Category Archives: Christmas

Cold paint

Discovered to my horror that we’re closer to next Christmas than to the last one. Though why that should be a bad thing I don’t know; presents and seasonal food before ‘too long’.

Have been meaning to mention Daughter’s Christmas present to the Resident IT Consultant. You may recall, but it’s fairly unlikely, that she and I discovered books being sold in the nearby antiques centre. Which is all well and good, had the books not been boxed and intended for ‘decorating with’.

This made us want to liberate a few of them, so we went back after the second lockdown and she bought a box.

The Resident IT Consultant diligently, and pretty immediately, read all seven books by John Creasey. Whom I had never heard of, but when looking him up it seems he not only wrote a lot of books, but he ‘founded the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) in the UK. The CWA New Blood Dagger is awarded in his memory, for first books by previously unpublished writers; sponsored by BBC Audiobooks, it includes a prize of £1000. This award was known previously as the John Creasey Memorial Dagger’.

Seems the man also had more pseudonyms than you can shake a stick at, so I won’t even try to list them. Basically, he was not completely unheard of, apart from by me.

When asked what they were like, the Resident IT Consultant mentioned that the first one he read featured both the N-word but also a good understanding of how to use buses in London.

Personally I got confused every time I looked at the book on top of the pile, reading the title as Death in Cold Paint. Which I daresay could be quite unpleasant.

Should I read these? Keep them for any ‘unlikely and unexpected’ long periods stuck in the house with too few books? Or take them to Oxfam?

Order, order

I own an old cassette of Christmas songs, sung by Roger Whittaker. I love it. I loved it even more – at first – when I was able to buy the same album as a CD. I mean, I thought I did. Was. Same title, same songs, but fewer songs. Seems a plastic ribbon has more room on it than a shiny disc. But apart from the lack of certain songs, and they were – obviously – some of the ones I loved best, there was a lack of order. It was the wrong order, as far as I was concerned. I’d nearly worn the cassette out, so I knew how I liked my songs. And it was not the CD order of things.

Order matters.

Then I happened upon an article by Dan Brotzel in The Author about ‘working out the best sequence for your story collection’. It seems it’s really quite difficult. Dan mused about his own stories, and also looked at what others have done.

I had actually pondered this before. Whenever I pick up a collection of one author’s stories or read an anthology put together by someone, I wonder how they determined what comes first, what sits in the middle and how to end things. Unless Dan is particularly unskilled at this, it would appear that someone has agonised over this very thing each time I sit there wondering about the why or the what.

And as with Roger Whittaker, some results feel better than others.

Winter

It certainly is. Here and now, but also in Ali Smith’s Winter. Although I’d almost have preferred to call it Christmas. It’s mostly set at Christmas, with flashbacks to older times, summer and winter, like we got in Autumn.

Instead of the seemingly interminable queueing for a passport application to go through, as we had in Autumn, Winter begins with Sophia visiting the optician. Unnamed, but recognisable as one of those High Street ones. I’m glad she was hard on them. But then her bank was hard on Sophia.

This wealthy – or is it formerly wealthy? – sixty-something woman, is seeing things. Even without the help of the optician. It’s a head. No body, just the head.

It’s Christmas Eve and Sophia’s thirty-something son Art is coming to stay, with his partner Charlotte. Except there is a problem. But problems can be dealt with.

There is also Sophia’s kind, but quirky, older sister Iris.

In the background we have the politics of the day, Christmas 2016. It’s only partly Brexit. Now there’s also the election of the 45th President to be concerned about. And the flood of refugees, who are not seen as human beings by our leaders. Iris cares. Sophia less so. And Art is confused. His new Charlotte is great, however, and she truly gets the Brexit conundrum.

Perhaps there is hope. I’d like to think there is.

I’m looking forward to Spring, in more ways than one.

Christmas is Murder

You’re not all done with Christmas, I hope. Although, apart from its title, Val McDermid’s Christmas is Murder isn’t primarily Christmassy. Some of the twelve stories are seasonal, but many are not. Which is fine, as I believe Val was after creating Christmas crime reading like the Norwegians do at Easter (when I suspect not all the murders are egg or chicken related).

