sätting igång’ and did so to a full to bursting Allan Park South Church where people were standing in the aisles.

Christoffer Carlsson books

First she wanted to know about Will Dean’s building a cottage made of wood, in a Swedish forest, somewhere ‘north’ of Gothenburg, so he went ahead and ruined her vision of a strong man with an axe. It was more flatpack, and he mainly supervised the build courtesy of that airline that flies people places for £10. But at least Will and his Swedish wife got out of their tiny London flat.

Will Dean

You will already have gathered not all Jacky’s Swedes were Swedish.

Johana Gustawsson, who is French, and maybe a little Spanish, blames everything on her Swedish husband, as well she should. After all, a man who eats flat pieces of bread with cheese on, squeezing cod roe paste from a tube on top of it all, for breakfast, has a lot to answer for. (It’s probably only my vivid imagination which had him dunk this in his coffee.) The Resident IT Consultant listened wide-eyed to this tale, as not even his extensive Swedish experience ever went this far.

Christoffer Carlsson

Christoffer Carlsson who comes from the same town as Roxette, nevertheless feels it’s natural to write about Stockholm, which is not the same as Halmstad. He didn’t get the promised ABBA number, which is just as well, since he’s far too young for them. Christoffer likes people; is interested in them, even. And he interviews offenders for a living.

Then there was the tale about his childhood friend’s dad who, ahem, created illegal alcoholic drinks at home in the kitchen, when the local policeman called. (He obviously only wanted to buy some.)

Will introduced us to Tuva Moodysson, his deaf journalist detective. After his first horrible book, it is fun writing about Tuva. Johana explained that she needed a Canadian character so that they could speak both English and French. Her women characters really have opinions. Christoffer also has some ‘bad’ early books, which ‘unfortunately’ have been published. He wanted to write about friendship, and only reluctantly made one of his characters a policeman.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

It seems Will is very keen on ‘sweeties’ and on hearing this Johana emptied out her handbag of a pile of sweets, whereas Christoffer only had cigarettes to offer.

There is folklore in Will’s books; he can’t leave the forest’s mushrooms and bears and elks alone, and his brother-in-law has met a troll… Of course he has. Similarly, Johana discovered a book about Jack the Ripper which placed one of his victims in Falkenberg, where her Kalles Kaviar-eating husband is from. So that had to become a crime novel. And Christoffer might write more crime after his Leo Junker series, but his next book is set very near his parents’ house outside Halmstad, and it’s a ‘very good book.’

Johana Gustawsson

Johana had much to say about us Swedes, and not just on the cod roe issue, but the Scandi hugs, where people hug those they meet for the first time. Having to take your beautifully chosen shoes off indoors, ruining the effect of your beautiful dress – [she] ‘needs to wear her effing shoes!’ – and the question whether Swedes have vegetables (mothers always worry, don’t they?). Then there is ‘lagom,’ and maybe she has said too much, but this was her first weekend away from her young children.

This was a hard act to follow, and Will sensibly didn’t try. It seems his mother-in-law doesn’t like his books… Too negative, they are. Tuva hates the woods. (I’m right with you, dear.) On a brighter note, a deaf member of the audience complimented Will on getting Tuva’s deafness spot-on.

Finally, Christoffer was permitted to have his say, and he reckons that all Swedish crime writers know each other, read each other’s books and they all live in Bromma. They all write the same. So these two fake Swedes are bringing some much needed outside perspective into all this.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

By now we’d over-run by ten minutes and the audience wanted more, but we still had to finish. Long and slow queues to chat to the three meant that we were in danger of never leaving, and with the audience for the next event queueing outside, Christoffer was the last man standing and practically had to be kicked out, where he duly lit a cigarette…

It’s tough being popular, isn’t it?

Our truly multilingual chair Jacky chatted in Spanish, as well as Swedish, and even some English, and before departing she wished me ‘hasta luego.’ I can’t wait.

Another Bloody Saturday

After a caffeine disturbed night’s sleep I walked down to my first Bloody Scotland event on Saturday morning. Got my left pavement mixed up with my right, but a witch can always cross the street twice. And this time we were invited to enter the Allan Park Church through what was last year’s wrong door.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

It was a ‘Swedish’ event, with one real Swede – Christoffer Carlsson – and two fakes, but equally lovely – Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean. And, because someone had tagged me on Facebook, I’d looked up the other tag-ees, and decided that the one I vaguely recognised should be looked out for. I didn’t have to look long, as it turned out that Jacky Collins was chairing the Swedish event.

Jacky Collins and Michael Malone

Please don’t consider this a spoiler, but it was the best event of the day, and I’ll tell you more later. It over-ran, and when we finally emerged into the famous Scottish sunshine, I made arrangements to meet up with Christoffer at the end of the day; then went over to sit on my usual sunny park bench, to devour my lunch.

Met another crime fan who sat down and chatted to me, with each of us trying to outdo the other about who we knew and what we read and so on. Well, the Resident IT Consultant did tell me to make new friends… 😊

Frank Gardner

Popped into the signing area of the Albert Halls to take a photo of Frank Gardner. It was absolute mayhem in there, which I deduced meant he’d had a good event and a big audience.

Caroline Mitchell, Ruth Ware, Mel McGrath and Alexandra Sokoloff

Escaped to run – figuratively speaking – to the Golden Lion hotel where I enquired about tickets for the afternoon events. I went for Family Secrets with Ruth Ware, Mel McGrath and Caroline Mitchell, chaired by Alexandra Sokoloff. This was followed by the Kiwis, which like the Swedes consisted of real ones and fakes; Paul Cleave, Fiona Sussman, Denise Mina and Liam McIlvanney – winner of the previous night’s McIlvanney Prize – and chair Craig Sisterson.

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

Liam McIlvanney, The Quaker

Unsurprisingly the event over-ran, but as Christoffer turned out to have been there too, I wasn’t as late meeting him as I’d been afraid. Where to conduct an interview, though? The foyer was heaving, as was the bar, so eventually we traipsed up to the Green room, where we commandeered a corner of a table, and Christoffer managed to grab the last coffee cup.

Christoffer Carlsson, Johana Gustawsson and Will Dean

We began our chat with Christoffer talking very loudly into my recording device, to drown out everyone else in there, and when they’d all disappeared we suddenly sounded rather loud, not to mention foreign. I found out what his Friday visit to the Resident IT Consultant’s old school had been like, and that would have been good to have seen.

It was time for me to go home to my dinner, and Christoffer headed uphill to the old High School for some work (and everyone else going to have fun on a Saturday night), saying what a great place Stirling would be for spies…

About Bloody time too

Aand here we go again! I give you my Bloody [Scotland] bag. Well, not literally. I’ll be hanging on to it.

The Bloody Scotland party bag

Time for a Bloody weekend. Enjoy!