I had just about despaired after a couple of good, but too dark [for me] stories, when Val hit me with a traditional style ‘pleasant’ murder, which cheered me up no end. The preceding murders had been of people who didn’t deserve to be killed…

The most interesting story is a Sherlock Holmes one – Holmes For Christmas – which takes the reader in an unexpected direction. Quite fun. But it set me thinking about whether you are allowed to write more of someone else’s stories? With Sherlock Holmes I feel we are always getting new material, be it written or on screen. So I don’t know whether Watson being addressed as James in one instance meant anything, or if it was an unfortunate mistake.

Anyway, once the stories became a little less dark, I enjoyed the collection. And for anyone into same sex relationships, there’s much to discover.

A Surprise for Christmas

Be still my beating heart. I now know how Daughter felt when I unintentionally kept interrupting her while reading the longest of the short stories in the Christmas anthology A Surprise for Christmas. Or I think I do. I’m all shaky and disturbed and that adrenaline is pumping.

This will no doubt be because these stories are extremely well chosen. Martin Edwards as the editor of the series clearly knows what he’s doing, down to getting the order of the stories right. The ‘long one’ was the antepenultimate story, and it was followed by two more that didn’t calm me down quite as much as I would have liked.

Well.

There was not a single dud in this collection. You’d think at some point editors would run out of material from which to choose. But not yet. It looks like many of them originally were published in papers and magazines, just before Christmas, and when I think of it, it’s obvious that this would have been a big market. Good for writers to have short stories published and good for magazine editors to have suitable entertainment for their readers.

I’m not sure, but I suspect this market is no longer as big. Or it could be I don’t read the right publications, or not enough of them.

But here they are all collected for me, and I can see I will not only become a serial user of anthologies, but some of the hitherto unknown [to me] authors are calling to me to look out for their crime novels as well. I will need a lot of time to read. And preferably nerves of steel. Anthony Gilbert’s Give Me a Ring (aka the ‘long one’) scared me as much as Philip Pullman’s Tiger in the Well did.

It was preceded by [more comfortable] stories from Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh and countless others. Have a go yourself, unless the lack of Christmas stops you. Or save it for next November/December.

Might have got some things right

Or an unmitigated success.

It’s been what, four or five days since the Christmas presents were handed out? The Resident IT Consultant has reported two (of mine) book presents read and seemingly enjoyed. And there have been so many wrong books in the past.

The first one was Antonia Hodgson’s The Devil in the Marshalsea. I only worried about that one because there was something a little bit familiar about the title and I considered the possibility that he’d read it before. Or that I’d already given it to him on an earlier occasion…

But it’s fine, and it’s now on my tbr shelf.

The White Stag Adventure by Rennie McOwan followed quickly, presumably because it’s a shortish children’s book. It’s the sequel to Light on Dumyat, which has long been a family favourite. Being a bit local in its setting, it tickled the recipient’s sense for working out where the characters might be having their adventure. I suppose there could even be a walk from that.

These two successes are of course only adding to my own future reading burden.

Thoughts on Christmas shorts

For her birthday I got Daughter a Christmas crime anthology, edited by Martin Edwards. (How that man manages to fit so much into his time, I will never know!) I reckoned she’d enjoy reading about gruesomeness at Christmas, or rather, in the run-up to that peaceful time. In the snow. She did. She hinted she wanted more (because the clever publisher listed further reading suggestions at the back of the book).

I had calculated on this success, so had obviously bought her a second collection, also edited by Martin. We just had to wait for Christmas to come. And after watching the event with Val McDermid last month, Daughter felt that Val’s new Christmas murder story anthology would also be essential for her happiness.

I shopped some more.

Now I have started reading the first one, the birthday gift, and it’s very promising. The trouble is, I feel these stories really are best consumed during the month, or so, around Christmas. And I’m running out of time here. Once the sprouts have been cooked and the dishwasher’s been seen to, and a few other chores, I appear to have very little time left.

Other people watch endless television and go for walks and do jigsaw puzzles and even read books. (You should have seen me watch the other two do a jigsaw. I might have managed to put about 25 pieces in their places, but they were left to find the other 975. I did the green bits. There were not many green bits at all.)

At this rate I’ll be saving the anthologies for December 2021.

A literary lift

When the time came to hand out the Christmas presents, I barely noticed that the Resident IT Consultant slipped away for a brief time. (No, he did not don a red outfit and long white beard.) He suggested that if I checked my emails, I might find a Kindle book email there. I did. And I did. Apparently this is the way. You buy and the recipient takes delivery almost instantly.

It wasn’t wrapped, though. I have to say that.

*It* was the complete works by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Apparently ‘why buy one book when you can buy them all?’ is the reigning idea. Indeed. My thanks to Amanda Craig, whose Guardian article Books to Bring Cheer caused a bit of book buying at Bookwitch Towers. Rather craftily I asked for some books for me, and then divided things up by giving the Resident IT Consultant one I wanted to read too. What’s his is mine, or some such thing.

Whereas Daughter can think up ideas by herself, for us. Everything I’ve happened to mention gets noted. Which accounts for the Tom Stoppard collection. And my craving for codewords to solve has now received a real challenge. One for every day! What I want to know is whether I will be allowed to solve the one for, say, 13th May on a later date in May?

A grown-up Eva Ibbotson and a new book by Sally Nicholls complete my book presents.

My other pile of books supported the family Christmas gathering. We had a Boxing Day worldwide party, starting in Texas and ending in Moscow. As with everything else in 2020 it was on Zoom, and I was determined to get my chins under control. Hence the lifting of the laptop with the help of literature.

It was nice. People who didn’t often see each other, even before lockdowns became widespread, were able to join in. Before the day was over there had even been an online crossword for one new recruit. Otherwise we’d all spent the day on the Hungarian Accountant’s Russian quiz. (I know. He’s moved.) It was quite a devious one, and I seem to have outwitted the Resident IT Consultant. (There was a trick question. Or two.)

So this is Christmas

The card.

It’s been a string-light kind of year. And the elk said he’d been ignored for too long. So there is that. The books are a Christmas-Winter combo. Hoping to read some more seasonal murder stories.

And some thoughts. There were three best books last year. One went on to win the Carnegie. I have good taste. One has been shortlisted for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2021. And one is here on the pile, to remind you that Sally Gardner’s book is the perfect Christmas read. With a bit of luck it won’t be too late to get your hands on a copy.

Wishing you a Safe Christmas and a Better 2021.

Bookwitch bites #150

Kindle-sharing is the new thing at Bookwitch Towers. With me actually paying £1.99 for ebooks that the Resident IT Consultant might also enjoy, I can’t just suggest he doesn’t drop my [paper] book in the bath. So, what’s his is mine, and the other way round.

The Resident IT Consultant has had the benefit of reading some of J D Kirk’s crime novels. If someone reads more than one, it is an indication the book wasn’t too bad. Or so I believe. But recently I gathered J D had put in an Ofsted inspection where none ought to be. When I told J D he was so upset he stopped talking to me. Until I woke up and discovered he and the Resident IT Consultant were on such friendly terms that they had balanced a tankard of beer on my head.

😳

The Edinburgh International Book Festival are planning some December Winter Warmer events. On Saturday 12th there is a full programme of book events for you. Free to access.

It’s Advent. Daughter requested I get out the Jostein Gaarder advent book for her daily read. The thing that always strikes me is how his book sits right next to Cornelia Funke’s advent book. It’s almost as if it had been planned.

We also have a real, live – well, you know what I mean – advent calendar. We take turns opening the doors. This was sent to us by a very kind author, who ‘lives’ a little bit along from Jostein on the shelf.

I have been asked for a wish-list. The Resident IT Consultant wants help with ideas for me. Daughter does not want a list. She will come up with her own ideas. Which are usually very good. My list had only books on it. I know. This is crazy. I don’t need books. But I need other stuff even less. Except when Daughter has come up with the perfect thing. I’ve still to read my way through the books from last Christmas. And the ones I bought myself in August. Also the books I bought the Resident IT Consultant last Christmas…

But books still make sense.